Chaumet (Est. 1780 – ) Among the world’s foremost jewelry dynasties, the French house of Chaumet is one of the oldest, most prolific, and highly revered. Its history began during the age of Louis XIV when Marie- Étienne e Nitot (1750- 1809) established it as, Nitot et fils. According to the firm’s official website, “The history of Chaumet … is closely interwoven with the history of France. Over two and a half centuries, Paris has been celebrated for the magnificence of [the Chaumet] jewelers.”
Nitot settled in Paris to begin his work after having served an apprenticeship at Auber, then jeweler to Queen Marie-Antoinette. His aristocratic clientele remained loyal to him until the French Revolution in 1789. It was not until 1802 that the Nitot jewelry house became prominent because it was then designated as the official jeweler to Napoleon I.
At first, Nitot was employed to list the jewels and objects of worth from the collection that had belonged to Marie Antoinette. He asked the authorities to keep them as educational pieces to teach young craftsmen the art of creating fine jewelry. Nitot was adamant on quality from the very start of his work.
Nitot et fils won the commission to create the Consular Sword in which was designed a setting for the Regent diamond. Among the house’s first exhibitions was the Exposition Industrielle at the Louvre. The house was already known for having created a white ‘parure’ (set) for Princess Josephine that was covered in diamonds with sprays of hydrangeas. The earrings alone cost 45,000 French Francs. A fortune at the time.
Nitot also made another famous parure of intaglios and cameos for Josephine who deemed it ‘enormously heavy’ and never wore it. The set was subsequently broken up and its parts and jewels incorporated into other creations.
The reputation Nitot earned as “jeweler of the tiara” began in his early commissions when Nitot created the coronation crown for Napoleon who wanted to make himself and his family unequalled. He saw jewels as a true symbol of power that would display his regal authority.
The Empress Josephine appeared at the Napolean’s coronation resplendent in a tiara created for her by Nitot. The desire for personalized jewelry spread quickly throughout the court.
Nitot went on to create Empress Marie-Louise’s wedding parure, a tiara for Pope Pius VII and many more incredible creations. Naturalistic tiaras and headbands made of garlands of flowers, fruit, leaves, feathers and bows, graced the heads of the European aristocracy and those who aspired to look like them.
Chaumet’s official company website further states that, “The wedding of Napoleon and Josephine de Beauharnais, and later with the [wedding of] Archiduchesse Marie-Louise de Habsbourg-Lorraine, niece of Queen Marie-Antoinette, brought Chaumet numerous sumptuous orders. Nitot became the most famous jeweler in Europe and built up a loyal and prestigious clientele.
“Napoleon’s taste for jewelry was [unashamedly] political. He wanted to restore France to the place it held as the center of luxury goods and fashion before the 1789 Revolution. It is as a result of that desire that Nitot became his official jeweler.
“Creator and innovator, Nitot transmitted his focus on quality and originality to his successors. After the fall of the Empire, Nitot’s followers devoted themselves to Romantic jewelry inspired by the decorative arts of the Italian Renaissance and of 17th century France. The appeal and expertise of the firm attracted a clientele composed of painters, sculptors, writers and theater actors.”
With the help of his son François Regnault (1779-1853), Nitot created jewelry that bestowed splendor and power on the French Empire. They designed and set Napoleon’s coronation crown, the hilt of his sword as well as many other pieces for the court.
When Nitot died in 1809, his son took over his father’s jewelry house and continued his activity until the fall of the Empire in 1815. Napoleon’s exile caused Nitot, a fervent royalist, to withdraw from the jewelry house selling the business to his workshop director, Jean Baptiste Fossin (1786-1848).
When Jean Baptiste Fossin took over the firm in 1815, he began to create romantic jewel designs that were the style of the day. Featured designs included naturalistic vines, leaves, olive trees, hawthorn and fruit rendered in emeralds, rubies, diamonds and topaz. In 1832, Fossin et Fils was named “Crown Jewelers” of France and in 1837 was awarded the Legion d’Honneur.
Francois-Regnault Nitot retained shares in the new firm as Fossin settled near the fashionable Palais Royal in over six floors that employed between twenty and thirty craftsmen, all of whom were supervised by Emile Darras.
After the fall of Napoleon, the business continued under the direction of Jean-Baptiste and his son, Jules who were both artists. They succeeded in capturing the spirit of jewelry’s romanticism just as Nitot et fils had done for the Empire. Experts compare their work to the Renaissance Masters.
After the Second French revolution in 1848, the French-based activity of Fossin et fils slowed. Fossin’s successor, Jean-Valentin Morel (1794-1860), went to England and through a London branch, became jeweler to Queen Victoria. At the time, his clients included Emperor Napoleon III, Eugenie of Montijo, and many more members of the French aristocracy.
The London boutique and workshop were entrusted to Jean-Valentin Morel (1794-1860) assisted by his son Prosper (1825-????). Their prestigious clientele included Queen Victoria, who granted Jean-Valentin Morel a permit as an official supplier. At the London World’s Fair of 1851, Morel resumed the enameling tradition of the 16th and 17th centuries and produced hardstone goblets with enameled mounts.
By 1853, Paris was again the center of the world for luxury and fashion. It was a ripe environment for the creation of jewelry to be worn day and by night with extravagant evening dresses. In 1854, the Morels moved back to Paris.
Like the aristocracy, many jewelers of the times tended to “keep things in the family.” When Joseph Chaumet (1852-1928) married the daughter of Prosper Morel in 1885, he took over running the house, eventually inherited it, and gave it his name.
Chaumet continued to create jewels for virtually every court in Europe, Russia, India and the near East as well as for the well-to-do. Social emblems, fashion accessories, tiaras and aigrettes were then the popular jewelry of the day.
It was during this period of creativity inspired by nature that Joseph Chaumet established himself as the “Master of the Belle Epoque.” With his elegant creations, he attracted a royal and aristocratic clientele. Aigrettes and tiaras, social emblems, and fashion accessories became a very important part of the firm’s activity.
In 1900, Chaumet received a Gold Medal at the Paris World Exhibition and also received the honor of a Russian Imperial Order. It was during this time that Chaumet also became known as the ‘Master of Tiaras.’ Chaumet also found additional inspiration in Japanese art that was also becoming popular in the jewelry designs of the time.
In the early years of the 20th Century, steamships offered a faster way to travel and Indian princes developed a taste for the pleasures of Europe. They were great collectors of jewelry and brought their pieces set with gemstones to the Place Vendôme, where Chaumet had moved, to have them re-set in light, supple platinum settings.
The most magnificent stones were primarily reserved for men, as indicated in the famous pair of pear-cut diamonds Chaumet purchased in 1911 for the Maharaja of Indore.
At the beginning of the century, Chaumet had forged a reputation as a master of tiaras and delicate, elegant lines. Some were inspired by nature, others designed around large stones or baroque pearls. Chaumet designed some pieces inspired by garlands, bows, and tassels.
In 1910 Chaumet opened a New York boutique located at 730 Fifth Avenue. Like most jewelers operating during the years of World War 1, Joseph struggled with war-time restrictions in France and, when he died in 1928, he named his son Marcel (1886-1964) as his successor.
In the 1920’s following the Art Deco styles of the period, the House of Chaumet produced geometric designs and followed these with more feminine jewels in the 30’s enabling the business to continue to thrive.
In 1928, the firm celebrated its 150th anniversary with an exhibition at the Place Vendome. In the same year, Joseph passed away. Marcel Chaumet (1886-1964) succeeded his father at the height of the Art Deco period.
His early jewelry was geometric following the ‘boyish style’ of the 1920s, but became more feminine during the 1930s. Colors, materials and fine gems were imperative for these creations.
From the 1920s on, the House of Chaumet became fashion touchstone and its style spread to the world of arts and entertainment. In 1929, after the Wall Street stock market crash, Chaumet was forced to carry out severe cost-cutting measures and reduce operations in London and Paris.
By 1934, the House had regained some financial stability and sponsored the professional debut of a young jeweler, Pierre Sterlé (????-1978), who was already designing for it.
When the Second World War broke out in 1939, Chaumet hid some gems and was called upon to remodel some client’s jewelry by remounting or melting it. Despite wartime pressures and deprivations, the House continued to pioneer luxury, tastefulness, and creativity. Business never stopped and French continued as patrons as the French sought to defeat the Germans.
In the post-war years, Chaumet was again setting stylistic standards for taste and creativity. Chaumet adapted the ‘New Look’ pioneered by Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent, and attracted a growing number of fashionably dressed Parisian women and their husbands.
In 1958, the sons of Marcel Chaumet, Jacques (1926- ) and Pierre (1928- ) were appointed executive directors of the House. They took over the Breguet watch brand in 1970. François Bodet, a Maison Chaumet executive, renewed the brand’s standing and positioned Breguet in the high-end watchmaking segment.
Chaumet’s reputation as a fine jewelry house was reconfirmed when, in 1972, the Louvre entrusted the firm to re-mount the Sancy diamond. Also during the 1970’s, Chaumet produced some important sets using unconventional combinations notably a diamond, coral and peridot mounted in yellow gold made in 1974.
Chaumet continued to innovate during this period using various designs of bronze encased in gold. The 1970s were also a period of originality and unconventional combinations, such as pairings of diamonds, coral and peridot mounted on yellow gold.
The Lien (Link) ring, a circle encompassed by a gold loop in the center was created in 1977. In the 1980s, diamonds were added to the base and the ring was produced in white gold with a double circle. In the mid-1990s, the Lien evolved into a cross. In 2002 it further evolved into a Lien ring set with diamonds. A Premiers Liens collection was launched in 2007 in yellow, white and pink gold versions.
Chaumet’s is also known for watches. It began to produce precious watches from the 19th century onwards.
A pair of bracelet-watches from 1811, commissioned by Eugène de Beauharnais, was created by Nitot. Made of gold, pearls and emeralds, its manufacture combined fine jewelry with a highly crafted watchmaking movement. This was also the time that the House began placing miniature dials in the center of its bracelets.
Eventually, the House joined forces with Swiss watchmakers including Jaeger-LeCoultre and Patek Philippe to create exceptional timepieces.
During the 1980s, René Morin, the artistic director, used his influence to promote the resurgence of precious objects. He joined Chaumet in 1962 and had famously created a bull’s head from a block of lapis lazuli. In addition, Morin designed many pieces using 24 carat gold, concentrating on earrings and rings that could be bought separately or as sets.
Under the young Chaumet brothers, Jacques and Pierre, the company filed for bankruptcy in 1987 due to heavy losses in their diamond purchasing and resale business. The two brothers were convicted of illegal banking activities for having opened accounts that promised high interest on the principal.
Convicted of ‘bankruptcy, fraud, breach of trust and illegal exercise of the banking profession’, they were respectively sentenced to five years’ imprisonment of which two were mandatory, and four years, of which six months was mandatory. Following the verdict issued in December 1991, their sentences were reduced by the Paris Court of Appeal to the six months imprisonment that had already been served.
After the bankruptcy scandal, Chaumet was bought in 1987 by Investcorp, a leading Bahrain-based investment bank. Consequently, both Jacques and Pierre Chaumet resigned that ended the Chaumet family’s involvement in the business.
After the acquisition by Investcorp, the company lost 10 million francs between 1995 and 1997, but became profitable again in 1998. It was bought by LVMH in October 1999.
After an unsuccessful attempt to penetrate the American market in the late 1990s, the company opened stores in Asia to fuel growth. Chaumet became part of the watch and jewelry brands that included TAG Heuer, Zenith, FRED, Hublot, Montres Christian Dior, and De Beers Diamond Jewelers.
In 2006, the brand became established in China, opening twenty-four boutiques there. Chaumet’s clientele is mainly Japanese and French, but China represents twenty-five percent of its sales.
From 2010-11, the company’s estimated sales were €60 million in total sales and €30 million in watches. In January 2014, it started a “more accessible Liens range” of watches.
One of the most recent creations, the Complication Créative, showcases the bee – Chaumet’s emblem – and the spider. The latter indicates the hours and the bee the minutes. This watch’s specific mechanism was created in partnership with top Swiss watchmakers.
In 2013, Chaumet’s, Montres Précieuses again combined fine jewelry and watchmaking. The six pieces in this collection use a self-winding mechanical movement and are decorated with diamonds, mother-of-pearl, paintings or engravings.
After working for Chanel and Swarovski plus creating her own collection under her own name, Claire Dévé-Rakoff became Chaumet’s creative director. Her arrival in 2012 brought a new breath of life to the house: and she interpolated the hydrangea as a new symbol.
One of the House’s most historic, notable, and limited collections is the 12 Vendôme created to mark the 26th Biennale des Antiquaires in September 2012. The collection’s name refers to the address of the Chaumet and its workshop 12 place Vendôme.
The twelve pieces (including four diadems) are a tribute to the different styles adopted by the House over the generations. A number of jewelry items in the collection are transformable. For example, a long necklace may be lengthened by the addition of two bracelets and an invisible system makes it possible to detach the aigrette from a diadem.
Another notable collection is the Joséphine launched in 2010 that pays tribute to the empress, a devotee and collector of Chaumet jewels. This collection takes its inspiration from the diadem, tiara and aigrette, and different head jewels worn by Joséphine.
Also important is the Bee my love collection. The bee, the emblem of both Napoleon and the House of Chaumet, is the collection’s source of inspiration. For it, the House’s craftsmen used a setting designed in the shape of a honeycomb cell to symbolize beehives. The wedding rings in the collection may be stacked on top of each other and come in yellow, white and rose gold.
The Attrape-moi…si tu m’aimes (“Catch me…if you love me”) collection launched in 2007 is composed of 18 designs, inspired by the spider and its web. Bees also feature in this collection.
Over the decades, the House of Chaumet designed hundreds of jewelry items or original editions that acquired heritage status. From the 1970s, the House has been involved in an initiative to give its pieces their true worth of artistic and historical value. This goal was realized with the creation of a museum in 1980.
The museum’s archives contain 200 items of jewelry, 19,800 original invoices, 80,000 drawings, 2,500 diadems and replicas of diadems in nickel silver – hundreds of which were created from 1780 onward. The museum is not open to the public but regularly organizes events or exhibitions based on its collections.
In January 2015, after having spent ten years at Louis Vuitton, Jean-Marc Mansvelt assumed the leadership of Chaumet. Blouin Artinfo published an interview with Mansvelt in July 2015 they conducted with as the House launched its latest collection dedicated to the Empress Joséphine.
In the interview, Mansvelt said, “There was really a search at Chaumet over the years, to go beyond the demonstrative, the sumptuous, the visible, it was very much for people who didn’t have to prove their wealth. The Chaumet style has a real personality, an expression that is extremely modern and interesting. We’re distinctive and … our style is a lot about a sense of lightness and grace.”
Finally, there is one more creation that should not be overlooked: The Chaumet Emerald tiara also known as “The Wonder Woman” tiara. Made in 1926, using stones from jewels in the grand ducal collection, it is set in platinum and features one big emerald right in the center with an Art Deco diamond surround and one particularly large diamond sitting under the emerald. The shape is overwhelmingly triangular and the piece culminates in a distinctive top point.
It was first was worn by Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg who placed it across her forehead, bandeau-style, as was fashionable when the piece was made. It was passed to Charlotte’s daughter-in-law, Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte who is addressed as Grand Duchess Maria Teresa. She’s worn it several times in conjunction with various other emerald pieces belonging to the family.
For generations, the House of Chaumet has been among the world’s most notable fine jewelry creators and shows no sign of losing these distinctions.