Chanel Unveils A Celestial Masterpiece To Celebrate 90 Years Since Coco’s First (And Only) High Jewellery Collection

Coco Chanel French top designer. Paris 1937.

Today, Chanel unveils a glimpse of its new high jewellery collection for 2022, and it’s one that quite literally reaches for the stars. The centrepiece of the 1932 collection, which celebrates 90 years since Bijoux De Diamants, its founder’s historic and one and only high jewellery collection, is the Allure Céleste. This magnificently modern sapphire and diamond necklace was inspired by the same celestial theme that spurred Gabrielle Chanel’s own creations. “I wanted to cover women in constellations,” said the designer when her collection was unveiled at her private apartment at 29 rue du Faubourg de Saint-Honoré, on 5 November 1932.

The Allure Céleste is the starry centrepiece of the 1932 collection. It can be worn in a number of ways including as a short necklace, three brooches and as a bracelet.

Patrice Leguéreau, director of the Chanel jewellery creation studio today, says he wanted 1932, which will launch fully in May, to pay homage to the audacity and wearability of Coco’s Bijoux de Diamants – which eschewed clasps and fuss in favour of bold, transformable pieces in a palette of diamonds and platinum – and at the same time move the conversation forward. “I wanted to create a different vision of this legacy, by setting these celestial elements in motion,” he explains. 

In the Allure Céleste, the movement and light that emanates from the night sky is captured in shimmering halos of diamonds that radiate out from each motif. A crescent moon cradles a 55.55 carat (naturellement, five being Coco’s favourite number), intense blue sapphire, while a comet centres on an 8.02 carat pear-shaped diamond, its fiery tail coming alive in gradated lines of diamonds in assorted cuts.

Coco Chanel pictured here in 1937.

Horst P. Horst

Coco herself was as renowned for her contradictions as she was for her style and her sharp wit. She once proclaimed she favoured costume jewellery over fine jewellery, because she found it “disgraceful to walk around with millions of dollars around your neck, just because you are rich”. Under her direction in the 1920s, costume jewellery became no longer a mere imitation of the “real thing”. She helped establish it as an art form in its own right, whether in commissioning the magnificently opulent Maltese cross cuffs from her friend Duke Fulco di Verdura, or in her elegant tumbles of long pearl necklaces layered over a little black dress.

A shooting star necklace from Chanel’s 1932 Bijoux de Diamants collection.

She was prompted by the Great Depression however to revisit her thoughts around precious jewels. The Wall Street crash of 1929 had a calamitous effect on the entire world, as people and businesses found themselves in ruin. In typically bombastic style, her dislike of ostentation and high value gems was turned on its head. “This aspect fades in times of financial crisis, when an instinctive need for authenticity in all matters returns, reducing an amusing bauble to its actual worth,” she said in the press kit for the Bijoux de Diamants collection. “If I have chosen diamonds, it is because they represent the greatest value in the smallest volume.”

The cover of Vogue Paris, January 1933, in which the collection was reviewed.

The collection was financed by the London Diamond Corporation, who hoped that Chanel’s creative talents might kickstart renewed energy in the market following several years in the doldrums. Their gamble paid off. Following the two-week exhibition, which was visited by the great and good of the Parisian creative scene, including Pablo Picasso, Gloria Swanson, Condé Nast and star dancers from the Ballets Russes, shares in the company rose and a new buzz around diamonds and precious jewellery was achieved. As Coco herself said, “Nothing could be better for forgetting the crisis than feasting one’s eyes on beautiful new things, which the skills of our craftsmen and women never cease to unveil.”

In customary fearless style, Chanel chose to display her creations on wax busts rather than on jewellers’ trays. With the help of friends including artist Paul Iribe, who designed the jewellery, the poet Jean Cocteau who wrote the collection manifesto, and Robert Bresson (later a celebrated film director), who photographed it, she created a unique collection that above all was focused on the female body and how jewellery should work to enhance it, not hinder it. “In a world that was deeply masculine, Gabrielle Chanel was a woman who designed for women. In her view jewellery should be an idea, not a status symbol of the men who bought it for the women in their lives,” says Marianne Etchebarne, Chanel’s global head of watches and fine jewellery product marketing, clients and communication.

Robert Bresson’s images of the Bijoux de Diamants exhibition appeared in Vogue Paris, January 1933.

Just as she created fashion that offered women new freedom and flexibility in their clothes, a star brooch could be worn in the hair or on a lapel. A comet caressed the neck, its tail of diamonds flattering the wearer’s décolletage. She focused on the motifs that made up her world, from supple couture ribbons of diamonds to the mosaic floors of the Aubazine abbey where she was raised that detailed the sun, the moon and five-point stars.  “It caused a sensation at the time and still today it remains the cornerstone of our jewellery designs,” says Etchebarne.

“My stars! How could anything be more becoming or more eternally modern?” Gabrielle Chanel.

But the collection was not without controversy. Paris’s traditional jewellery houses were outraged that a mere couturière — a dressmaker —  and a woman to boot, had been tasked with creating a high jewellery collection in the hope of reinvigorating the diamond market, and they demanded that the corporation close the project down. The corporation persisted but its plans to bring Bijoux de Diamants to London never materialised, and most of the pieces were broken up, never to be seen again. Little did those Parisian jewellers know that the collection’s legacy – and Coco’s vision – would live on, and still be inspiring the world today.