Despite bearing the name of one man, Joseph Chaumet, it was another who set up this renowned Parisian jewellery Maison - Marie-Etienne Nitot. Nitot first opened his jewellery shop in 1780 on rue Saint-Honoré and it quickly established itself as the place to get yourself decked out; in 1804 Nitot & Son was even appointed as the imperial jewellers to Napoleon and Joséphine. It was another man, Jean-Baptiste Fossin and his son Jules, who took over from Nitot in 1815. When Jules Fossin got to an age when he had to resign himself to not having an heir, he, in turn, transferred the business to Prosper Morel, the son of an associate. Morel’s daughter married a man by the name of Joseph Chaumet in 1875. Et voila…
Chaumet continued to be a place where everyone from bonafide aristos and royalty to the nouveau riche of North and South America spent their fortunes on some of the most extravagant jewellery around. There were watches for sale, alongside the jewels, but they bore the names of the best manufactures in France and Switzerland, or were exquisite jewellery watches designed by Chaumet containing movements from Switzerland, supplied by such notable names as Vacheron Constantin and LeCoultre. The Chaumet name would not appear on a watch dial until 1995, when LVMH acquired the brand after dodgy dealings, bankruptcy, fraud and illegal banking activities courtesy of Jacques and Pierre Chaumet, saw the two face jail time. The brand was briefly owned by leading Bahrain-based investment bank Investcorp in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but it made substantial losses so LVMH swooped in.
Its first collection was called Khesis. Unsurprisingly, it was a jewellery watch with a small square dial and all the attention on the bracelet. This was followed with the cocktail stylings of the Style de Chaumet and then it went for a surprise - launching the Class One in 1998, the first-ever diving watch designed by a jeweller. To be fair to ISO standards, this wasn’t a diving watch; it only had a water resistance of 100m, but it was a clever mash-up of sport and sparkle that hadn’t really been seen before.
The success of Chaumet’s entry into the watch world allowed it to return to making breathtaking pieces of jewellery that just happened to tell the time. One such creative complication was 2013’s Attrape-moi…si tu m’aimes. On a dial designed to mimic a web, a golden spider representing the hours, chases a diamond-encrusted bee – the minutes; each follows a different path around the dial adding to the sense of a chase.
Men were also able to get in on the action with the retro classic lines of the Dandy, inspired by the Parisian style of the 1920s.
Chaumet may not have the long history of some of the big brand names out there, but its relative horological youth means it has developed a real knack for turning time-telling on its head.
It has to be the Attrape-moi…si tu m’aimes (or less romantically in English 'catch me if you love me'); a watch that embodies Chaumet’s entire aesthetic in a 41mm case. There’s the superlative stone-setting and jewellery work, the flirty fun in the way the time is represented and the complex mechanics that make it all work. It’s just too beautiful for words.