Chanel jewelry: complementing couture

This Chanel 18K pearl, pink tourmaline, amethyst, citrine and diamond ring sold for $16,000 in May 2016 at Bruce Kodner Galleries. Photo courtesy of Bruce Kodner Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

NEW YORK – Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel is synonymous with couture but an integral part of her fashion house was her jewelry, which was usually crafted by her team of artisans with specific Chanel garments in mind. From its iconic diamonds and fine gold bejeweled pieces to costume jewelry, Chanel jewelry has long been a favorite of women for its quality craftsmanship and fine artistry.

Chanel began as a fashion house in 1909 and soon after, Coco began making costume jewelry. The company officially launched its debut jewelry line in 1933. Today, its creations suit all tastes and budgets. According to the Eye of Jewelry website, “Chanel jewelry can be broken down into four different types of markets. … Each Chanel jewelry piece has its own style and characteristics, but all encompass everything Coco Chanel would approve of and love.” The categories of Chanel jewelry range from vintage costume pieces and contemporary costume jewelry to fine jewelry and at the top end, high-jewelry designs. Time has proven Chanel a solid investment with vintage jewelry pieces holding and gaining in value.

A pair of Chanel 18K white gold diamond and cultured pearl earrings made $11,500 in November 2016 at Estate Jewelry Auctioneers. Photo courtesy of Estate Jewelry Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

Whether a necklace, bracelet, brooch or signature strand of pearls, the right piece of jewelry can transform an ordinary outfit into a stunner. In the mid-century era (1950s-60s), Coco herself was seldom seen without a signature brooch, sometimes placed on her belt, tweed jacket or even on an elegant chapeau. She also had a flair for combining couture jewelry with lowbrow pieces, one of the earliest trendsetters to successfully mix street fashion with haute couture to create a curated but carefree look.

“Chanel was notorious for layering on ropes of faux-pearls and necklaces that contrasted beautifully against her minimalist designs,” according to The Loupe, an online jewelry guide at Truefacet.com. Before Coco Chanel revolutionized the jewelry – and fashion – trade, jewelry was expensive and only for the wealthy. She made it affordable to the masses and creating stunning looks that were stylish, ornate and bold yet classy and timeless at the same time.

A Chanel diamond and black gem camellia floral cluster ring brought $6,313 in March 2015 at Fellows. Photo courtesy of Fellows and LiveAuctioneers

Among signature Chanel pieces are its Maltese Cross cuff bracelets, which are encrusted with semiprecious stones in a variety of colors and set against white enamel. Coco was often photographed wearing these bracelets and the item has been a perennial favorite for buyers.

Anyone familiar with Chanel designs will also recognize the ubiquitous camellia flower, which as a motif has been incorporated into both her clothing and jewelry designs. Its simplicity and symmetry perfectly embody the elegance of Chanel. Reportedly, its origins lie in a teenage Coco seeing a staging of the play, The Lady of the Camellias, starring Sarah Bernhardt, and years later, one of her favorite paramours presenting her with camellia flowers, igniting an enduring passion for this flower, which manifested itself in her home and her business.

This Chanel diamond and 18K white gold camellia flower brooch realized $4,200 in December 2018 at Heritage Auctions. Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

While camellias bloom in a myriad of colors in the wild, Chanel has favored white and camellia-themed jewelry pieces have long been a staple of its jewelry collections. “The flower has been produced in almost every single Chanel collection since the 1920s, and crafted from all sorts of imaginable materials: enamel, diamonds, rubies and more,” according to online commentary on the Madison Avenue Couture’s blog. Among camellia pieces sold at auction as listed on LiveAuctioneers’ price database, highlights include a Chanel diamond and 18K white gold secret camellia watch that brought $30,000 in April 2017 at Heritage Auctions. A rare camellia floral cluster ring having diamonds and black gems brought $6,313 in March 2015 at a Fellows auction.

Colorful and having perfect symmetry is this Chanel gold and gemstone floral cluster ring that earned $10,000 in September 2016 at Neal Auction. Photo courtesy of Neal Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Throughout its history, Chanel has been breaking new ground. In 1932, it launched its first fine jewelry collection to great acclaim in Paris, in an exhibit titled Bijoux de Diamants, featuring diamonds in platinum settings. Comets, stars and celestial themes were well represented in that exhibit with Coco Chanel telling the French press that “I wanted to cover women with constellations … Stars of all sizes.” Another favorite motif for Chanel was the coromandel screen, paying homage to traditional coromandel screens made of lacquer, decorated with mythical scenes from the Far East. So taken with coromandel screens, she placed them throughout her Paris apartment and used them as a motif in her clothing. Decades after her death, the company’s Coromandel collection, introduced in the summer of 2018, is inspired by its inspiration from three themes depicted on coromandel screens: floral, animal and mineral. The floral theme is represented by Coco’s beloved flower, the omnipresent camellia, while animals and birds frolic amid diamonds, garnets, mother-of-pearl inlay, sapphires and more. The mineral theme is evinced through the use of crystals and gemstones creating elegant and lacquered visions.

A Chanel Camellia long necklace in 18K yellow gold took $6,000 in August 2018 at Alex Cooper. Photo courtesy of Alex Cooper and LiveAuctioneers

Longtime collectors and aficionados have noted one of the appeals of Chanel jewelry is its continued adherence to the design philosophies espoused by its founder over 80 years ago. Pieces retain a timeless look, ensuring their long-lasting appeal, yet are playful – especially when worn layered with other pieces – and meant to evoke the wearer’s personality.