The glossy, elaborately carved Coromandel screens so beloved by Gabrielle Chanel take their name from the foreign pronunciation of Cholamandal, the eastern coast of India. Now, the designs of those screens have inspired the Chanel Coromandel Fine Jewelry line.
During the 17th century, it was a destination for French sailors under Louis XIV, who would set off from Brest or Bordeaux to sail around Africa in search of the jewels lauded by Marco Polo in his Book of Wonders.
Instead, they encountered Chinese merchants travelling from the court of Emperor Kangxi, who toted trunks of exotic treasures: jades, porcelains, and lacquer-covered screens.
Inspiration from the East
In a technique still unknown in the West at the time, the precious lacquer was made with an ancient Chinese method called Kuan Kai, or “incised colours,” made by inlaying precious stones and mother-of-pearl.
The lacquered objects quickly became highly sought-after across 17th century Europe, exported via southeast India to European markets. Gabrielle Chanel discovered the coveted screens in the 1910s, and wasn’t immune to their appeal.
She owned more than 30 of the screens at one point, and they followed her across multiple dwellings, providing flexible décor she could easily move and transform according to her needs. The opulent golds and scarlets of the lacquers evoked the mystique of the Orient and its gateway destination of Venice, which Gabrielle frequented with friends.
These mesmerizing masterpieces inspired the Chanel Coromandel Fine Jewelry line. Made up of 59 pieces, the collection shines in the jewelled colours of the famous lacquers: red spinel and ruby beads; tsavorite garnet and a 37-carat tourmaline in the “Vibration Minérale” ring; and hypnotic onyx transposed with deep black lacquer.
The pieces revolve around three themes dear to Gabrielle Chanel: The camellia, her signature flower; minerals, in a nod to her affinity for crystals and stones; and the landscapes and fauna motifs of the Coromandel screens she so loved. Though made of myriad materials, the pieces all have the same beauty of the original lacquer loved by Chanel.