Jewellery

An inside look at the star-studded events of high jewellery season

For the latest instalment of Vivienne Becker's Viewpoint, the jewellery historian explores the high jewellery season and the star-studded global events that follow

By Vivienne Becker

Look, someone’s got to do it… travel round the world, staying in the most luxurious locations, dining out, looking at extraordinary, thrillingly extravagant jewels, conjured around the rarest gemstones on the planet.

After all, it’s high season for high jewellery and 2024 has proved to be a bumper year for spectacular events hosted by the great maisons to unveil their latest collections of high jewellery creations to both press and private clients. 

To be part of this mesmerising merry-go-round of magnificence is to dip a toe, (or really just the tip of a perfectly pedicured toenail) into a parallel universe, the wondrously rarefied world of the high jewellery client. To glimpse, tantalisingly, through the bars of the gilded cage, the carefully choreographed dance, or seductive dialogue between maison and client.

High jewellery by Louis Vuitton
The launch of Louis Vuitton’s new Awakened Hands, Awakened Minds high jewellery collection in Saint-Tropez

The brands, storied jewellery maisons or heritage houses who are relatively new to jewellery, such as Louis Vuitton or Chanel, set up ‘shop’ (a massive understatement about which more later) in alluring locations – cities of culture and history, or emotive, evocative spots, like St Tropez, oozing Riviera glamour, as it did so successfully at the Louis Vuitton event last week.

Sometimes the places are chosen for specific relevance to the  collection on show: Tiffany reinforced its unassailable position as the founder of American luxury by showcasing its heavenly Celeste Blue Book collection in Beverly Hills, while for Cartier, Vienna, crucible of art, music, intellect, of Klimt, Secession, Wiener Werkstätte and Spanish Riding School, told of the deep cultural richness that underpins the maison’s style. And St Tropez underlined Louis Vuitton’s  quintessential ‘Frenchness’ as Francesca Amfitheatrof’s stunning high jewellery collection, Awakened Hands, Awakened Minds charted the course of French cultural and scientific progress through the 19th century, tracking the maison’s evolution from its founding in 1854.

High jewellery by Cartier
The launch of Cartier’s new Nature Sauvage high jewellery collection in Vienna

Sometimes though the locations are selected simply because they’re beautiful, romantic, exotic, tempting places we all want to go to,  like Venice, Florence, Lake Como, Amalfi, Marrakesh, regular fixtures of the Haute Luxe life. 

The maison typically orchestrates a total takeover of a town or city, requisitioning several hotels, some for press, another for clients, setting up a suitably dramatic mise en scène in which to showcase the new creations, to illuminate the theme and concept, to tell its story– a studied performance aimed at generating deep emotional engagement.

In Vienna, for example, Cartier created an installation of dried reeds, of the type used to weave baskets, some of them even moving, whispering, as if blowing in the wind, to suggest the collection’s theme of Nature Sauvage.

High jewellery by Tiffany & Co.
Celebrities attend Tiffany & Co.’s latest high jewellery launch in Beverly Hills

At Louis Vuitton, the different series of Awakened Hands, Awakened Minds were shown – in a staggeringly beautiful mansion overlooking the Mediterranean– alongside a cerebral curation of historical objects.

At Tiffany, in the historic Beverly Estate, one entire room recreated the sun-kissed landscape of Guadeloupe, where Jean Schlumberger spent his winters. And in Paris – where I’m headed tomorrow – Piaget celebrates its 150th anniversary by unveiling of a sensational high jewellery collection (I’ve had a sneak preview) within an installation-exhibition, melding past and present, reliving and re-igniting the maison’s spirit of audacity that set the watchworld and high society alight in the 1970s. 

Meanwhile, framing the jewellery presentations themselves, generous hospitality, dinners, lunches, outings, even car journeys,  are all branded on a staggering scale –  restaurant tablecloths, napkins,plates, cushions, beach towels, all are meticulously logo’d – last year at Lake Como, the Villa d’Este was completely Diorified with Toile de Jouy, and this year, Louis Vuitton labelled everything physically possible, even fans and the fabric bags they came in. It’s all breathtaking, sheer theatre… transporting us to other worlds, another dimension, the high jewellery universe.  It’s the couture experience on steroids.

High jewellery by Tiffany & Co.
Usher attends Tiffany & Co.’s latest high jewellery launch in Beverly Hills

Isn’t it interesting to think back to the time, pre-Millennium, when we all thought couture was dead (just as we thought mechanical watchmaking was gone forever).  Then new wealth burgeoned, in Asia particularly, and with it the insatiable appetite for extreme exclusivity, for luxury beyond luxury, for the one and only, the absolute. This is what these sensational events represent, what high jewellery has always meant, rooted as it is in the accoutrements of royalty, nobility and authority.  Although now, as we saw this year, an element of connoisseurship has been added into the mix, along with an engaging, enriching cultural experience.  

From the maison’s point of view, the high jewellery extravaganza is a way of immersing the client in its story, history, heritage and most importantly in its personality; showing off its credentials, artisanship, creativity, imagination, ingenuity, its place in society. A crossover of the client’s lifestyle with the maison’s ethos, these are events that reflect the way in which the client lives, breathes, travels, socialises and shops and then lures them still further, deeper into brand loyalty by inviting them into the ultimate exclusivity of the innermost sanctum of the jewellery world. 

For these clients – some flown in on private jet, all feted, wined, dined, gifted and entertained – (although of course press are kept separate) it seems that an invitation to these events becomes an aspiration in its own right. Dependent, apparently, on the level of custom during the year, or perhaps the potential for custom, which suggests there’s an incentive for the client to buy, so that they’ll be invited again the following year. 

The launch of Cartier’s new Nature Sauvage high jewellery collection in Vienna

Even within the small, privileged elitist pool of international high jewellery clients, the top clients, the biggest spenders and most loyal brand devotees, are offered early viewings and first dibs on the collection highlights – as each high jewellery creation is one-of-a-kind, with an eye-watering price tag to match. 

It makes me think that there’s a secret, innermost hierarchy of its own within the high jewellery collecting community, and maybe, probably, even surely with its own level of status anxiety attached. Which makes me think how lucky we are just to dip our toes, anxiety free, into this world of wonders. Is there anything else like it??

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