Since the 1920's the House of Chanel has been producing some of the highest quality costume jewellery in the world, utilising the skills of some of the most famous and accomplished jewellers- Gripoix, Duke of Verdura, Goossens, Victoire de Castellane. Indeed it was Chanel who introduced the whole concept of costume jewellery - larger than life pieces that deliberately played on the fact that the materials were not precious.
Initially Chanel produced her jewellery to compliment her outfits, so they were not regarded as stand-alone pieces but a part of the whole ensemble. None of these pieces were signed, and it goes without saying that these early pieces are extremely rare and require considerable expertise to authenticate them.
Maison Gripoix and Chanel
Trailblazer for the new phenomenon of Couture Design in 1868 was a Paris glass worker skilled in the making of reproduction pearls who developed a sophisticated technique for setting and enamelling coloured, cast glass in intricate metal mountings, Augustine Gripoix. Founded in 1869 Maison Gripoix is the oldest master of the art of ‘Pate de Verre” (poured glass) jewellery, a technique where a mix of molten glass and enamel is poured into gold-dipped frame surrounding each gem, (rather than through the kiln-firing of a paste of ground glass and binding agents) creating semi-precious gems in the most amazing array of colours and tones which hold aspects of enamel, crystal and even the natural shimmer of the mother of pearl.
So unique is this process that even today any pieces made in a similar fashion bear the name of being a ‘Gripoix’ piece. The term has become a generic term to describe such poured glass.
Maison Gripoix’s first claim to fame was the creation of ‘stage necklaces’. Copies of fine Art Nouveau pieces for Sarah Bernhardt in the 1890s, followed by pieces for the world’s first couture house, Charles Worth. In a later collaboration with Paul Poiret, high-society clients commissioned pieces to go with the evening dresses they wore to Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. It was then that the term ‘costume jewellery was born, setting it apart from imitation jewellery when it’s creative value was recognized.
The design house, by then led by Suzanne Gripoix, soon began to create looks for numerous couturiers, from Chanel and Worth in the 1920s, to Christian Dior in the 1940s, and Yves St. Laurent and others in the 60’s, 70’s.
The couturiers wanted jewellery that complimented the various moods and themes of their designs. They were part of the overall look for each season. They invented the most realistic faux pearl for Chanel and brought her costume interpretation of Byzantine fine examples to life. Those deep jewel toned pieces and the beautiful poured flowers have become iconic. However; it was still the glass beads again at this early stage that were very popular. The secret of pouring glass flowers was said to have been passed down from the founder. But it was the lifelong relationship with Chanel that was to define both companies.
Together, Coco Chanel and Suzanne Gripoix created memorable pieces together. Iconic designs with inspirations that transcended the materials, becoming much sought-after works of art and adornment. Nothing can replace the vintage allure of these handmade masterpieces.
Today, Chanel Gripoix jewellery is amongst the most coveted and collected jewellery in the world. They still have a huge market amongst women who seek the unusual beauty of hand crafted accessories that create a personal statement, rich in understatement and elegance. Chanel was famous for mixing real and fake pearls in her own necklaces. For her, Suzanne Gripoix developed a special kind of irregular glass pearl to which she gave a mother-of-pearl sheen. Ms. Possémé said, “The place of jewellery changed because women’s lives radically changed. Precious jewellery was no longer suited for a life where women could drive, smoke, shop alone.” “Women,” she said, “began buying costume jewellery to match their bathing suits, and match their newly liberated daily lives.”
Gripoix also made pieces early on for private clients. Most of the earliest examples can be recognized from a few characteristics, such their use of handmade glass beads, pearls and sometimes the mark Made in France. Such pieces were one offs, or limited in production – all unique.
In the 1980’s Josette, Suzanne’s daughter, followed her as head of Gripoix, at which point they were already working with Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Lacroix, Balmain…among others. By the 1980s the demand was weakening, in favour of less expensive processes overseas. But as tastes and the structure of the fashion industry changed and a growing number of competitors emerged, Gripoix found itself in deepening financial straits.
After an unsuccessful partnership between Josette Gripoix’s son Thierry Caluwaerts and the jewellery licensing brand TWC, Gripoix was ceded to TWC by the French Trade Tribunal in 2006. The company appointed Marie Keslassy as creative director of Gripoix in 2007.
The current creative director, Fanni Fischer produces one collection a year in Paris and opens the showroom up to wholesalers of the collection. It is sold directly in their shop in Paris, as well. The company is now taking a new marketing direction, aiming to build its name as a strong publicly recognized brand in its own right.
Robert Goossens collaboration with Chanel
With Robert Goossens in the 1950s, the poured glass designs became more popular among Chanel patrons and collectors. According to some, Goossens did the designs and sometime metalwork, sometimes using fine examples, for Coco Chanel then they were copied by Chanel in Gripoix glass. His training with Parisian workshops and jewellers made him especially skilled as did being the son of a foundry owner in Paris. It is also possible that the Gripoix glass cabochons were supplied to him based on the design,then glued in later by Goossens. He also produced some similar techniques in his studio, so there is some confusion in terms of production, especially later when he became a sort of individual producer of jewellery for design houses as well.
Robert Goossens became Chief Designer for Chanel in 1960, though he had been working for her indirectly since 1954 through his goldsmith employer, DeGorse. His designs included rosary-style necklaces, long chains with beads and pearls, pate de verre eagles derived from Anglo-Saxon belt buckles, and huge Maltese cross brooches.
Goossens designs were massive. He used bronze, silver, molten glass, and Swarovski crystals to create bold, photogenic ornaments.
Robert Goossens, the son of a metal foundry worker, was born in 1927 in Paris, France. In his younger years, he served an apprenticeship in jewelry making, perfecting the techniques of casting, engraving, and embossing semi-precious and simulated stones into gold and silver metals. In his decades of creating fine jewelry, Goossens mixed the genuine stones with the fakes, a blend of the artificial gems with the semi-precious for clients including Coco Chanel, Cristóbal Balenciaga, Yves Saint Laurent, Madame Gres and Christian Dior.
Goossens' designs were heavily influenced by paintings and artifacts in Paris museums, with inspiration most often taken from Maltese, Byzantium, and Renaissance works. Over the years, he traveled extensively, frequently bringing back stones including sapphires, amethysts, rubies, coral, and chalcedony. Rock Crystal, the clear and colorless variety of quartz, was Goossens’ favorite medium and he was the first to set it into pieces of jewelry as he felt that its delicate and inexpensive attributes were well suited to costume jewelry. He also utilized bronze, shells, pearls, colored and natural rock crystal in his necklace, brooch, bracelet and earring designs.
Starting in 1953, Goossens worked with Coco Chanel to design jewellery to accompany her fashion designs, mostly through presentations where she would guide his inspiration. Chanel herself loved to blend the rich with the poor and Goossens' creations were entirely in keeping with that approach. Notable work during his tenure at Chanel includes silver and gold plaited pins set with emeralds, moon earth pendants, and crystal Byzantine crosses. Goossens would create original pieces for Mademoiselle Chanel made of real gold and genuine stones, which in turn were copied as imitations designed for fashion shows and presentations. These models ultimately served as the basis for Chanel's costume jewellery designs.
When he met Gabrielle Chanel in the early 1950s, she saw in him an artist who could interpret the jewels of her dreams. She saw a man who could merge savoir-faire and imagination, colour and volume, innovation and classicism.
Goossens continued his work with the house of Chanel after its founder's passing, and collaborated with her successor Karl Lagerfeld throughout the 1980s and 1990s to create costume jewelry for Chanel's ready-to-wear and couture collections. Chanel bought Goossens' company in 2005. Goossen's workshop north of Paris is still operating to this day, employing some fifty people to handcraft his designs. Goossens Showroom is in Avenue George V, one of the most fashionable streets in Paris.
Identifying Chanel Marks
Chanel closed her Rue Cambon shop during the Second World War, only opening it again in 1954. From this time, pieces began to be signed, and in reference books such pieces are usually dated 1954-1971 (from the date of the known first signature, to Chanel's death in 1971). The signature was simple - 'CHANEL' was either stamped directly on to the piece, or was attached via a hangtag (for sautoirs for example). There was one small variation - for the Haute Couture pieces (and therefore of the highest standard) three stars were also included, immediatedly below 'CHANEL'.
1971- 1980 Following Chanel’s death and Alain Wertheimer’s takeover of the company, markings on costume jewellery radically changed. Pieces still bore the CHANEL stamp, but it was enclosed in a stamped circle with copyright and registered trademark stamps in the upper left and upper right corners of the circle, respectively. “Made in France” was also stamped in the lower half of this circle. Also, for the first time pieces began to bear the interlocked “CC” logo, stamped between “Chanel” and “Made in France”.
In 1980, the stamp was altered slightly. The “Made in France” was removed and replaced by a copyright symbol and the date the piece was produced.
1986-1992 After being appointed head designer at Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld brought Victoire de Castellane in as head designer of costume jewellery. De Castellane introduced a new plate that gave more focus to the season each piece was released. The plates became ovals, still bearing the classic CHANEL with the copyright and registered trademark signs now directly to the left and right, respectively. Underneath, in the very centre of the plate, was the interlocked CC logo. On either side of the interlocked CC logo were numbers indicating the season the piece was released. For example, a piece from Chanel’s 23rd season would have a 2 and 3 on either side of the logo and the “Made in France” was returned to the bottom of the plate, where it had been initially. This style of plate was on all Chanel costume jewellery from their 23rd season to their 29th.
For one year only 1990/91 the mark from 1971-80 was used, dropping the date identification.
Beginning in 1993, the plate was redesigned once more with increased specificity regarding the season a piece was released. While most of the plate remained unchanged, the numbers indicating the season were replaced. In their place, de Castellane introduced the last two digits of the year the piece was released on the left of the CC logo and a letter, “A” or “P”, (“A” for Automne, or Autumn, and “P” for Printemps, or Spring) indicating the season within that year. Occasionally pieces will be marked with a “C” for Cruise collection or “V” for Summer, although these appear much less frequently than the larger Spring and Autumn collections.