How haute couture is inspiring new high jewellery collections, from Dior and Chanel, to Van Cleef & Arpels’ Legends of Diamonds, Chopard’s Red Carpet and Cindy Chao’s Gentlewoman Ribbon Cuff

This article was originally written by Francesca Fearon for South China Morning Post and published on December 29, 2022.

Couture is an endless source of inspiration for jewellery designers: beautiful laces, feminine bows, drapery and sassy fringes that bring lots of movement to a jewel are as integral a part of the designers’ language as the natural world. Unsurprisingly, it is the heritage that plays a key influence on the high jewellery collections from couture maisons Dior and Chanel, especially for Victoire de Castellane, director of Dior Joaillerie.

In her last few high jewellery collections, she explored delicate lacework, tie-dye-coloured effects and, most recently in her January 2022 collection, braid trims. Her latest collection, unveiled at an exclusive event in Sicily in June, captures the look and feel of printed fabric. The whimsical concept transposes a two-dimensional fabric into three-dimensional jewellery with stunning results. Checks, stripes and ditsy Liberty print florals are transformed into fluid ribbonlike jewels with the patterns picked out in precious gemstones.

Dior Print earrings with diamonds, emeralds and pink sapphires. Photo: Dior

“When ribbons undulate, the print must follow,” explains De Castellane, who demanded that the checks and stripes perfectly match the movement and contours of each jewel, meaning special attention was given to relief and perspective. “As with couture, it’s a process that requires a series of adjustments. The work is all the more precise due to the settings’ curved surfaces, which distort prints and lines.”

Some serious technical wizardry therefore is necessary to achieve effects like the undulating, articulated multi-ribbon necklace, but the results are truly realistic.

Diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphires, paraiba-like tourmalines and precious gems adorn the Dior Print high jewellery necklace. Photo: Dior

Fringes, tassels, braids and ribbon bows are undoubtedly part of the design language at Chanel, and also maisons like Boucheron and Van Cleef & Arpels, who do not possess a direct history with couture-making, but naturally have served similar clients over the past decades. Gold rope-like cords, ribbons and supple, undulating settings have filled Van Cleef & Arpels’ collections from the outset, but the true ingenious masterpiece is the Zip Necklace, one of their most avant-garde and iconic creations.

The Vagues Etincelantes high jewellery necklace. Photo: Van Cleef & Arpels

The humble zip fastener first appeared in haute couture in one of Schiaparelli’s collections, inspiring Van Cleef & Arpels to patent a jewellery version in 1938, which only eventually appeared in 1950. They spent years figuring out how they could make the jewel functional.

However, the enchanting little ballerina brooches – part of the repertoire since 1941 – also frequently dance their way into collections, wearing their beautiful ballet tutus that are colourfully depicted in diamonds and precious gems.

A rubellite and pink sapphire collar necklace from the Chopard Red Carpet collection. Photo: Chopard

“What is so striking when you look at the pieces,” says Lise Macdonald, director of heritage and exhibitions for the brand, “Is that they are so animated although made in hard materials like gold and diamonds, it is complex to create this sense of being alive.”

Drawing inspiration from clothing designs, in addition to various textiles, has also produced unimaginable creativity among jewellery designers and artists.

Chopard’s Red Carpet collection this year pays homage to Hollywood, featuring a rubellite and pink sapphire collar that has the fluidity of fabric. Van Cleef & Arpels has a piecrust collar in its new Legends of Diamonds collection while artist Cindy Chao has spent seven years working on her pièce de résistance – the Gentlewoman Ribbon Cuff, a part of her Black Label 2022 Masterpiece.

Cindy Chao’s Gentlewoman ribbon cuff from the Black Label Masterpiece VII collection. Photo: Cindy Chao

Resembling a shirt cuff with cufflinks, the jewel took 10,000 craft hours to complete and features two intense yellow diamonds and 2,762 supporting gemstones. This Masterpiece really is well named for it is magnificent show-stopper of a creation.

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