The story behind Rihanna’s exuberant high jewellery collection for Chopard
Celebrity collaborations are commonplace in fashion but in the world of high jewellery, where craftsmanship is prized over newcomer pizzazz and prices nudge six figures, they are almost unheard of. So when Chopard, one of the last family-owned watch and jewellery houses in Switzerland, unveiled a collection created with superstar Rihanna, it was enough to set the nerves of the luxury establishment jangling like a minute repeater.
What could the singer, who has 25 tattoos and counting, bring to the classic world of carats and cushion cuts? Plenty, says Caroline Scheufele, Chopard’s co-president and artistic director, who runs the company with her older brother, Karl Freidrich.
Scheufele believes that Rihanna’s confident style and convention-busting swagger are just what the high jewellery world needs. Luxury jewellery, she argues, is not immune to demographics. Its future depends on persuading millennials of the joy of gems, and who better to do that than the woman known to her 55 million Instagram followers as @badgalriri?
“I think she represents the younger generation,” says Scheufele. “And maybe they think Chopard is only for important pieces and they’re not aware that we also have these fun pieces. It opens up the brand much wider.”
Rihanna certainly brings plenty of renegade spirit. Her core collection, which starts at £1,070, features graphic, linear designs made of 18-carat Fairmined rose gold and jungle-green ceramic. But it’s the high jewellery collection, inspired by her homeland in Barbados, which really stands out.
One set of earrings (you can’t call them a pair as they deliberately don’t match) features cascading tourmalines, tsavorites, rubellites and diamonds in various paradise hues. There’s also an ankle bracelet (not a common feature of high jewellery collections) inspired by peacock feathers, which boasts tourmalines from the Congo and rare blue-gray sapphires. Its 6,000 stones took 400 hours to set. The most spectacular piece though is the necklace inspired by Barbados – a carnival of coloured gemstones, strung like beautiful bunting into a high-necked collar.
“I’m inspired by how Rihanna mixes jewellery and puts it together,” says Scheufele. “She wears mismatched earrings and she stacks up the rings and mixes fun with very important pieces. That’s the modern way to wear it. I always say that jewellery is not created to sit in the safe. By all means wear a diamond ring with jeans and a T-shirt. You don’t need an evening gown and high heels.”
Scheufele and Rihanna struck up their friendship after meeting in LA and bonding over a shared design sense and love of jewellery. “For many years we’ve accessorised her in her important moments – at the Met Ball or during the Grammys – and she loved the pieces,” says Scheufele.
About 18 months ago, the pair met up and when the jeweller arrived, Rihanna revealed her master plan. “She said she was very interested in doing a closer collaboration and actually creating some pieces. I was not surprised. She decides everything herself – her style and what she wears – and she also pushes things to the boundaries.”
Boundary pushing is a trait Scheufele shares. Now 55, she has spent her life in the rarefied world of haute horology. In 1963, Paul Andre Chopard sold his 100-year-old family firm to her father Karl, an ambitious German watch dealer, who established its reputation for craft and innovation.
“My father thought it was more important that I learnt to tell the time than to read my ABC,” laughs Scheufele, before admitting that the first watch she ever owned was not one of Chopard’s technical wonders but a Mickey Mouse timepiece from Disneyland. These days she wears a man-sized, rose-gold, diamond-encrusted L.U.C Tourbillon.
Another trait she shares with Rihanna is maverick self-confidence. Aged 16 she created her first piece of jewellery – the Happy Diamond clown, its belly full of colourful moving stones. “My father decided to have a few clowns made,” she says. “It then became a big commercial success.”
Today she’s ensuring Chopard melds old-world craft with modern techniques including the 3D printing of gold. Likewise, a diamond flower bracelet, designed to wind like a vine around Rihanna’s forearm, is mounted on an “elastic” metal called Nitinol, which is used in spinal surgeries for its flexibility, strength and ability to spring back to its original shape.
Before unveiling it on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival last month, Rhianna visited Chopard’s Geneva headquarters, to see for herself the technical processes that went into making her high jewellery – “She was interested in how gold was melted, she didn’t just say, ‘I want something with sapphire’,” says Scheufele.
During her visit, Rihanna was also body-scanned and moulds made of her key features – Chopard does this for all its high jewellery clients to ensure a perfect fit. A cast of the singer’s foot rests on a bench awaiting a fitting of that surprising ankle bracelet. It may be the most unconventional piece in the collection but for Rihanna and Chopard, it’s just right.