How 1970s Comic Books and Barbarella Inspired Van Cleef & Arpels' New High Jewelry Collection

·3 min read
Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

From Town & Country

I like to firmly locate myself when I’m looking at Van Cleef High Jewelry, because I know from experience how easy it is to get blissfully lost in the often fantastical themes that inspire it. I’ve wandered in the worlds of fairy tales, myths, and legends over many years of covering these one-of-a-kind creations. I’ve even traveled through time and the jewel-studded imaginary landscapes of the great state of California.

So I am initially steadied when Nicolas Bos, president and CEO of Van Cleef, before presenting me with the 150-piece Sous les Etoiles collection (speaking of location, that would be Under the Stars), begins by explaining that we have been here together before. “You must remember, about 10 years ago, the Jules Verne chapter of our Earth to Moon collection,” Bos says.

Photo credit: Martin Vallin
Photo credit: Martin Vallin

The desire to investigate this theme further led the team “to the classical author Lucian of Samosata imagining a voyage in space, to Johannes Kepler and his inspirational text The Dream, or Lunar Astronomy—written in the early 17th century—and to Camille Flammarion, who published his wonderfully illustrated Astronomie Populaire in 1880.” Add to this esoteric mood board Cyrano de Bergerac’s tales of failed trips to the moon, 1970s comic books, and Barbarella.

The most mind-bending trip of all, though, is always the process of chronicling the journey from inspiration to creation, witnessing how references as specific as these are rendered into shape and stone. How does a 19th-century illustration of the night sky become a necklace? What does it take for a 17th-century science-fiction fantasy to become a brooch? History can be a guide. “We sometimes look at very specific things, like Shakespeare’s fairies, and sometimes more universal themes, like the recent Rubies collection, but what is always specific is our approach,” Bos says. “There is a patrimonial vision, always. Our archive is filled with the zodiac, luck, astrology. It is very present in the history of the house.”

One of the most unlikely reference points in the creation of the Sous les Etoiles collection was that of the French writer Cyrano de Bergerac. And yet, long before Elon Musk reached for Mars, Cyrano reached for the moon with a satirical proto–science fiction novel, The Other World: The Comical History of the States and Empires of the World of the Moon, published in 1657. The stuff about Cyrano and Roxane? Not really true. But this is.

There are orders in the Van Cleef accounting ledger from 1907 for a star-shaped brooch in diamonds and pearls. A cigarette case from 1924 was inspired by a starry sky. Textured gold designs in the aftermath of the 1969 moon landing are clearly marked with the inspiration of the satellite’s irregular surface.

Photo credit: Martin Vallin
Photo credit: Martin Vallin

There is form. In this high jewelry case, that means spheres of ­mystery-set ­sapphires, a Saturn-shaped brooch in diamonds and gold. There is also the launching pad of color. “The universe is about colors,” says Bos. “Jewelers have traditionally looked at the sky as black and white, diamonds on a dark background, but there are opals and chalcedony and spinels, too.” And in this particular Sous les Etoiles universe, a Céphéide necklace arrives in chalcedony and tsavorite, an outline of the sun in mauve sapphires and tanzanite, a Halley’s Comet in white and yellow diamonds, a lapis Milky Way, and a comet streaking rubies against the sky.

The journey, which began almost four years ago with research and investigation and a global search for stones, was delayed a few months due to the pandemic but has now landed. The one missing piece is the presentation of the High Jewelry collection to clients, a Van Cleef tradition, and one that was to have taken place “somewhere on the Riviera at a beautiful observatory with a great vintage in our hands.” This might be the right time to wish upon a star.

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