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The Controversial French Empress Joséphine Lives On — In Chaumet's Jewellery Pieces

By Caroline Suganda

From left: Chaumet Joséphine Aigrette white gold earrings with diamonds and Akoya cultured pearls, S$12,000, white gold ring with Akoya cultured pearl and diamonds, S$10,900, white gold ring with Akoya cultured pearls and diamonds, S$6,850.
 
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From left: Chaumet Joséphine Aigrette white gold earrings with diamonds and Akoya cultured pearls, S$12,000, white gold ring with Akoya cultured pearl and diamonds, S$10,900, white gold ring with Akoya cultured pearls and diamonds, S$6,850.

Even after over 200 years 
since her passing, Empress Joséphine is still an inspirational figure to many. As the first wife of Napoleon Bonaparte — thus making her the first Empress of the French — she was known for many things: Her famed garden that housed flowers and animals from around the world, her love for (and foresight in collecting) Bordeaux wine and of course, her sense of style. Despite their short and controversial marriage (Joséphine was a divorcee with two children, who could not bear an heir for the emperor), she reinvented the codes of fashion and taste — Napoleon even used her influence to invigorate the French textile industry.

Her fashion came to epitomise what is known as the empire style today. Joséphine was a trendsetter
 — breaking away from tightly-corseted bodice made of regal brocade — with her sleeveless transparent tunics, created without waists except for a belt or bandeau worn high. Her style is still celebrated and remembered, her modern yet regal sensibility is still relevant.

ChingChaumet Joséphine Aigrette white gold earring with aquamarine and diamonds (sold individually), S$5,520 each.
Chaumet Joséphine Aigrette white gold earring with aquamarine and diamonds (sold individually), S$5,520 each.

Fashion aside, it was apparent that the crown, which Empress Joséphine wore was lighter when compared to the other royals who were further weighed down by wigs and powdered hair. She preferred tiaras of an ‘airier’ style — more streamlined and contemporary in design. Often, she would wear an aigrette, a headdress adorned with feather. After her death, a number of these crown jewels were dismantled — partly due to their high value, which would have made it difficult to get a buyer — and sold separately. Today, however, a few of them remain, such as the Cameo Parure and the Leuchtenberg Sapphire Parure, both of which belong to the House of Bernadotte, the royal house of Sweden.

French jeweller Marie-Étienne Nitot, who was appointed as the official jeweller to Napoloen then, was credited with many of the jewellery pieces worn by Empress Joséphine. Among other things, Nitot was the one who designed and set Napoeleon’s coronation crown and the hilt of his sword with jewels. However, Empress Joséphine remained Nitot’s biggest client — in regards to what she ordered.

ChingFrom top left: Chaumet Joséphine Aigrette white gold ring with amethyst and diamonds, S$10,500, white gold rings with diamonds, S$6,300 each, white gold ring with rhodolite garnet and diamonds, S$10,500.
From top left: Chaumet Joséphine Aigrette white gold ring with amethyst and diamonds, S$10,500, white gold rings with diamonds, S$6,300 each, white gold ring with rhodolite garnet and diamonds, S$10,500.

Following the fall of the Empire, Nitot’s successors later officially changed the company’s name to Chaumet. Unlike other houses that celebrates its founder’s legacy, the story of Chaumet can’t be told the same way. According to Jean-Marc Mansvelt, CEO of the French fine jewellery house, Chaumet is a house that embodies a succession of names and talents (from Nitot to Joseph Chaumet), all of whom have endowed it with their own personal stamp as a sign to mark their respective spot in the celebrated house’s timeline.

The house has explored the many styles and periods that have shaped the heritage of the brand, but one source of inspiration remains: Empress Joséphine. As a respected botanist, her interest towards gardening spawned a collection named Hortensia. The wheat motif on her crown became an inspiration for the house’s high jewellery collection. And perhaps the most important one yet, the eponymous Joséphine collection, which features jewellery designs that explore the different façades of her elegance. In particular, the Joséphine Aigrette ring, which is modelled after the aigrette tiara itself. Identified by the simple ‘V’ bend that takes after the line of the tiara (which holds the feather at its centre), the current design of the ring boasts a more curvaceous and dramatic ‘V’ when compared to its predecessor.

ChingFrom top: Chaumet Joséphine Aigrette white gold ring with diamonds, S$12,400, white gold ring with peridot and diamonds, S$10,500, and white gold ring with citrine and diamonds, S$10,500.
From top: Chaumet Joséphine Aigrette white gold ring with diamonds, S$12,400, white gold ring with peridot and diamonds, S$10,500, and white gold ring with citrine and diamonds, S$10,500.

And for the first time, pearls are added to accentuate the ‘V’ plunge at the bottom of the bend, while gemstones such as citrine, peridot, aquamarine, amethyst and rhodolite garnet breathes colour and add a refreshing touch to the ring. The rings, which now adds pink gold to its collection, are best worn a few at a time, creating an elegant stack of statement rings.

ChaumetChaumet Joséphine Aigrette pink gold ring with diamonds, S$11,700 (top, with centre stone), and pink gold rings with diamonds, S$5,920 each.
Chaumet Joséphine Aigrette pink gold ring with diamonds, S$11,700 (top, with centre stone), and pink gold rings with diamonds, S$5,920 each.

The design also lends its sinous lines to a new style of elongated pendant on a necklace that accentuates the décolletage, and teardrop earrings set with pearl or colourful gemstones. The key piece, however, is a single earring with an adjustable backing, that when worn, gently hugs the bottom of the ear lobe.

According to Chaumet’s heritage director, Guillaume Robic, the Joséphine collection has always been based on the house's heritage, and rightly takes its place in the timeline that boasts a royal pedigree.