Brand Spotlight: Chanel Jewelry

A liberator and progeny of her time, Coco Chanel began a trend we all take for granted – costume jewelry. Who knew people used to wear gems NOT to accessorize?

When it comes to how we accessorize today, we can all credit Gabrielle Chanel – from the fashion peacock to the “intelligent” dresser. Wearing costume jewelry would still be considered a faux pas if it weren’t for her rule-breaking habits; they were originally thought to be solely for women who couldn’t afford the genuine thing. The legendary Chanel brand has a long and rich history, with its globally recognizable interlocking Cs logo. In the year 1883, Gabrielle Bonheur “Coco” Chanel was born in France. Historians credit her with being the catalyst for a significant shift in women’s clothing following World War I. Her unique ideas as a fashion designer liberated ladies from the constricting, corseted style that was the norm at the time. Instead, she advocated for a more sporty, laid-back look. She is the only fashion designer to be named on Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential individuals of the twentieth century. When Chanel began blending genuine jewelry pieces with counterfeit jewelry, she upended the conventional approach to how and what jewelry should be worn during her period. So, let’s take a closer look at Chanel’s history as one of the most well-known luxury brands in the world.

Jewelry was only manufactured with exquisite metals and valuable stones before Chanel emerged on the scene in the late 1920s, and it could only be afforded by the wealthy. Even those who could afford jewelry tended to have a small collection and rarely wore more than one piece at a time. Although more affordable “costume jewelry” appeared, it was scorned by many.

Coco Chanel, who had amassed a sizable collection of fine jewelry as a result of her connections with a number of affluent suitors, pioneered the practice of combining fine and costume jewelry while accessorizing. People were both surprised and intrigued by her usage of layers of false pearl necklaces and piles of bangles to add visual interest to her otherwise simple outfits. To this day, that contrast is an important part of Chanel’s attractiveness, and it’s one of the reasons why people love Chanel necklaces, Chanel bracelets, Chanel rings, and Chanel earrings.

Chanel - 1928

While Chanel’s ready-to-wear line is known for its understated elegance, her personal taste in jewelry is quite different. She adored bangles that were flashy and multi-faceted, with designs that included a plethora of stones, imitation pearls, and valuable metals like vermeil and bronze. She drew inspiration from her network of bohemian acquaintances and developed a taste for extravagance by layering her brooches and cuff bracelets and putting on her necklaces and sautoirs – a look that today’s street style crowd has perfected.

As a result, Coco Chanel was the first designer to use imitation pearls and gemstones in her designs, igniting a trend that continues to this day. Her simple outfits were the ideal canvas for Chanel’s layers of pearls, which she wore herself. People were hesitant to wear their pricey fine jewelry out in public before Chanel started making jewelry, but now they may feel safe wearing Chanel jewelry. Chanel transformed unfashionable costume jewelry into a must-have fashion trend. She created the House of Chanel Jewelry line in collaboration with Duke Fulco de Vedura of Verdura Jewlery. Her iconic white enameled cuff bracelet was born as a result of this collaboration.

Chanel - Maltese Cross Cuffs

“Costume jewelry isn’t designed to elicit desire, simply bewilderment at most,” she famously stated. It must remain a decoration and a source of amusement.” Her creations emphasized the role of the ‘costume’ in costume jewelry: Bijouxwere used to complete an ensemble. For example, her cuff bracelets were designed to replace a shirt’s cuff, while a jeweled belt adorned the waist and a strategically placed brooch might change the way a dress fell.

Coco, in particular, took a hands-on approach to designing her jewels when crafting specific jewelry to go with her couture gowns. The process entailed arranging stones like puzzle pieces and creating clay models to support them, resulting in larger-than-life embellishments for her elegant and fitted outfits. Her jewelry was inspired by antiquity, the Egyptian era, the Byzantine, Medieval, and Renaissance eras, and used bright colored gemstones and paste, as well as complicated chains and settings. While her designs were stunning, cabochon gemstones and “lesser” colored stones were not considered “real” jewelry at the time, making them ideal for her concepts.

Chanel moved in a group that included some of history’s most fascinating personalities. To name a few, Paul Iribe, Etienne de Beaumont, Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, and Fulco Verdura. While they all had an effect on her jewelry designs, Verdura’s designs for Chanel reflected a deep understanding of art history and a strong sense of classical design. Probably the most distinctive creation from their cooperation is the broad enamel and gem set Maltese cross motif bracelet. When Verdura relocated to New York in 1934, he eventually became a designer for Paul Flato and, in 1937, opened Flato’s Los Angeles office. People who influenced Chanel’s ideas came and went, but one constant in her jewelry line was her utilization of the Gripoix workshop in Paris to produce her costume jewelry.

Indeed, the imprints left by Chanel’s many collaborators add to the uniqueness of the Maison’s costume jewelry. In 1927, the Sicilian nobleman Duke Fulco di Verdura, with whom Chanel had a strong association, developed the brand’s signature Maltese cross, which is now seen every season. Then there was jewelry designer Suzanne Gripoix, whom Chanel sought for Byzantine jewelry reproductions and with whom she had a long working relationship. Gripoix designed a unique irregular glass pearl for Chanel, giving it a mother-of-pearl luster

However, the Maison’s relationship with goldsmith Robert Goossens, which dates back to 1954, has remained the most prominent and has lasted the test of time. Chanel expanded her costume jewelry collection to include baroque-inspired designs, including the famed “nest” earrings, which are still sought after by antique collectors. (Pictured here) Today, Goossens is one of more than a half-dozen ateliers specializing in distinct house metiers d’art.