How tweed influenced Chanel's latest high jewellery collection

The fashion house's fabric of choice is recreated in gold and precious gemstones

The Tweed Pastel bracelet is part of Chanel's high jewellery collection. Photo Chanel
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“At Chanel, everything starts from an idea, a story to tell,” says Patrice Leguereau, the brand’s director of the Fine Jewellery Creation Studio. “It’s a very special process, spirit and philosophy.”

This philosophy is very much embedded in Chanel’s rich history and the unique heritage left by its founder, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel. An innovator at every level – she changed how women dress forever. Coco Chanel, as she was popularly known, invented the little black dress and was the first fashion designer to launch a perfume. When it came to jewellery, she innovated the concept of fashion houses making diamond jewellery and started a tradition that would span decades. She left a legacy of originality and disruption that still exists, with the brand’s designers still inspired by her trailblazing efforts.

One of these is Leguereau, who has headed the Chanel fine jewellery division since 2009. During his 14-year tenure, he has consistently pushed the boundaries of what high jewellery can be, from a diamond necklace weighing 55.55 carats and shaped like a bottle of Chanel No 5 perfume, to his latest collection, inspired by one of the maison’s most recognisable emblems – tweed.

A hardy, supple woven cloth that is named after a Scottish river, Coco Chanel discovered tweed in the 1920s through her then-partner, the Duke of Westminster. Intrigued by the complex construction of the material that remained soft and wearable, she took it to France, added ribbons and sequins, and turned it into the cornerstone of Parisian chic. Now, a century later, boucle tweed is one of Chanel’s most famous signatures.

Leguereau, meanwhile, was introduced to tweed when he joined the company in 2009 via Lesage, the specialist atelier that creates Chanel’s haute couture tweeds. Now part of 19M, an umbrella of artisan studios purchased by Chanel to ensure their survival, Lesage has worked with the brand for decades. Leguereau decided to replicate this precious Scottish cloth in even more precious materials – gold and gemstones.

“My dream was to create jewellery with the same technical properties as the tweed, of lightness, flexibility, comfort, suppleness,” he explains.

The first iteration of Tweed de Chanel was unveiled in 2020, as a 45-piece collection that was quickly snapped up by collectors. Now Leguereau presents a second offering, this time expanded to 63 unique pieces.

“I understood that tweed deserves more than one collection. It’s a style and timeless. When I started drawing the first collection, I realised how large the possibilities were, so I selected the most obvious creations for the first collection, and kept the more colourful and more technical pieces for this second round,” he explains.

The latest collection is divided into five chapters, organised around motifs that were important to Coco Chanel herself. One chapter is inspired by ribbons, another by stars, and another by the sun. There is also a chapter dedicated to her favourite flower, the camelia, and another for her star sign, Leo.

To honour this famous tweed, Leguereau has replicated its lace, wool and sequins in diamonds, yellow and white gold, sapphires, rubies, spinels and beryl, to create a new visual language. “In the future, I would like it to be a classic Chanel collection, because tweed is limitless. Everything could be developed and created, and there is no colour limitation. It could be a base, like it is in fashion.”

Replicating the qualities of fabric in high jewellery is not easy, however, and it took more than a decade to create the first collection. Fully aware of how demanding the execution would be, his priority was first to build a team that could weather the many frustrations to come.

“This is why I waited for more than 10 years, to have time to develop strong connections with the workshop, the jewellers, and the stone buyers. To be strong as a team, and strong enough to be able to create these beautiful jewels,” he explains.

Now, three years on, with the unveiling of the second collection, the results are breathtaking. One particularly captivating chapter named Tweed Ruban is based on the curling ribbons of haute couture, which are used as fastenings and embellishments.

Now fashioned in white gold, white diamonds and cultured pearls, these simple lines twist and curl over one another to create light, breezy pieces such as the Tweed Pastel bracelet, made from delicately looping threads of gold and diamonds around a central oval-cut 2.02 carat, D-colour white diamond. This is matched by the Tweed Pastel ring, where threads of white gold, diamonds and cultured pearls frame an oval-cut, D-coloured diamond weighing 3.04 carats.

The Tweed Etoile (tweed star) collection, meanwhile, is inspired by Coco Chanel’s first and only high jewellery collection, the 1932 Bijoux de diamants. Reworking the idea of stars in a Parisian night sky, Leguereau turned to deep blue lapis lazuli, onyx and yellow sapphires to create the Tweed Etoile earrings, an asymmetric cascade of round, pear and star-cut white diamonds, separated by beads of lapis lazuli and onyx that spill around a cushion-cut eight carat yellow sapphire.

A matching sautoir necklace, meanwhile, is made of long strands of lapis lazuli beads, and round and star-cut diamonds, set in white and yellow gold, and gathered on the clavicle with lozenges of onyx to hold a 14.17 carat cushion-cut golden yellow sapphire.

Casually sublime, this elegance goes deep into the heart of Chanel style, where an effortless result hides countless hours of work by expert hands. To create the tweed patterning, he explains, required endless adjustments.

“It’s an illusion. It looks like it’s woven, but it has been made according to the language of jewellery. If you really make it like tweed, metal is thicker than fabric, so the jewellery would be too heavy and uncomfortable," says Legureau.

Part of this language was to create a new tweed pattern for each chapter, to enhance the storytelling. “It is important to be able to recognise which family each piece of jewellery belongs to, just by looking at it,” he explains. “The Lion is on a powerful, compact tweed, while the Ribbon is lighter, with movement an more open work. Camelia is like a very light flower and its petals.”

As well as the intricate weave, the dazzling use of colour makes this collection so remarkable. Shifting from feminine powder and fuchsia pink for the Tweed Camelia collection to the fiery sun of Tweed Soleil captured in yellow gold, orange topaz and beryl, the effect is bold and captivating.

“Colour is more and more important, and we have more in each collection,” Leguereau explains. This includes the Tweed Byzance brooch, which features a halo of golden yellow beryl, covered with a sunburst of white diamonds, around a central, 2.12-carat, cushion-cut diamond. In addition to the palette, the use of differing stones showcases Chanel’s jewellery expertise.

“For me, a complete collection uses different techniques, materials and gemstones, because you don’t set the stones in the same way. Each family of stones has a different structure, and the light plays differently, depending on the cut,” he explains.

The masterpiece of the whole collection is undoubtedly the Tweed Royal necklace. Part of the Tweed Lion chapter. It is a show-stopping plastron made from intricately woven diamonds, studded with 37 rubies, and set with a diamond-studded lion’s head in the centre. Underneath is a D-colour, 10.17 carat pear-cut white diamond. A piece of this magnitude brought its own problems.

“The technique was different [from the others], because of the size, the rubies and the dimensions. It was extremely complicated, as we had to be careful about the weight and comfort. It took 2,600 hours just to fabricate – working drawings, modelling the lion’s face, sketches, it took a lot of time.”

It is also transformable, like several other pieces in the collection, so the lion’s head can be worn as a brooch, while the large diamond can adorn the hand as a ring. Offering clients the ability to switch their jewellery around is crucial to Leguereau.

“It’s about style and wearing the jewellery at different times of the day. To offer the woman the choice of how she wants to wear it – long or short, with the stone on the ring or on the necklace – it’s very important to have that freedom," he says.

Updated: October 18, 2023, 5:08 AM