In 1780 Marie-Étienne Nitot set up his own jewellery business in Paris having previously worked with Aubert, jeweller to Queen Marie-Antoinette. His success grew steadily and he was later joined by his son, Francois Regnault Nitot, becoming the official jewellers to Napoleon in 1802. Among the pieces they created were the wedding jewels for both the Empresses Josephine and Marie-Louise as well as Napoleon’s coronation crown, the Consular sword and the tiara of Pius VII. After the fall of Napoleon, the firm was sold to Jean-Baptiste Fossin who had worked for Nitot and continued the business along with his son, Jules, together succeeding in capturing the spirit of Romanticism in jewellery just as Nitot & Fils had done for the Empire.
In 1848, Jules Fossin entered into a partnership with the talented jeweller J.V. Morel who had been the Fossin & Fils workshop manager between 1834 and 1840. Morel moved to London and set up shop at 7, New Burlington Street assisted by his son, Prosper. They enjoyed much success at the 1851 Great Exhibition and the following year Queen Victoria, who had bought many pieces, granted them her Royal Warrant. Prosper Morel returned to Paris in 1854, to join Jules Fossin whom he eventually succeeded in 1868. A few years later Morel’s daughter Marie met and fell in love with a gentleman called Joseph Chaumet who had begun his jewellery career at the age of fifteen working for relations who ran a jewellery business in Bordeaux. Upon moving to Paris, Chaumet was hired by his future father-in-law and in June 1875 he married Marie thereby securing his future with the firm that would come to take his name. By 1885 he had assumed management and four years later in 1889 he bought the company outright, simultaneously changing the name.
Joseph Chaumet had a particularly keen interest in pearls and precious stones and even went as far as to set up his own laboratory to study them. His jewellery reflected the aesthetic of the period and he was meticulous in his supervision of every stage from the initial design through to completion. In an effort to ensure the quality of every process and stage of manufacture he set up additional workshops for a wide range of craftsmen including box-makers, leather-workers and diamond cutters. He exhibited at many of the great exhibitions of the period including Paris in 1900, where he won a gold medal, St Petersburg in 1902, Milan in 1906 and Buenos Aires in 1910.
Early in the 20th century Chaumet decided it was time to move somewhere more prominent than the discreet rue de Richelieu premises they currently occupied. He decided on the fashionable Place Vendome where they would be in the company of other fine jewellers and in 1907 the shop and all workshops moved to number 12, opposite the Ritz Hotel, where the firm maintains its flagship boutique to this day.
The Maison Chaumet was renowned for its naturalistic jewels and design inspiration was found in a wide range of flora and fauna with motifs drawn from flowers, insects and birds all prominent in their jewels. Whilst they created jewellery in all forms they had a particular reputation for beautiful and imaginative head pieces and without question made some of the most important aigrettes, tiaras and bandeaux of the 19th and 20th centuries.
They participated in the 1925 Exposition des Arts Décoratifs in Paris where they exhibited a wonderful collection of Art Deco jewels with their emphasis on designs that featured geometric shapes set with either starkly contrasting black and white gems or alternatively a mix of bold, bright colours. Three years later in 1928 Joseph Chaumet passed away and was succeeded by his son Marcel who continued the businesses with the same ethos and passion as his father.
In 1958 his two sons, Jacques and Pierre, were appointed executive directors of the Maison and over saw the company throughout the 60s and 70s before filing for bankruptcy in 1987 after which Chaumet was bought first by an investment group and then in 1999 by LVMH who remain the owners today.