As a Maison that is known for its great legacy, joy and optimism, French jeweller Chaumet will surely have found it difficult to embrace the difficult times the world has experienced throughout this year.
But with CEO Jean-Marc Mansvelt at the helm, there is always positivity to be seen. Mansvelt has made it his motto, particularly this year, to see the brighter side of situations. He has always been optimistic in the way he works, and it’s that optimism that has been driving the House through this unusual year. Since joining Chaumet in 2015, Mansvelt has continued to raise the profile of the brand, particularly on an international scale. While building for the future, he has been sure to remember the 240-year legacy that this historical brand has behind it and continue that story into the future.
Chaumet has long been recognised for its understated, timeless and elegant DNA. Since its founding in 1970, the House has served as a jeweller to some of the world’s most iconic women. One of its most pivotal moments came in 1802 when it became the official jeweller for Napoleon. The French leader would gift pieces to his wife Joséphine Bonaparte and their love story has continued to be at the heart of the House. Today, as we look to the future after COVID-19, a new chapter of Chaumet begins and it is one of optimism and positivity. We discuss the latest collections and upcoming projects for the brand particularly in the Middle East, with CEO Jean-Marc Mansvelt.
We have been through a very challenging year how has Chaumet managed to stay close to its clients through these difficult times and have you changed anything about the way you are communicating the brand?
We have experienced two different periods, during the full lockdown we had to change a lot, all of our teams were forced to work differently and invent new ways to communicate with the clients. We did this through live screenings, videos etc. We had to be pragmatic and I think that has been one of the learning curves of this period and it’s something that has been positive. Since the complete lockdown, we have reopened our stores in most countries and what we are seeing is a mixture of physical and digital experiences. Physical remains very important but today it does depend on the wish of the client as still some clients don’t want to come to the stores. Human contact is still super important, maybe even more important in a way, but to maintain the continuity with our clients there is more of a digital connection than there was in the past.
Tell us about the latest high jewellery collection and the elements of freedom and movement that were celebrated in it?
It was interesting because it was both fantastic to show this collection and express that life continues, but it was also frustrating as we were not able to present the full offering. When you prepare such a collection you articulate the different chapters and angles and the value really comes when you have everything together because then you understand the richness of each piece and how you create a synergy between them. Secondly, I personally still believe that jewellery in general and high jewellery particular is about seeing, touching, and trying on. These aspects are essential because the pieces are things that really have to connect to your skin and to your emotions. So it was frustrating because even though we could communicate things digitally and in alternative ways, it did not replace the physical and emotional experience of seeing the pieces.
But the positive side was that we were able to remind our clients that life continues and despite everything, we can still talk about creativity and things that can surpass difficult moments. This is actually what I think is the purpose of jewellery. It is, of course, a beautiful collection. It took three years of work and I was happy to show such an interesting theme and to offer once again something that is not only about being a beautiful piece but to open up a way of seeing things and create those links and parallels between architecture and jewellery design. Despite the difference in size, there are many parallels between the two in terms of construction, equilibrium, light, movement etc. and I like this approach very much. I believe in crosslinking everything to open up the understanding of the vision and creativity.
In this issue we are talking about the future, in the case of Chaumet how do you keep the balance between guarding the legacy of the Maison and being relevant for the future?
I don’t have a secret recipe and I don’t think it’s something based on science. I think the most important thing is to first be aware of the question that you asked and keep it in the back of your mind. I strongly believe that whatever you are facing, what is important is to be aware of the subject. Meaning that you are always asking yourself ‘how do I continue?’ ‘How do I enrich the past?’ ‘How do I stay true to authenticity?’ Secondly, you must be aware that no one is interested in you because of the history, but rather because it means something for the people of today.
On a personal level, before I joined Chaumet I had a very simple formula that I continue to do. That is to write down a certain number of rules that I follow. Amongst my rules, I addressed exactly the point of this question. I know it sounds silly but sometimes very simple things like this work as more efficient guidelines for me, rather than any sort of big concept. I regularly come back to this paper and refocus my attention in order not to lose my way. I think the key is to be immersed in what you do and not forget what is important.
How would you sum up what you have done since joining Chaumet and what was the strategy that you adopted to stand out as you have done for the last few years and appeal to the younger generation?
Firstly what was most important was to be clear as a team on who we are and what we want to do and say. Because how can you be perceived and understood by others if you don’t understand what you want to be yourself? Consequently, this had a certain number of implications in terms of choices, because it is not possible to tackle too many things at once. So we made choices together as a team. The number one element was to be clear on what we wanted to do and say and be clear on our position. Once you have this, it clarifies a lot of things. Then when it comes to the point where you have options on the table in terms of investment, communication, creation and possible actions, you have a guideline to know whether it’s part of your plan or not. Of course, nothing is black and white, but at least if you have a framework it helps. Secondly, what was crucial was to have fantastic people within Chaumet and around us. People who are passionate about the brand and have a lot of creativity, energy and who want to contribute. To emerge and create desire you need to have a great team. You might need someone to guide the team but once that has been done you need the people and their energy and creativity and this is how you convey the message and the joy of the brand. They are the ambassadors of the Maison and it’s not possible without them, so it’s essential to encourage them.
In your opinion what identifies an object of desire today?
I would say it is probably a combination of surprise and authenticity. Authenticity is something that I think is fundamental. To have an object of desire you first need to define exactly whom you are as we mentioned earlier. Once you have this, then you can convey what is true to that. I think people today can see the difference between something that is authentic and something that isn’t so we have to be genuine.
We love the simplicity of the Bee My Love collection – how will it evolve and to what do you tribute its success?
I think its success is because it is so simple! From a business and marketing point of view; the simplicity is the magical part of Bee My Love and it’s also the extraordinary complexity of it. Of course, you can expand the link because more people are interested and as more people see it being worn by beautiful people this creates a certain desire. But of course, sometimes you want to accelerate the momentum, which is not always the best way, but that’s exactly the paradox behind Bee My Love. I think people, particularly young people are interested because there is something slick and simple about it, but the more you look at it and dig into the details and different meanings, you discover its multiple facets. You suddenly see that when it moves, the way it plays with light is incredibly interesting. Then you discover that there are many references to history, symbols etc. So you realise it’s not that simple, but at the same time, it is simple.
What are we expecting to see from Chaumet going forward into the near future?
We have many projects despite the unclear situation that we are all experiencing. One that I can talk about is that next year in Paris, in spring, we hope to have at our Maison, an exhibition dedicated to Napoleon and Josephine and their love story. Napoleon and Josephine have set everything at Chaumet in terms of theme, style and the use of symbols; so we want to pay tribute to them. Next year is the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s death so it will be a big celebration in France with many museums and institutions celebrating and gathering for this. So from our side, we will tell the extraordinary love story. We will look at the different moments, the ups and downs and the way the story is in one way extraordinary because it’s about power and a political journey, but at the same time, behind the scenes, things were very normal. The letters he wrote to her are unbelievable and there are many moments to express that we will try to explain to the public through Chaumet’s pieces. We will have around 150 treasures coming from major museums and very important private owners. It will be about jewellery of course, but also about intimate objects. It will be physical and digital and many of the objects that we are going to share have never been seen by the public before. It should be interesting and it will also celebrate the fact that this story is, in fact, a story of eternity and it is also relevant. Chaumet was contributing to this story in a powerful way, but also in the intimate moments and many of the symbols of this story are still part of Chaumet today, but in a more contemporary way.
What can you tell us about what is in the pipeline for Chaumet in the Middle East?
During my first years at Chaumet the brand was slowly emerging in the Middle East, but now there is definitely acceleration in the region and it’s a really exciting time. The way people in the region talk about Chaumet and the way it corresponds more towards what Middle Eastern clients expect in terms of authenticity, femininity, grace is much more present. With that acceleration, we start to raise our presence. We have reopened our stores in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and we will soon open a second store in Saudi Arabia. We plan to open a store in Kuwait too. So in terms of physical presence, we want to accelerate. And of course, we still have in mind; to one day bring the best of Chaumet through an exhibition in the region. That is something we are still thinking about, but of course, the current period has changed a lot of things. We are not forgetting these plans, but for now, we are expanding our stores in the region.
What is a message you want to give to your friends of Chaumet and clients in the Middle East?
I have two messages. The first is that I hope everyone is safe and I want to bring optimism and joy because I think this is very important and Chaumet is all about joy, fun and colour. The second message is to thank all of our friends in the region. Because the more I see Chaumet in the Middle East, the more I feel the love for the Maison from the people there and I think it’s only the start. In the coming months, we will be even more visible so we will reach more and more people and the story between the region and Chaumet will go on to the next level.
What is a lesson that you are going to take from 2020?
At this particular moment, I think the motto I am living by is to think with positivity and keep the optimism. I think this is fundamental because when you listen to too many people or read too much information in the media you feel the pressure to look at things that are sad and negative. But there is no hope if you don’t fight against this. That’s not to say that these things are important, but if you look only at the dark side of something, you will feel dark. This is something that I focus a lot of my efforts on within the organisation today. Always look at the positive side.