Art & Culture
12 VENDÔME, AN EXQUISITE JEWEL CASE FOR MAISON CHAUMET
1780-2020. Chaumet has written its exceptional history century after century, an uninterrupted 240-year saga of the first jeweler to take up residence at one of the most famous addresses in the world, Place Vendôme in Paris. To celebrate this anniversary and restore the splendor of the Baudard de Sainte-James hôtel particulier, the world-renowned jewelry house has completely renovated its prestigious flagship. Join us for a private tour of 12 Vendôme.
STEEPED IN HISTORY
If Paris has two souls – that of Louis XIV and that of Napoleon – Place Vendôme is their metempsychosis, infused with the dual heritage of the Sun King’s classicism and Napoléon’s imperial glory. Between 1685 and 1699, at the recommendation of his finance minister Louvois, Louis XIV decided to create this open yet protected square at the center of power in Paris under the Ancien Régime. The architect, Jules Hardouin-Mansart, designed an octagonal shape measuring 213 meters in length and 124 meters in width featuring elegantly simple architecture, not unlike the exquisite cut of an emerald with beveled corners. Around the square his plans called for 28 hôtels particuliers – private mansions with perfect proportions and alignment.
In 1777, Claude Baudard de Sainte-James, the treasurer of the French navy, laid claim to No. 12, a prime location in the middle with a 180 degree view of the square. He chose the best craftsmen from the court of Versailles to build his private residence. In 1779, the architect François-Joseph Bélanger, who had built the Château de Bagatelle in just two months, applied his innovative vision to the interior layout of the salons, creating a festive space that was at the same time sumptuously stunning and elegantly refined. The woodwork was crafted by the Rousseau brothers who, in tribute to the owner, decorated the doors with shells, anchors, tridents and dolphins sculpted in fine gold. The painter Jean-Jacques Lagrenée Le Jeune reprised the marine theme in oval canvases featuring Neptune and Ocean. What would soon become home to Chaumet was at last ready to welcome life, unveiling an energy and elegance that would thrive over the centuries.
ROYAL AND IMPERIAL JEWELER
During this same period, in 1780 Marie-Étienne Nitot, an apprentice to the king’s jeweler Ange-Joseph Aubert, created his own jewelry house, Chaumet, writing he first chapter in the story of a Maison that continues to flourish nearly two and a half centuries later. Chaumet went through the French Revolution, the fall of the Ancien Régime and the coup d’état of 18 Brumaire, before entering history when Napoléon called on the Maison to make the jewels for his coronation, including the imperial sword set with the famous Golconde Regent diamond. Napoléon also had Chaumet craft the many gifts expressing his love of Joséphine, to whom Nitot became official jeweler. Over the years, Chaumet made both ceremonial and personal jewels for her, encoded with messages and symbols of the passion between Joséphine and Bonaparte. His creations revealed the many facets of the personality of a woman who was both passionately in love and an empress.
“Parisian jewelry was revitalized at the beginning of the 19th century with the consecration of the emperor and the coronation of Joséphine,” says Chaumet Heritage Director Claire Gannet.
Following his victory at Austerlitz, Napoleon chose Place Vendôme to erect a monumental column celebrating the victorious army, made using the 1,250 cannons captured from the Russians and Prussians during the 1805 campaign, and decorated with bronze bas-reliefs that recount the emperor’s illustrious victories, spiraling 40 meters to the top. The Place Vendôme was also the first place in the world to install gas streetlamps, earning Paris the sobriquet “City of Light” when they were first lit in 1829.
Over the years, the remarkable history of this aptly named hôtel particulier included festivities that added to its legend. In 1848 it was home to the Russian embassy. Frédéric Chopin resided there at the time at the invitation of his friend the Countess Potocka. Shortly before he passed away on October 17, 1849, he composed his final mazurka in the grand salon – which was placed on France’s national heritage list in 1927. In homage to the celebrated composer, Pierre-Victor Galland painted an allegory to music on the ceiling in 1864 representing the muse Euterpe. This is also where the young Eugénie de Montijo took up residence in 1851, beginning a romance with the future Napoléon III, who lived a few doors down at No. 6. The new imperial couple chose Chaumet to make many sentimental jewels – including their wedding rings – all carefully documented in the Chaumet archives. The jeweler moved from the Hôtel Gramont at 15 Place Vendôme, which the Nitot family had acquired in 1811 – and which has been the Hôtel Ritz since 1897 – to rue Richelieu, before finally settling into its permanent home at No. 12 Place Vendôme in 1907, under Joseph Chaumet. It was here in these exceptional contemporary premises that he decided to bring together a boutique, a workshop and a photo lab to document each creation.
A palimpsest of French history where power and luxury rub shoulders with art de vivre and culture, 12 Vendôme quickly came to embody all that is most precious in Paris in the eyes of the world.
2020. Maison Chaumet celebrates its 240th anniversary, spanning nearly two and a half centuries of history and collections marked by vital modernity that springs from a subtle alliance of longevity and creativity. And what better gift to fete this anniversary than a renovation of 12, Place Vendôme? “We needed to restore the splendor and grandeur of these unique premises. This is a responsibility, indeed a duty that comes with the privilege of occupying such an exceptional place,” says Jean-Marc Mansvelt, CEO of Chaumet. “From the stonecutters who worked on the façade to the artisans who contributed to the different interior spaces, everyone was totally committed to restore the building’s noble origins. Because the heartbeat of Chaumet is here, this is where its legend is written.” The spaces have been redesigned and connections reinvented, all contributing to recreate the building’s original vocation as a hôtel particulier and an exceptional Parisian residence. This is an invitation to an inspiring journey punctuated by jewels, intimate salons and sumptuous décors of gold, wood and stone. “Passion runs through Maison Chaumet,” notes Patricia Grosdemange, the architect and interior designer who headed the renovation project. “The passion shared by Napoléon and Joséphine is a passion for excellence and craftsmanship. Its history is both powerful and inspiring. I like to reveal the emotions of a place. I approach it like a musical composition, alternating louder and quieter passages. It’s like a piece of music that recounts the story of the Maison from an intimate perspective.”
The architect drew inspiration from the structure of tiaras, the essence of Chaumet’s savoir-faire. Tiaras have a firmly constructed, stable base to which poetry, lightness and femininity are affixed. She has referenced a Louis XVI spirit, the hallmark of French decorative arts, adding modernity and refining it. Meticulously chosen materials and colors feature chromatic palettes of white beige and royal blue, joined by touches of blue-gray and golden tones. They are elevated by an exquisite selection of antiques, Patricia Grosdemange continues. “We curated them with a specialist in 18th century antiques. Everything we’ve done has meaning and contributes to telling the Chaumet story with great sensitivity.” A 1920 Pleyel grand piano in the Grand Salon – now known as the Chopin Salon – is emblematic of this approach, evoking the musical soul of the illustrious composer in the place where he composed his last works.
INTIMACY AND CEREMONY
Jewelry is about heartfelt feelings and sumptuous ceremony, both of which guided the layout for the renovated 12 Vendôme. The Joséphine, Liens and Jardins collections are presented on the ground floor in a naturalist décor of alabaster, ears of wheat and gold, evoking the personality of Joséphine that has never left the Maison. A majestic staircase beckons visitors to the more intimate atmosphere of the boutique, accompanied by excerpts from Napoléon’s passionate love letters reproduced in handwritten calligraphy: “Each day I awake filled with you. Your image and the intoxicating delights of last night allow my senses no rest.” The cozy ambiance of the first floor unfolds in a succession of small, intimate salons. Future spouses are welcomed to the Salon Malmaison, a boudoir in nuptial white crowned with a romantic tiara sculpted in bas-relief. Couples in love come to choose the ring of their life, and brides-to-be arrive with friends to help select an exceptional jewel that goes perfectly with their wedding gown. Nestled to the side is a private alcove with a bull’s-eye window overlooking the hidden gardens of 12 Vendôme. The walls are covered in luxuriant vegetation, revisiting the rich tradition of French decorative arts with trees and plants set off by ears of wheat and laurel branches, like a secret garden. Bathed in a celestial radiance, the salon presenting exceptional pieces – and the place where special orders are conceived – is a jewel box set in a jewel box. The wall panels are straw marquetry, creating a play of materials and light where the golden honey tones of rye stalks set off the precious gemstones presented.
The staircase leading from the private salons to the Arcade creates a poetic link between heaven and earth, a canopy of oak leaves, celebrating the sacred tree elevated in many Chaumet creations. On the ground floor, visitors are welcomed to an entirely different décor in the Arcade. With its 70s feel, the space evokes an especially rich period for Chaumet jewelry design as the Maison set aside convention with innovative creativity that liberated Parisian jewelry to engage with a young clientele. It was here that the now iconic Liens collection was first presented in 1977 with its resolutely contemporary take on the sentimental jewel.