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A Fine Jewellery Collection With Timeless Emblems that Defy Convention

By Lynette Kee

ChanelChanel’s Ribbons collection from the new icons of 1932 — “Rubans” bracelet and ring in beige gold and diamonds, S$28,000 and S$17,000 respectively.
Chanel’s Ribbons collection from the new icons of 1932 — “Rubans” bracelet and ring in beige gold and diamonds, S$28,000 and S$17,000 respectively.

As a designer, Gabrielle Chanel was known for breaking the rules and, by doing so, contributing to the change that swept over the fashion scene in the early 20th century. Poised in her timeless black dresses layered with elegant statement jewellery, she blazed a trail at a time when women were still very much oppressed. The fashion maverick possessed the gift of self-invention that stoked desires in women that went far beyond the sartorial, liberating them from restrictive garments and conservative ideas.

In 1932, when Europe was at the height of the Great Depression, Chanel created her first and only high jewellery collection, Bijoux de Diamants. Prior to that, Chanel had only designed costume jewellery because “it was refreshingly free of arrogance” during a period when jewellery tended towards ostentatious display fo wealth and status. But that notion faded considerably during the dark times, and her jewellery collection acted as a call to arms to help diamond merchants out of the economic slump.

“If I have chosen diamonds, it is because they represent the greatest value in the smallest volume. And my love of things that glitter has inspired me to try to combine elegance and fashion through the medium of jewellery,” said young Chanel in the original 1932 press release.

ChanelAn archival image of Gabrielle Chanel’s diamond jewels created in 1932, surrealistically displayed on lifelike wax figures around her home in Paris.
An archival image of Gabrielle Chanel’s diamond jewels created in 1932, surrealistically displayed on lifelike wax figures around her home in Paris.

The designer approached the precious stones the way she did fabric — in defiance of convention. The collection, presented in five themes (fringe, ribbon, feathers, sun and stars), occupied the space in her private townhouse at 29 Faubourg Saint-Honoré during its exhibition. Cleverly constructed with articulated joints, her 1932 diamond novelties were made to be worn in the hair or draped over the forehead, while the rings were designed to appear to be floating lightly above the fingers. The success of Bijoux de Diamants meant that Chanel had transformed the hefty, stolid emblem of high jewellery to become a symbol of beauty and freedom for the emancipated woman. 

Chanel never did another collection. But every jewellery collection that the house has launched since mirrors the spirit of Bijoux de Diamants. Today, the five themes from the 1932 collection have been reimagined into independent novelties in their own range as fine jewellery pieces. The comet, a meteor shower of diamonds, dazzles as a symbol of a woman’s beauty in her movements; the sun reflects the radiance on Coco Chanel’s skin; the feather speaks eloquently of a woman’s right to spread her own wings; the ribbon is a nod to fashion and couture; while the lion debuts as a new signature, representing Chanel’s astronomical sign and the emblem of her indomitable personality. 

The new designs are transformable and flexible, expressing the same freedom of spirit with which she created the original collection. Called the Icons of 1932, these individual pieces are as much artistic tributes to the Chanel house codes as they are biographical statements of its original founder, perfectly preserved as wearable jewellery.