A summer heat wave enveloped Paris during all of Haute Couture earlier this month, but the climate was not out of place as Chaumet launched its new high jewelry collection titled Trésors d’Afrique with a dazzling African-themed soirée at the Centre Georges Pompidou earlier this month.
The “Colorama Chic” dress code on Chaumet’s invitation was freely interpreted by guests dressed in shades ranging from Lily Pulitzer-pink to the dizzying spectrum of Emilio Pucci. The festive theme could just as well have described the African-inspired décor that had transformed the museum’s elegant rooftop restaurant, Georges, into a giant African hut fully upholstered with colorful woven rugs in an homage to the hues and cultures of Sub-Saharan Africa.
Abuzz with the sounds of an African band and a star-studded guest list that included Natalia Vodianova, Naomi Campbell, Bérénice Bejo, and Liya Kebede, the museum itself had taken the opportunity to show—in a separate space open to the revelers—a curated selection of some 20 masterpieces from its own permanent collection. Karel Appel’s Vragende Kinderen (Questioning Children) from 1948 and Pablo Picasso’s 1956 Women at the Sea, among other striking artworks, made a winning argument for the influence of African art on Western artists.
Throughout the evening, a few treasures from Chaumet’s new high jewelry lines were paraded on statuesque models, a teaser for the complete collection that debuted on July 7 and 8 at Chaumet’s historic boutique located at 12 Place Vendôme, now open to public for the first time (by appointment).
Trésors d’Afrique is the third chapter of a precious jeweled saga titled “Les Mondes de Chaumet” that began with Promenades Impériales in Russia and continued with Chant du Printemps in Japan. This time, the French jeweler has paid tribute to the varied artistic and ornamental traditions of Africa through some 75 pieces of high jewelry that use mainly black onyx, red lacquers, and Grand Feu enameling techniques to add warmth to precious stones. The masterful works evoke the influence of sources as diverse as Maasai textiles and tribal ornamentation, not to mention the creations of the Maison Chaumet and the fertile imagination of its creative director, Claire Dévé-Rakoff.
Particularly refined is the Cascade Royale necklace, which sets black onyx against white and yellow gold in a piece that is positively dripping with nine marquise-cut diamonds and a 7.15 carat emerald from Colombia’s Muzo mines as a centerpiece. The striking collection of jeweled cuffs called Talismania bracelets, available in ebony, malachite, and chrysoprase, channel the serenity of the endless plains of the Serengeti, while also revisiting the ancestral woodcarving techniques of the Maison Chaumet.
The Kenyan-born graphic designer and “pointillist” artist Evans Mbugua, 38, designed the Bestiaire en Folie line of the collection in a first-time collaboration with the Maison Chaumet.
“As the jeweler of empresses and a maker of tiaras, the Maison found much in common with the supremely sophisticated headdresses and diadems from Africa,” read a statement from Chaumet. “Another key factor was our meeting with Evans whose work has enriched our creative references.”
Mbugua brought his signature contemporary artistic touch to the splendidly amusing set of six Espiègleries brooches, adding a rare touch of humor to high jewelry. His enameled giraffe brooch raises its diamond-studded head above a suspended cloud of rock crystal. A yellow-gold monkey clutching bananas hitches a ride on the back of an enameled zebra with pink sapphire and onyx stripes. The most jaw-dropping piece yet is a brooch that transforms into earrings featuring yellow-gold “acrobatic” ants loaded with spheres of sapphires and red spinels, precariously hanging from a lapis lazuli twig.
“I set off to tell funny, fictitious stories in drawings that were then transposed onto the jewelry pieces,” Mbugua told artnet News in a private tour of the collection.
The designer, who lives and works in Paris, worked in advertising before devoting himself to art. He was introduced to the Chaumet teams while showing his work in a group art exhibition outside of Paris. “The collaboration with Chaumet opened my eyes to the universe of stone setters whose work is very close to my own,” he said.
Of his work, he explained, “I apply oil painting using a technique that I invented, to place dots of color in different sizes on a support that is often transparent, to play with the perception of images and depths.”
Mbugua also designed the dials of six one-of-a-kind mechanical timepieces that use métiers d’art craftsmanship to reproduce, in miniature painting and hand engraving techniques, a new repertory of fauna that includes frogs, crocodiles, and serpents in lieu of Chaumet’s traditional bees and butterflies.
Chaumet’s tribute to a multifaceted Africa not only highlights the rich influences that the Maison is able to translate into its designs, but is also an eye-opening window onto the unexplored possibilities of high jewelry.
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