Marie-Étienne Nitot (1750-1809) settled in Paris in 1780 after having served his apprenticeship at Auber, then jeweller to Queen Marie-Antoinette. His aristocratic clientele remained loyal to him until the French Revolution in 1789. It was after that that the Nitot jewellery house really took off, becoming the official jeweller of Napoleon I in 1802.
With the help of his son François Regnault (1779-1853), Nitot created the jewellery that would offer the French Empire splendour and power. The jewellery for Napoleon’s wedding to Joséphine de Beauharnais, and later to Marie Louise de Habsburg-Lorraine, was created by Nitot. He designed and set Napoleon’s coronation crown, the hilt of his sword as well as many other pieces for the court.
François Regnault Nitot took over his father’s jewellery house on his death in 1809 and continued his activity until the fall of the Empire in 1815. Napoleon’s exile caused Nitot, a fervent royalist, to withdraw from the jewellery house, selling the business to his foreman, Jean Baptiste Fossin (1786-1848).
Assisted by his son Jules (1808-1869), Fossin elegantly interpreted romantic jewellery pieces inspired by the arts of the Italian Renaissance and the French 18th century, but also naturalist-themed pieces. The elite of the period were won over and the family of Louis-Philippe, King of France from 1830 to 1848, as well as the Duchesse de Berry, succeeded Napoleon on the list of famous clients of what was to become Chaumet. They included personalities such as Anatole Demidoff, a Russian prince married to Napoleon’s niece, Princess Mathilde Bonaparte, as well as many painters, sculptors and writers, both French and foreign.
After the French revolution of 1848, the activity of Maison Fossin slowed significantly in France, leading to the establishment of a boutique in London with a workshop entrusted to Jean-Valentin Morel (1794-1860) assisted by his son Prosper, who was born in 1825. They attracted a prestigious clientele which included Queen Victoria, who granted Jean-Valentin Morel a permit as an official supplier. At the London World’s Fair of 1851, Morel resumed the enamelling tradition of the 16th and 17th centuries and produced hardstone goblets with enamelled mounts
In 1885, Joseph Chaumet (1852-1928) married Marie, the daughter of Prosper Morel, thus taking control of the House. The Renaissance style was still used, in particular for tiaras, very much in vogue at the time, which Chaumet would make one of its specialities; but Chaumet also drew inspiration from Japanese art, which was gaining popularity in jewellery design at the time.
In 1907, the workshops and boutique were set up at 12 place Vendôme, which they would never leave.
Marcel Chaumet (1886-1964) succeeded his father Joseph in 1928, at the height of the Art Deco period. The jewellery house participated in the 1925 Exposition des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, becoming a leader in this trend. Jewellery was more geometric, following the ‘boyish style’ of the 1920s, becoming more feminine during the 1930s. Colours, materials and fine gems were imperative for jewellery. From the 1920s onwards, the renown of the jewellery house spread to the world of the arts and show business. In 1934, Maison Chaumet sponsored the establishment of the young jeweller Pierre Sterlé, who was already designing its jewellery. In the same year the House closed, only to re-open at the end of the Second World War
In the wake of the post-war years, Chaumet stood out as a precursor, embodying the taste and creativity of the Parisian woman. Chaumet adapted the ‘New Look’ of the pioneers Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent, attracting the fashionable women of the time.
In 1958, the sons of Marcel Chaumet, Jacques and Pierre, were appointed executive directors of the House. They took over the Breguet brand in 1970. François Bodet, a Maison Chaumet executive, renewed the brand and positioned Breguet in the high-end watchmaking segment.
The 1970s were marked by originality and unconventional combinations, such as pairings of diamonds, coral and peridot mounted on yellow gold. The Lien ring, a circle encompassed by a gold loop in the centre, was created in 1977. In the 1980s, diamonds were added to the base and the ring was produced in white gold with a double circle. In the mid-1990s, the Lien became a cross, before making way in 2002 for a Lien set with diamonds. A ‘Premiers Liens’ collection was launched in 2007, in yellow, white and pink gold versions. In the 1980s, René Morin, the artistic director, used his varied influences to promote the resurgence of precious objects. Having joined Chaumet in 1962, Morin famously created a bull’s head from a block of lapis lazuli. Headed by the brothers Jacques and Pierre Chaumet, the company filed for bankruptcy in 1987 with liabilities of 1.4 billion francs, eight times the annual turnover, in particular due to heavy losses in their diamond purchasing and resale business after the drop in prices worldwide. The two brothers were convicted of illegal banking activities for having opened accounts that promised high interest on the principal. Convicted of ‘bankruptcy, fraud, breach of trust and illegal exercise of the banking profession’, they were sentenced respectively to five years’ imprisonment, of which two were mandatory, and four years, of which six months were mandatory, following the verdict handed down in December 1991. Their sentence was reduced by the Paris Court of Appeal to six months imprisonment, already served while in custody.
After their fraudulent bankruptcy, Chaumet was bought in 1987 by Investcorp, a leading Bahrain-based investment bank. The company lost 10 million francs in 1995–1997, but became profitable again in 1998, with a revenue of 280 million francs, and was bought by LVMH in October 1999. After an unsuccessful attempt to penetrate the American market in the late 1990s, the company opened stores in Asia to fuel growth. Chaumet was now part of the watch and jewellery brands that included TAG Heuer, Zenith, FRED, Hublot, Montres Christian Dior, and De Beers Diamond Jewellers (a joint venture between the LVMH and De Beers groups). In 2006, the brand became established in China, opening 24 boutiques in the country. Chaumet’s clientele is mainly Japanese and French, but China represents 25% of sales. On 9 June 2011, the Responsible Jewellery Council announced the certification of the French jewellers Chaumet. This distinction attests to responsible ethical, social, and environmental practices, as well as respect for human rights. A member of the Responsible Jewellery Council since 2005, Chaumet became the tenth member certified by the RJC.
In 2010/2011, the company's estimated sales were €60 million in total sales and €30 million in watches. In January 2014, it started a "more accessible Liens range" of watches.
The Place Vendôme groups together the House of Chaumet’s main activities. In addition to the head office, the townhouse plays home to the design studio and the Fine Jewellery workshop.
Chaumet controls all the design and production processes of the pieces issuing from its workshops. After being supplied with gold and gems, its fourteen artisans mould, melt, polish and set traditionally the pieces created by the House’s designers. The movements of the watches produced by Chaumet are manufactured in Switzerland. In 1969, Jacques Combes joined Chaumet as an apprentice. Appointed foreman in 1989, he was made a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters in July 2005. On 28 January 2011, Pascal Bourdariat succeeded Jacques Combes, becoming the twelfth master of the House.
Six jewellers under the direction of a master craftsman create all of the special orders and fine jewellery collections by hand. The House of Chaumet seeks to preserve its traditional know-how, which guarantees the quality of its work. For example, the workshop has conserved the wooden workbenches, which have remained the same for 200 years.
One of the practices unique to Chaumet is working with mock-ups for items of jewellery made of nickel silver. This makes it possible to show the client the shape or size of the item of jewellery before it is produced in the workshop.
Chaumet’s jewellery-making expertise enables the creation of exceptional pieces of jewellery and limited collections. This is the case with the “12 Vendôme” collection, which was created to mark the 26th Biennale des Antiquaires in September 2012. The collection’s name refers to the address of the boutique and the workshop located at 12 place Vendôme. The twelve pieces (including four diadems) in this collection are a tribute to the different styles adopted by the house over the generations.
A number of the items of jewellery in the “12 Vendôme” collection are transformable: a long necklace may be lengthened by the addition of two bracelets and an invisible system makes it possible to detach the aigrette from a diadem.
As a designer of fine jewellery, Chaumet began to produce precious watches from the 19th century onwards. The house has joined forces with Swiss watchmakers, such as Jaeger-LeCoultre and Patek Philippe, to create exceptional timepieces.
The pair of bracelet-watches from 1811, commissioned by Eugène de Beauharnais, was created by Nitot. Made of gold, pearls and emeralds, its manufacture combined fine jewellery with a meticulous watchmaking movement. It was at this time that the house succeeded in placing miniature dials at the centre of its bracelets.
One of the most recent creations, the “Complication Créative”, showcases the bee – Chaumet’s emblem – and the spider. The latter indicates the hours and the bee the minutes. This watch’s specific mechanism was created thanks to the house’s partnership with top Swiss watchmakers.
In 2013, Chaumet’s “Montres Précieuses” once again combined fine jewellery and watchmaking. The six pieces in this collection use a self-winding mechanical movement and are decorated with diamonds, mother-of-pearl, paintings or engravings.
After working for Chanel and Swarovski and creating her own collection under her own name, Claire Dévé-Rakoff became Chaumet’s new creative director. Her arrival in 2012 brought a new breath of life to the house: she used the hydrangea as a new symbol.
In May 2008, Lou Doillon was chosen by the jewellery House as its muse for the new edition of the ‘Liens’ ring. In October of the same year, the actress Sophie Marceau became Chaumet’s muse. Lionel Giraud, Jannis Tsipoulanis and René Habermacher launched the “L’Empire des Sentiments” advertising campaign, featuring the French actress in the private mansion of Le Rochefoucauld-Doudeauville. Since 2005, Chaumet has been the official partner of the César Academy. Every year, for the presentation of the nominees in the ‘best hope’ category, the House hosts an exhibition of photographs. Chaumet has collaborated with the photographers Kate Barry, Emanuele Scorcelletti, Stéphane Sednaoui, Zoe Cassavetes and Jean-Baptiste Mondino.
Items of jewellery with a link motif – lien is French for "link" – feature in the Chaumet archives dating from the Belle Époque. The first "Liens" collection appeared in the 1970s with the "Lien" ring, a band encircled by a golden buckle at its centre, created in 1977.
A few years later, diamonds were added to the band and the ring was produced in white gold with a double band. In the middle of the 1990s, the link became a cross, before making way in 2002 for a link pavé set with diamonds. The "Premiers Liens" collection launched in 2007 expresses the design in yellow, white and rose gold.
The Joséphine collection, launched in 2010, pays tribute to the empress, who was a devotee and collector of Chaumet jewels. This collection takes its inspiration from the diadem, tiara and aigrette, different head jewels worn by Joséphine.
The bee, the emblem of both Napoleon and the House of Chaumet, is the source of inspiration for the Bee my love collection. Over the years, the house has made the bee a symbol of romantic feelings. For this collection, the craftsmen have used a setting designed in the shape of a honeycomb cell symbolising beehives. The wedding rings in the collection may be stacked on top of each other and come in yellow, white and rose gold.
The "Attrape-moi...si tu m'aimes" ("Catch me...if you love me") collection launched in 2007 is composed of 18 designs, inspired by the spider and its web. Bees also feature in this collection.Anneau
Le Grand Frisson
The class One was created in 1998. It was the first jewellery diving watch.
The design of the watch has adopted various forms over the years: the Class One collection for women in 2012 is made up of two unique pieces crafted in diamonds and sapphires or rubies and eight pieces made of black and white diamonds.
The Dandy was launched in 2003 for the most famous men of the age. It was inspired by dandies from the world of art, fashion or literature who appreciated Chaumet watches.
Colourful stripes decorate the background of the dial, the plate of the automatic calibre and the back of the casing. The Dandy Arty, in black with blue glints, was launched in 2012.
The Khesis watch, whose name means “sun” in Navajo, is a cuff design consisting of rice-grain links, created in 1995. The creative principle of this watch was to offer a jewelled watch with a square face.
Over the decades, the House of Chaumet has designed hundreds of items of jewellery or original editions that have acquired heritage or historical status. From the 1970s, the house has been involved in an initiative to give its pieces their true worth in terms of aesthetic and historical value. This aim came to fruition with the creation of a museum in 1980 under the impetus of Béatrice de Plinval. The museum’s archives contain 200 items of jewellery, 19,800 original invoices, 80,000 drawings, 2,500 diadems and replicas of diadems in nickel silver – hundreds of which have been created since 1780. The museum is not open to the public but regularly organises events or exhibitions based on its collections.
The first exhibition organised by Chaumet was held from 28 March to 28 June 1998 at the Carnavalet Museum in Paris. This exhibition entitled "Paris, two centuries of design" showcased Chaumet’s creations since the age of Marie-Étienne Nitot. Paintings, photographs and manuscripts echoed the jewellery on display.
In September 2004, the Chaumet museum welcomed the “Napoleon in Love: Jewellery of the Empire, Eagles and the Heart” exhibition. This exhibition, celebrating the bicentenary of Napoleon’s coronation, revealed jewellery belonging to Napoleon, as well as Josephine and Marie-Louise. Some one hundred objects from the museum or on loan were placed on display.
The Chaumet museum also played host to the “Le Grand Frisson, sentimental jewellery from the Renaissance to the present” exhibition from October to November 2008. 150 items of jewellery from the museum and private collections were brought together on the themes of love, friendship and libertinism.
In July 2011, the House of Chaumet celebrated the 200th anniversary of the creation of its first pair of watch bracelets belonging to Eugène de Beauharnais. To mark the occasion, the house organised the “200 years of watchmaking design” exhibition bringing together 30 pieces and 300 drawings.
The Journées Particulières open days organised on 15 and 16 October 2011 were held in the workshop, the large salons and the Chaumet museum. These days were an opportunity to present jewellery from the Chaumet archive collections.
To mark the second edition of the Journées Particulières open days, which took place on 15 and 16 June 2013, Chaumet opened its doors to the general public. The history of the house, its historic headquarters and its iconic collections were presented in its salons. Meetings with the head jeweller and the craftsmen were organised to demonstrate the different steps involved in manufacturing a piece of fine jewellery.