We had the ultimate pleasure of sitting down with Nicolas Bos, CEO of Van Cleef & Arpels. Herewith, the word on the best jewels in the world from the man himself, an education. Behold:
A year in the making by Van Cleef & Arpels — the jelly’s tentacles move ever so nicely.
April Francis: Let’s get right into it, Nicolas. How do you produce this ruby beauty, the Mystery Setting?
Nicolas Bos: The way it’s done is there’s a little architecture on the back, which is made out of red gold, which is rails, and then the stones are actually square stones that I’ve cut to size to match exactly all of the other stones. They are grooved and you slide them over the rail. That’s how you have the juxtaposition of stone. There’s no glue, it’s just the metal.
AF: And tension.
NB: And tension, and you always close the architecture with doors, which are architectural screws. You can unscrew them. You can always stagger other stones out and change one. It’s a very, very special technique.
AF: And it’s unique to you.
NB: It’s the holy grail of jewelers, technically. Particularly when they start and they are apprentice jewelers and wherever they work, setting pieces for, this is the most difficult. It’s crazy what it takes. It’s a combination of jewelry work and lapidary work, which is cutting the stones. We are only able to produce a handful of pieces every year with rubies and…
AF: How much time goes into this piece?
NB: Production on a piece like that would be maybe a year. Because – and this is true for other pieces — although they are all trained the same way, we do find very, very subtle differences in the way the jewelers work. If you want the piece to be really beautiful, you can’t have several jewelers working on the same. There would be slight differences. The difference in working with one stone versus all the stones — you need the feel of the same hand. That’s why it’s so time consuming. There’s no way to scale. You can’t spread the work to different jewelers, different work. You need just one guy to do all the lapidary work and then a jeweler for all the metal work.
AF: I love how everything moves, it’s very nice.
NB: There’s an idea of poetry, which is very, very important. And an idea of whimsy.
A lush cuff by Van Cleef & Arpels.
AF: It seems that literary references are very important to all of the collections?
NB: Yes, very much so.
Emerald and diamond shoulder dusters …
AF: I’m a big reader.
NB: I like collections inspired by cities or places or art sometimes, but it’s much more difficult not to be… I love that [literature] and I think that’s kind of interesting in terms of reference. When you start working with paintings, with shapes and definitions, it’s much more difficult to get out of it. Whereas text, it’s very visual and you can get all the designers and everybody really relying on the same vision, but yet they will all have their own interpretations. So I find it a great source of inspiration because…
AF: …it keeps things original.
NB: You can read a page of [an author] and they will not see exactly the same thing. The same designer on your team will have a different interpretation from the exact same description, so it keeps things much more open than if they look the painting, of course there will be an issue in a way of it being in the style of the painting.
… the pièce de résistance. Emerald and diamond earring and necklace set by Van Cleef & Arpels.
AF: Do you think that’s sort of your input on the company or has that been historical? Or is that you?
NB: That’s me.
AF: That’s awesome, that’s really very cool. I appreciate that very much, because then you don’t get derivative work. It’s original.
NB: You have two risks in the industry. One is to kind of disregard the heritage, which I don’t believe in at all. Sometimes it’s kind of tempting, because we’ve been doing the butterflies and flowers for a hundred and something years – so let’s do skulls. You know, we’ve done roses, so let’s do roses with thorns. That’s not at all what we’re expected to do. This is not what we know how to do. Some of the lapiers have tried that, and… There is an issue with that…
No issues here.
NB: There is then, too, to just reproduce what was done in the past. If you have this amazing piece from 1962, this amazing piece from 1930s, let’s keep the tradition alive. Sometimes it’s so much of a preservative craft, making sure that traditional crafts are really maintained. But if you do everything the same as it was a hundred years ago, then you just lose the creativity because all the things aren’t as relevant in exactly the same ways as 80 years. Because the world is changing and different. And you don’t add anything and are just emptying the archive. That’s very much the idea, to find this very iconic inspiration, but then different interpretations.
AF: So, one more thing: the archive. I know all of the pieces are singular, or most of them. But do you have drawings or illustrations of all of the pieces. You have a substantial archive, I would imagine.
NB: Yes, we have two actually, one in Paris and one in New York, which are different.
AF: And do those pieces get loaned out for things, or do they ever go on display? I know there was an exhibit.
NB: You mean the archive?
AF: Or the pieces, maybe there’s a special moment, maybe one of your spokeswomen needs to wear a piece to an event. Does she get to wear something from the archive or does it sort of stay in the archive?
NB: We have two archives. The drawings and production books, which is one archive. Then we have a private museum, which is not a location but a private collection of about 400 pieces iconic from different periods and different styles. So, a bit like the heritage collection, but this is a collection that we don’t sell. So for instance the exhibit that was organized [at museums] in September. They ask us to select from our collections some pieces that they went to show. Then they go to private museums or private owners for some pieces. From Paris or New York, which is about 450 pieces, from all one collection. They do have some access to jewelry collections, and so those pieces are lent for this exhibition. And then sometimes we do loan museum pieces to some celebrities. There is a diamond tiara in the archives that was actually worn by Princess Grace for the wedding of her daughter. We loaned it to Julia Roberts.
It’s love, Van Cleef & Arpels.