Cover Botanist Marc Jeanson, who conceived ‘Végétal – L’École de la Beauté’ as a herbarium of the plant species found in Chaumet’s archives

Chaumet shines a light on nature’s eternal beauty through jewellery and art with its new exhibition in Les Beaux‑Arts de Paris

From unfurling petals to textured leaves, the beauty of flora has been endlessly explored, exalted and eternalised in the world of jewellery—especially at the house of Chaumet.

The French jewellery brand was founded by Marie‑Étienne Nitot, who called himself a “naturalistic jeweller”. With his son François‑Regnault, Nitot ploughed inspiration from plant life to conjure creations worthy of their royal clients, including Emperor Napoleon and Empress Joséphine. The empress, in particular, favoured Chaumet’s wheat‑ear tiara, which is one of the many sparkling specimens found in the maison’s new exhibition, Végétal – L’École de la Beauté.

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Staged in the historic French arts school and museum, Les Beaux‑Arts de Paris, the exhibition is rooted within the context of a herbarium for Chaumet, albeit one that collects diamond jewellery instead of dried plants. 

“Other houses have placed an emphasis on nature, but plants possess a peerless identity and singularity for Chaumet,” says botanist Marc Jeanson, who curated the exhibition. Jeanson has worked on the maison’s past exhibitions, namely a showcase of its drawings at Salon du Dessin in Paris in 2018 and the Dess(e)in de Nature exhibition in 2019. “This botanical look at Chaumet, which began with Salon du Dessin, comes to its culmination in Végétal.”

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Jeanson continues: “Looking at the maison’s jewellery creations, I was struck above all by the magic of the stones and the stunning accomplishment of the jewellery know‑how. But by focusing more pointedly on the archives, I realised that there was also a remarkable botanical and symbolic dimension, which exceeds the awe aroused by the jewels.”

With his botanical expertise, Jeanson set about connecting Chaumet’s legacy to the larger natural world. Drawing up a list of species exclusively associated with Chaumet, he selected some 100 works from the maison, encompassing jewellery, drawings and nickel silver tiara models.

Among these treasures is the Carnation tiara, designed by Joseph Chaumet for Madame Henri de Wendel in 1905 and specially reconstructed at Chaumet’s high jewellery workshop for the exhibition more than a century after it was first created, and the hydrangea brooch from 1807 that was made for Empress Joséphine’s daughter, Queen Hortense, which “completely illustrates the exhibition’s message”, says Jeanson.

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As if these marvels aren’t enough, Jeanson also branched out into the archives of other jewellery houses, as well as the art collections of the world’s most esteemed museums, foundations, galleries and private collectors. More than 70 institutions, including the Musée du Louvre, the Victoria & Albert Museum and the British Museum, made contributions to the exhibition.

“Some people were quite surprised to see a house like Chaumet taking on such a vast and ambitious exhibition. But positively surprised!” enthuses Jeanson. “Ultimately, they understood that this was a project with real meaning and an important reflection of the contemporary consciousness.”

Past and Present

Through Végétal, Jeanson created an ecosystem where Chaumet’s jewellery archives interact with art masterpieces. “We’ve mixed contemporary and heritage pieces to create resonances and to shape aesthetic and sometimes unexpected dialogues,” he says. “The selection of works brings together art and science. Our desire was to not be exclusionary or to create borders, but find works that could form a perfect and sublime blend.”

And so it came to be that the aforementioned Chaumet jewels are shown alongside works such as Claude Monet’s iconic Irises, Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s Spring and Summer paintings, sensual photographs of peonies by Robert Mapplethorpe, floral sketches by Eugène Delacroix and Le Corbusier, and botanical plates by Pierre‑Joseph Redouté, whom Empress Joséphine called upon to paint the gardens of Malmaison.

Mirroring the botanical practice of preserving plants, Chaumet also sought to restore some of the historic works in the exhibition. This includes the 12‑metre‑long millefiori tapestry from the 16th century that is on loan from Pistoia Musei and required the permission of the Vatican to be exhibited.

How does one house all that beauty? Again, Jeanson looked to nature, splitting the exhibition into rooms that centre on different landscapes, such as the cave, the forest, the wheat field, the shore and the garden. Visitors are encouraged to wander through these rooms, brought to life by scenographer Adrien Gardère, and take in the wonders of nature.

“We’re going through a period marked by perpetual anxiety linked to the mass extinction of biodiversity, when no one is really able to describe a wisteria or a dandelion any more,” reflects Jeanson. “This is the experience that we wish to offer visitors: to see nature not as something associated with anxiety, utility, [and] the production of oxygen and food, but instead as a source of inspiration and incomparably extraordinary and timeless beauty.”

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