Surrounded by photographers with their flashing cameras, 21-year-old Scott Armstrong — oozing charm with his boyish looks and tousled blonde locks — could have easily passed off as the latest Netflix star. He is accompanied by 28-year-old Yann Richard, a dead ringer for English actor Joseph Fiennes. Standing side by side and politely obliging pictures, one might have guessed that both men were actors on a publicity tour, except that neither has even the slightest interest in acting.
The project was born from a competition initiated by Chaumet for students at Central St Martins, the arts college famed for illustrious alumni such as Alexander McQueen, Sarah Burton, Stella McCartney, Zac Posen and Riccardo Tisci. “We chose Central St Martins because it has produced some of the greatest creators of this generation. We know that working with them would give us the highest level of excellence,” explains Jean-Marc Mansvelt, CEO of Chaumet.
In the end, 60 students from two classes — Bachelor of Arts in Jewellery Design and Master’s in Design (Jewellery) — competed against one another, with Armstrong emerging as the winner. “We didn’t know who was at the end of the drawings. To find out that it was a guy, when 90 percent of the students were women, was quite special,” points out Mansvelt.
Armstrong’s design features an asymmetrical structure that is so lightweight, completely modern and nothing like the tiaras one is used to seeing on royalty. Inspired by a book on French gardens that he found in the library during his visit to the Chaumet salon at Place Vendôme, it features diamond-set graphic lines complemented with verdant bursts of tourmalines and garnets. “When we visited the maison and chatted with Béatrice (de Plinval, the brand’s museum curator), I learnt that nature is one of Chaumet’s key inspirations. However, I personally find flowers one of the hardest things to design — it’s not my style. Then I came across these aerial photographs of those amazing gardens and thought they’d perfectly convey nature in a way that I could develop,” explains Armstrong.
Christened the Vertiges diadem, its construction was realised by Chaumet’s team of four craftsmen led by Richard, who has been with the company for almost a decade.
Little was altered from Armstrong’s initial sketch, save for the arc at the right side of the tiara. “We doubled the thickness of the main arc in order to fit in bigger gemstones,” elaborates Richard.
Emeralds, originally Armstrong’s gemstone of choice, were also replaced with tourmalines and green garnets. “When we laid the emeralds out, I didn’t have a good feeling about the design because the stones conveyed something heavy,” he says. “In the end, the tourmalines and garnets were lighter, and provided a greater variation of colours, which I prefer.” Stone composition, which he never used to consider in his work, is one area he now wants to improve upon.
Throughout the five-month creation process, the biggest obstacles between designer and craftsman turned out to be language and distance. In the end, technology (cue Google Translate and WhatsApp) helped bridge the divide. “This project has opened my eyes to different solutions and production techniques — such as learning how to make a straight line, which is something very challenging. I also learnt how to work with an Englishman!” Richard lets on.
However, his greatest takeaway was realising that it was possible to change the way a tiara is worn: “It’s usually worn on the head and hair. We never thought it was possible for it to be worn at the front of the head but we did it.”
As for whether the tiara — a symbol of royalty and nobility — remains relevant in today’s climate, Armstrong is unperturbed. “To be honest, I did not design this with a person in mind. A tiara is the epitome of jewellery and there will be very few people who are lucky enough to wear one. I’d love to be able to wear it!”
First published in Prestige Singapore’s July 2017 issue.