A century ago, a 30-something up-and-comer with a hat shop on the Rue Cambon, a seasonal pop-up in Deauville, a budding business in Biarritz, and a way with jersey was mulling opening a couture house in Paris. That materialized a year later, in 1918, and the rest is history.
With its new Coco Before Chanel high jewelry collection, the Place Vendôme powerhouse pays tribute to Gabrielle Chanel’s early days, before the famous friends and furious socializing. The designer’s first signatures—a no-fuss obsession with ribbons, lace, camellias, and pearls; the innocent allure of soft pink and gray—come together in 49 haute joaillerie pieces named after the first friends to wear Chanel’s fashions.
One of the collection’s most important pieces, the Jeanne necklace, pictured above, combines most of those signatures in an elaborate lacelike white gold setting with more than 100 pink sapphires, 82 gray spinels, and approximately 650 diamonds. Yes, 650 diamonds! Jeanne Dirys was a famous theater actress and silent movie star, a loyal client of Coco’s chapeaux, and also the first wife of Paul Iribe, for whom Chanel was a muse and, later, a lover.
Elsewhere in the collection, supple strands of diamonds or pearls appear less conventional when caught nonchalantly in a precious bow, and the idea of lace returns on a bracelet with four tiers of large gray Tahitian cultured pearls and a large floral motif in diamonds and pink sapphires.