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The Many, Many Ways of Wearing Jewellery

By Bianca Husodo

At Chaumet’s exhibition in Paris, ‘Autrement’, a series of portraits by Swedish photographer Julia Hett posits the fluid art of wearing jewellery.
 
Julia Hett
At Chaumet’s exhibition in Paris, ‘Autrement’, a series of portraits by Swedish photographer Julia Hett posits the fluid art of wearing jewellery.

In the 17th century, Napoleon Bonaparte’s wives — Empress Joséphine, his first, and Marie-Louise, his second — occasionally elected to wear tiaras festooned with ears of wheat made of diamonds. The ornamental jewels, referring to the cornucopia of prosperity, were then pasted on ceremonial gowns. This seamless translation was made possible by Marie-Étienne Nitot, the appointed royal jeweller and the founder of the house of Chaumet.

As long as jewellery has existed, its fundamental purpose of decorating its wearer has been perpetually probed. Today, at 165 Boulevard Saint-Germain — right at the crux of the Left Bank neighbourhood and iconically, the former meeting place of artists — French jewellery house Chaumet is set to present ‘Autrement’, an exhibition that takes the baton of querying the fluidity of jewellery. 

Through a series of photographs by Swedish photographer Julia Hetta that are paralleled with Chaumet’s archival sketches and jewels, centuries worth of experimentation is distilled into a visual discourse. It delves into the art of appropriating accessories according to one’s unrestrained whims. Founded in 1780, Chaumet is one of the world’s oldest jewellery houses. Years of continuous creation and its A-list roster of jewellery clientele — from Empress Joséphine to Edith Wharton — lent to the house’s inventive adaptability.

Julia Hetta. Sketches courtesy of Chaumet.Clockwise from top left: L’Épi de Blé de Chaumet brooch; L’Épi de Blé de Chaumet earrings; L’Épi de Blé de Chaumet brooch and earrings worn as hair ornaments; design for a diamond brooch by Marcel Chaumet (circa 1940); design for a diamond brooch by Marcel Chaumet (circa 1930).
Clockwise from top left: L’Épi de Blé de Chaumet brooch; L’Épi de Blé de Chaumet earrings; L’Épi de Blé de Chaumet brooch and earrings worn as hair ornaments; design for a diamond brooch by Marcel Chaumet (circa 1940); design for a diamond brooch by Marcel Chaumet (circa 1930).
Julia Hetta. Sketches courtesy of Chaumet.From left: A Jeux de Liens sautoir necklace worn as a headband; a bandeau project by Joseph Chaumet (1900–1910); a sketch of a ruby and diamond bandeau tiara by Joseph Chaumet (1900–1910).
From left: A Jeux de Liens sautoir necklace worn as a headband; a bandeau project by Joseph Chaumet (1900–1910); a sketch of a ruby and diamond bandeau tiara by Joseph Chaumet (1900–1910).

Chaumet’s jewellery has always been chameleonic: forehead jewel (or ferronnière, as they call it in French), a tiara that is also an aigrette (a type of hair ornament Daisy Buchanan would flaunt with a feather popping up the front), a necklace woven through the hair, or bracelets worn around the shoulder or ankle. At the exhibition, this age-old practice is revisited in the form of hand sketches rendered by the house’s early greats, the likes of Marcel and Joseph Chaumet, and contrasted to Hetta’s unmistakably contemporary images. Although inspired by the Dutch masters of Renaissance past, Hetta’s dark portraits — exquisitely housed within Maison Lebrun’s frames originating from the 15th and 19th century — anchor the discourse to the present. Her subjects are today’s diverse women, adorned with transformative gems that perplex and astonish. 

Julia Hetta. Sketches courtesy of Chaumet.From left: Design for diamond aigrettes by Joseph Chaumet (1890–1910); design for an emerald and diamond brooch by Marcel Chaumet, circa 1950; and Joseph Chaumet’s crescent moon brooch that’s transformable into an aigrette (circa 1890), worn as the latter.
From left: Design for diamond aigrettes by Joseph Chaumet (1890–1910); design for an emerald and diamond brooch by Marcel Chaumet, circa 1950; and Joseph Chaumet’s crescent moon brooch that’s transformable into an aigrette (circa 1890), worn as the latter.

Here, the takeaway is clear: you wear your jewellery however you like. At Chaumet, jewellery is freed from the shackles of tradition. Necklace or tiara? Bracelet or anklet? Earrings or hair embellishments? It doesn’t — and shouldn’t — matter.  

Chaumet’s exhibition ‘Autrement’ runs from 1 October to 2 November 2019 at 165 Boulevard Saint-Germain, Paris. To book your visit, click here.