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A Tale of Jewellery and Dance – at Van Cleef & Arpels

By Caroline Suganda

Pas de Deux Corail detachable clip in white and pink gold with diamonds, pink sapphires and coral.
 
Ching/ Tok Wei Lun
Pas de Deux Corail detachable clip in white and pink gold with diamonds, pink sapphires and coral.

There are only a handful of jewellers who have that knack of breathing life into jewellery, and only a few who are skilful enough to capture dance’s dynamic energy into a wearable clip. Magic seems to flow from those hands, which lovingly and meticulously sculpt gold into graceful ballerinas, while carefully choosing precious stones to add dimensions to swirling skirts, and more. Each ballerina is captured, as if frozen in time, in mid-execution of an intricate move. These skilled master jewellers call Place Vendôme, the world’s jewellery cradle, their home. Working under the roof of Van Cleef & Arpels, they’re continuing the maison’s legacy of creating the brand’s emblematic ballerina clips — one that has become the signature of the maison since its birth in the ’40s.

The maison’s affinity for dance largely stems from one of the founding brothers, Louis Arpels, and his passion for ballet and the opera. In fact, the first few ballerina clips were created at his request. Later in the ’60s, Claude Arpels, Louis’ nephew, met George Balanchine, the formidable ballet choreographer and co-founder of the New York City Ballet. The former’s invitation to Balanchine to view the maison’s most beautiful pieces at New York’s Fifth Avenue boutique was the inspiration that led Balachine to create a three-part ballet in 1967, aptly named “Jewels”. Each part was named after three gemstones: “Emeralds”, “Rubies” and “Diamonds”, and the dancers in each part were dressed in colours corresponding to these precious stones.

While the two may seem like an unlikely pairing — jewellery is a form of adornment and dance is an entertainment — the two fields share many values: the pursuit of excellence, a dedication to precision and finesse and the ability to inspire a sense of wonder. The costumes, designed and made by Barbara Karinska, were so finely created that Claude likened the sparkles on them to the glitter of genuine gemstones.

Ching/ Tok Wei LunCamille Ballerina clip in white gold with diamonds, rubies, yellow gold and yellow sapphires, and Ombrelle Mysterieuse Ballerina clip in white gold with diamonds, sapphires, Paraiba-like tourmalines, red and Mystery Set sapphires.
Camille Ballerina clip in white gold with diamonds, rubies, yellow gold and yellow sapphires, and Ombrelle Mysterieuse Ballerina clip in white gold with diamonds, sapphires, Paraiba-like tourmalines, red and Mystery Set sapphires.

In an attempt to revive the Arpels family’s decades-long relationship with ballet, Van Cleef & Arpels’s chief executive and creative director, Nicolas Bos (who also shares a great passion for ballet), recruited Benjamin Millepied. The former principal dancer at the New York City Ballet is most widely known for his choreography in the film “Black Swan” (2010) and his five-year-old dance company, the L.A. Dance Project.

The “Jewels” of today is the “Gems” trilogy. Inspired by the same three stones, Millepied used his own interpretation for this three-part ballet. It was an emotional journey for the 40-year-old. He told Women’s Wear Daily that the play evokes “a strong and hopeful sense of lasting love and community amidst the uncertainty that we are feeling right now.”

The first of the trilogy is “Hearts and Arrow”, inspired by diamonds and plays on the idea of light and shadows. The second,“Reflections”, captures the energy of rubies, and the third installment, “On The Other Side,” draws from emeralds. While the costumes may not be a direct interpretation of the gems’ colours, they were made in jewel-toned velvets and were designed by Ermenegildo Zegna’s returning creative director, Alessandro Sartori.

The Italian designer said the costumes were “rich, but something a bit young and grungy, at the same time”, and were designed with today’s modern society in mind.

Thus, in celebration of this partnership, three ballerina clips were produced in 2013. Taking a closer look at these creations, one can’t help but notice the ethereal lines and sparkling simplicity that evoke a sense of lightness and even movement. In addition, a Zip necklace — another of the maison’s iconic designs — was produced as a nod to “Reflections”. Its tassel depicts a ballerina seen from above, her arms extended gracefully as she’s encircled by a skirt of glittering diamonds.

Aside from commissioning these plays, Van Cleef & Arpels is striving to bring this project around the world. Come October, Millepied’s L.A. Dance Project will be making its Singapore debut, featuring “Hearts & Arrows”, the first of its Gems trilogy, among other numbers. Earlier in August, the maison also presented “Le Syndrome Ian” at the Singapore International Festival of Arts. The play was awarded the Fedora-Van Cleef & Arpels Prize for Ballet 2016 — an award that champions new ballet creations and encourage innovation in dance.