Metamorphoses of the plant world — the story of a plant’s life told through the different stages in its biological process — are usually only obvious through time-lapse videos, which allow us to observe the unfurling of leaves, the budding of slender stems and the magnificent opening of flower petals. At Van Cleef & Arpels, these delicate botanical nuances come together to provide inspiration for the most charming of floral collections. Within this universe, Van Cleef & Arpels transforms the faintest traces of life in the plant world into a new language of expression through jewellery. And how one wears them becomes part of the story.
The founders of Van Cleef & Arpels have long recognised the symbiosis between gems and the natural world since the beginning, and its floral, animal and fairy creations have always caught the attention of members of royalty, like the Duchess of Windsor and Princess Grace of Monaco, as well as icons like Elizabeth Taylor and Eva Perón. Today,the nature and art world references continue to endure at the now 124-year-old maison with its constantly evolving collections and innovative craftsmanship.
“Even though the flowers are interpreted with a modern vision [today], the maison remains faithful to its DNA and creative line. Flowers remain feminine, tender and imbued with poetry — [one that] evokes the movements of nature,” says Nicolas Bos, the chief executive officer of Van Cleef & Arpels in an interview with T Singapore.
Courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels
The Folie des Prés necklace and earrings in white gold, sapphires and diamonds celebrates the beauty of wildflowers.
To create jewellery that is alive with such effervescent grace means never to resort to the use of machinery. The artisans at Van Cleef & Arpels devote both time and craft to crystalise their candid observations of the world into precious objet d’arts. Sketching, painting, building three-dimensional models, cutting gems, sculpting, setting and finally, refining are just some of the steps in a typical jewellery-making procedure at the Van Cleef & Arpels’s Place Vendôme workshop. Each step is done so not just by hand but with an in-depth understanding of what it represents. It is how every creation has helped the house build emotional potency over the last century and more.
Consider the Pivoine clip from 1937. Employing the Mystery Set technique originated by Van Cleef & Arpels in 1933, where precious stones are set with invisible prongs, the French jewellery house managed to create its favourite flower, the peony, with stunning naturalness. An interplay of pink, red and peach-coloured spinels (cut to different shapes) forms the petals. Each petal and leaf, intentionally designed to be asymmetrical, is meticulously
layered to catch the light and reflect it, highlighting the lush volume of a peony in full bloom. “Movement, dynamism, and the fleeting impressions which characterise nature are born from asymmetry,” Bos says. “Through this process, the maison creates a natural and ineffable harmony which breathes life into all its jewels.”
In modern times, the house continues to adapt and refine its techniques to bring more complex creations to life, whether it’s the plumage of a bird or the petal of a flower. The Pomme de Pin clip created using the updated Navette Mystery setting in 2018, for example, “was a real challenge for the lapidaries because of the emerald’s delicacy and the diamond’s hardness.” Using only marquise-cut stones (which can take up to eight hours to achieve), the finished product features a precious cluster of pine cones evocative of the pine tree that provided animals with nocturnal refuge in the tale “The Town Musicians of Breman.”
Courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels
The Frivole ring is part of a collection that was launched in 2003 that captures the spirit of a bouquet of flowers.
Among Van Cleef & Arpels’s most contemporary collections, the Frivole, introduced in 2003, possesses a minimalistic aesthetic, exquisite in its simplicity. For this collection, Van Cleef & Arpels took inspiration from its heritage flower bouquet jewellery and spun a collection that is equal parts modern and timeless. Its flower petals unfurl to form a heart shape. Its metal surfaces are mirror-polished. Yet when designed into a bouquet and created into jewellery, each piece displays the airiness of natural flowers drenched in sunlight.
There is a complicated balance to strike between the eternal and the ephemeral. For Van Cleef & Arpels, especially, there lies a more complex layer of capturing the fleeting moment where flowers and plants are at their most magnificent, and transforming them into pieces of jewellery with a lasting allure. To appreciate Van Cleef & Arpels jewellery, one needs to be an observer of life. For more than a century, the house has dedicated its craft to creating jewellery that satisfies that fascination. Now, the seeds that the house has planted are finally in full bloom.
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