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Object of Desire: Chanel's Coromandel Camellia Brooch

By Nancy Hass

François Coquerel

Coco Chanel was 18 when she first saw a Coromandel screen in an antiques shop. Such inlaid ebony-lacquer folding panels — made during China’s Kangxi period at the end of the 17th century and later named for the trading ports along the Indian coast from which they were often sent to Europe — became a lifelong obsession. By the time she died, she’d come to own more than 30 pieces (they still line the walls of her preserved Paris apartment at 31 rue Cambon), which were fashioned by incising scenes of the royal court and the natural world into the hand-rubbed finish with a technique called kuan cai; artisans then added bits of gold, jade and mother-of-pearl. This brooch, with birds and leaves crafted from garnets, diamonds, coral and red-orange spinels, evokes these screens, with an additional twinkling tribute to the iconic 20th-century designer: Tucked into the tableau is Chanel’s signature flower, the camellia.

Chanel's high jewellery Coromandel brooch, price on request.