coco chanel
Coco Chanel standing next to one of the coromandel screens she collected in 1937.

The words “Mademoiselle Prive” are inscribed on the doors of Gabrielle Chanel’s workshop at Rue Cambon. Pushing past them, you are transported to a world of artisanal craftsmanship and couture, a place where the most emblematic symbols of Chanel were created, and continue to be upheld.

It is fitting, then, that the Mademoiselle Prive line of watches should bring together the Metiers d’Art of high jewellery and watchmaking, highlighting cherished symbols of the house through expert techniques that pay tribute to traditional arts and skills.

And the latest embodiment of this artistic union between various manner of fine crafts are the Mademoiselle Prive Coromandel watches, each piece a work of art that is truly unique as only one of each dial has been produced.

coco chanel apartment
The screen at her Parisian apartment today.

As anyone who has ever seen Chanel’s apartment – be it in pictures or, for some lucky individuals, in real life – is likely to tell you, among the first things that grab the eye are the coromandel screens lining the walls. They are her sumptuous, ultra-luxe take on wallpaper. “I almost fainted with happiness the first time I saw a coromandel in a Chinese shop. Screens were the first thing I bought,” she said, before going on to collect 32 of these exquisite creations.

They depict scenes of daily life, landscape and nature, in particular flowers and birds, and these motifs have been painstakingly reproduced, in both flamboyant and understated styles, on the dials of the Coromandel collection, employing three different – but equally rigorous and demanding – techniques.

Grand feu enamel is a technique of miniature painting in which paint is slowly, precisely and meticulously applied in tiny brushstrokes on a black enamel base, before being fired to reveal the subtle, intricate nuances underneath. In true only-the-best-will-do fashion, the house has entrusted all Mademoiselle Prive dials created using this technique to the expert hands of renowned Swiss enamel artist Anita Porchet, who devotes up to three weeks of work on each dial.

Chanel Mademoiselle Prive collection
The Mademoiselle Prive collection through the years has featured rare artisanal techniques like glyptic and gold sculpting.

No less time and effort went into dials made using the glyptic technique, each requiring an artist to spend more than 100 hours to complete. An ancient art form embraced as far back as the time of the Egyptians, glyptic consists of carving and engraving gems and precious stones, both in intaglio and relief, for a sense of depth and realism. Through the use of tiny tools developed specially for the task, materials such as coral, turquoise, cornaline and lapis lazuli are expertly manipulated, coming together with mother-of-pearl, gold and enamel accents to form the mythical images found on the coromandel screens which Coco Chanel herself used to gaze upon.   

Equally inspiring is the sight of flowers, branches and birds intertwined; a beautiful composition transposed from the screens’ lacquered panels to the onyx dials of the Coromandel watches through the use of the sculpted gold technique. Here, gold is cut, shaped and etched to form the most delicate leaves and branches. Combined with mother-of-pearl flowers, it becomes a vision of ethereal lightness and beauty.

The celebration of fine handcrafts extends also to the 18K gold case, where the delicate diamond snow-setting technique ensures that no two cases in the Mademoiselle Prive Coromandel collection are the same. Exclusivity, expertise and dedication – one could almost see Mademoiselle Chanel nodding her head in approval of these techniques.

As with the coromandel screens decorating her apartment, they serve to prove how her singular, timeless and far-reaching vision continues to light the path for the brand, one symbol at a time.

An adapted version first appeared in 24:7’s December issue.

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