But POW! Women now rule the world of fine jewelry. And it shows. There can never have been so many big bijoux in famous and storied houses, where females are the creative force in what used to be a mainly male profession.
Then there is the shift in gift giving. While the traditional male-to-female route is still prevalent, high net worth women now treat themselves to Chaumet’s interlocking “Bee My Love” rings or the Alhambra chains from Van Cleef & Arpels.
The female factor is also changing the style of high jewelry, which has become bolder and more colorful and linked more closely with current fashion — like the vivid, sculpted flowers from Dior, designed and created by Victoire de Castellane, who since her appointment in 1998 has established a bold new vision: playful, joyous, sculpted and imaginative.
In the mid-1990s, Marie-Hélène de Taillac caused a quiet revolution as she gave precious stones a discreet sense of style and developed imaginative color, absorbed from her trips to India. The opening this year of her first New York store, inspired by Marie Antoinette’s theater at Versailles, has been another milestone, as is her pearl collection designed in collaboration with the Japanese pearl cultivators Tasaki & Co.
Another powerful character on the Paris jewelry scene is Lydia Courteille, whose boutique on the Rue Saint-Honoré is a menagerie of the imagination: diamond figures morphing into tree branches, semiprecious stones sculpted into fantastical versions of animals and elements from nature.
This month Solange Azagury-Partridge, whose career, started in 1995, included designing for Boucheron, opens a new store on Carlos Place in London’s Mayfair. It will fulfill her dream of offering jewels “in a house that feels like a home,” she said, including a room with emerald green walls to display her favorite stones.
“I am interested in history and the genesis of jewelry and that is my take on different techniques and styles,” said the jeweler, whose complex creations, with names like “Metamorphosis” and “Ark of the Covenant,” include sculptured pieces that open to reveal the gems inside.
Female designers are not drawn only to the showy, colorful and floral. Gaia Repossi, the young creative director of her family’s company, has revolutionized the Italian jewelry heritage with inspiration from tribal African designs through Bauhaus Modernism.
Nor is it a 21st-century novelty to have women as designers and creators. Coco Chanel, significantly an independent, sexually liberated young woman of her time, introduced in the 1930s the comet and shooting stars in diamonds that expressed a freedom and dynamism that still resonates today — even if the lion, in all its many sculpted shapes, is the current theme of Chanel high jewelry.
Suzanne Belperron, whose jewelry is from the 1930s, is among the most collectible of jewelry masters of the past. And from the same decade, Jeanne Toussaint at Cartier was behind the jeweled panthers that have prowled so dramatically through the fashion house’s recent videos online.
Designers today have the opportunity to create and promote their work digitally. But the heart of their inventiveness is in bringing imagination to the tonal mix of stones. Jewelry now is often highly colorful, because the taboos about precious and semiprecious stones (say a pink sapphire and a pale green peridot) are gone, widening the opportunity to play with the palette.
For example, Boucheron’s new designer, Claire Choisne, who trained at Lorenz Bäumer, has produced mixes of diamonds and crystal, giving a luminosity to the jewelry that offers a fresh and particular flavor.
“Transparency and light,” said Ms. Choisne, as she talked of the inspiration of the sun and the famous “Sun King” motifs of France’s Louis XIV evolving into a cascade of diamonds with rock crystal.
Is it a coincidence — or a trend — that so many of today’s boldest jewelers are female, and that their numbers are increasing? Chaumet will show during the coming Paris fashion season the first collection of Claire Dévé-Rakoff, its new artistic director. She will find herself joining a club where male designers are not excluded, but are challenged by the weight of women who use their skill and instinct to change the 21st-century jewelry world.