As the ultimate expressions of French savoir-faire and creativity, couture and high jewelry go hand in hand.
More than a decade ago, high jewelry even helped save Couture Week. The fashion industry had been wondering whether couture could survive, given how few houses were staging runway shows. Then, in 2010, many of the most prominent jewelry houses agreed to a day of presentations, shoring up the week’s anemic calendar.
Fast-forward to today, and the wheel has turned: Couture is faring better than ever, with 29 houses on the official calendar in Paris last week. In contrast, jewelry houses including Van Cleef & Arpels, Chanel, and Bulgari opted to sit out this season, leaving just three presentations — Boucheron, Dior and Louis Vuitton — on the calendar organized by the Federation de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, the sector’s governing body. Some heritage brands, including Cartier, Chaumet and De Beers, did hold small satellite presentations, however.
The January couture does tend to be more subdued than the summer week, when clients flock to the French capital before dispersing to St. Tropez, Portofino and other Mediterranean resorts. But that is only part of the picture. “The top clients are so entertained by the couture houses, with shows, private events and visits of sought-after exhibitions, that competition is very intense for any other activity,” said Serge Carreira, a luxury expert and business lecturer at Sciences Po in Paris.
In that vein, high jewelry brands have been creating their own V.I.P. experiences, taking their gems on the road for multiday destination events in Greece (Louis Vuitton); Florence, Italy (Cartier); Venice (Van Cleef & Arpels); and Italy’s Lake Como and Shanghai (Dior).
For the houses displaying jewels in Paris last week, however, couture itself was a favorite theme.
Embroidery was the point of departure at Dior, which presented its Dior Délicat collection in a mansion on the Left Bank. Of the 79 new creations, five one-of-a-kind pieces included a supple multistrand diamond necklace resembling a crisscross of various kinds of passementerie, or fancy trim.
Although her creations frequently have couture themes, Victoire de Castellane, Dior Jewelry’s creative director, said the Dior Délicat designs represented a different approach.
“I wanted to play with asymmetry because there’s balance to be found in chaos,” she said. “Each strand is studied as if it were reflected in a mirror, and at the same time the right and the left are not alike. The challenge was how to make it look as alive when it is still as when it is worn.”
The house also has been presenting jewels with men’s wear. At the Jan. 19 debut of the Dior men’s couture collection designed by Kim Jones, a model appeared in a high jewelry diamond necklace from a 2018 collection, called Dior Dior Dior.
Ms. de Castellane said that the Dior high jewelry atelier was finishing a one-of-a-kind floral brooch designed for a men’s wear presentation scheduled in March in Hong Kong.
Cartier unveiled the Spina necklace, composed of a meshlike weave of sapphires and diamonds and showcasing a Ceylon sapphire weighing more than 29 carats. The necklace, an addition to the Le Voyage Recommencé collection introduced in May, can be mounted on a special frame and worn as a head ornament, with the sapphire on top.
At Louis Vuitton, the Deep Time high jewelry collection officially centers more on nature than couture. For its second chapter, a collection of 50 jewels was divided into themes exploring aspects of life on earth, such as seismic phenomena, fossils and plant life.
And it was the first time that Francesca Amfitheatrof, the house’s artistic director for jewelry and watches, used the jewel that is perhaps most closely associated with couture: pearls.
The Seeds double-strand necklace, for example, twinned 43 gray Tahitian pearls with a tubular white gold choker set with white pearls and nearly 1,200 diamonds in a kite-shape motif. Earrings that creep up the ear have golden pearls and a serpentine version of a diamond-studded cord, a stylized version of elements in the house’s monogram, Ms. Amfitheatrof said.
A new chapter, she hinted, is to follow this spring.