Napoléon’s Joséphine is the muse behind this elegant timepiece. By Joanne Glasbey
This glamorous pear-shaped white gold watch is truly striking and features a diamond set and engraved dial. With a v-shaped aigrette (spray) arrangement of gems and trompe-l'oeil index on its dial, this is a remarkable timepiece, but it also comes with a fascinating history linking it to Napoléon’s wife, Joséphine.
Napoléon Boneparte and the Empress Joséphine, his first wife, are very much in the air at the moment because of Ridley Scott’s latest film, Napoleon, which explores the volatile relationship and great passion between them. Joséphine, portrayed in the film by actor Vanessa Kirby, was a powerful and romantic figure: beautiful, daring, her reign at court only rivalled by her influence on fashion and jewellery.
Joséphine’s preferred styles are preserved in the many portraits of her by renowned artists of the day, but her favoured jewellery designs can still be traced today in the creations of French jewellery maison Chaumet. The story goes that in 1805 in Milan, as she and Napoléon prepared to be crowned King and Queen of Italy, they met François-Régnault Nitot, the founder’s son of the house that would become Chaumet, who presented a sumptuous tiara commissioned by Napoléon. She adored it and declared the maison her jeweller of choice. As Empress of a new regime whose splendour had to be displayed, Joséphine dressed in gold, pearls and precious stones. Her jewellery often evoked symbols favoured by Napoléon from antiquity: laurels, oak leaves. At her first official appearance as sovereign, Joséphine wore a tiara adorned with diamond ears of wheat, an emblem of prosperity and a motif that was regularly interpreted for her.
A modern woman by today’s terms, she was an independent spirit, reinventing fashion and imposing her style. To refine her sovereign look, she brought tiaras, symbols of power and femininity, back into fashion. She liberated herself from conventions and corsets, draping herself in airy veils, fine silk tulles and diaphanous muslins. An inspiration for her husband, Joséphine commissioned many sentimental jewels from Chaumet. Today, the house honours its historic muse with collections in her name, showcasing modern femininity with creations that are both elegant and audacious, echoing the spirit of the Empress.
Each Joséphine collection interprets signature elements that were close to her heart: the pear-shaped jewel, also configured in a uniquely shaped watch; the aigrette, a spray of gems in a ‘v’ shape; interplays of symmetry; bold and elegant colours; transformable jewellery. Understated yet striking, the jewellery plays with volume while channelling character – that of Empress Joséphine – in its beauty.
Chaumet Joséphine Aigrette watch in white gold and diamonds, with engraved dial and blue alligator strap, £12,200; Chaumet, 174 New Bond Street W1S 4RG; chaumet.com
Napoleon is in cinemas now
Joanne Glasbey is the editor of The Times’ Luxx Watches & Jewellery magazine