A New Van Cleef & Arpels Collection Triumphs Through the Challenges of the Traditional

·3 min read
Photo credit: Van Cleef & Arpels/Tess Donlevie
Photo credit: Van Cleef & Arpels/Tess Donlevie


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There is of course Queen ­Nazli’s necklace. The 220-carat all-white-diamond bib was commissioned by the queen from Van Cleef & Arpels to celebrate the wedding of her daughter Princess Fawzia of Egypt to the shah of Iran. There is also the Medicis necklace, exhibited in 1937, a ribbon of mystery-set white diamonds overlaying rows of baguette-cut white diamonds dotted with round white diamonds. There are those geometric bandeau white diamond bracelets women loved to wear stacked on their newly bare arms in the 1920s. There is that white diamond piece Eva Perón is wearing in the picture of her with the Argentinean ambassador to France in 1947. There are those white diamond Haricot clips that Jackie Kennedy liked to wear with her pearls.

Photo credit: Art Rickerby/ The LIFE
Photo credit: Art Rickerby/ The LIFE

Diamonds and Van Cleef, they go way back. “White diamonds have adorned Van Cleef & Arpels creations ever since the company’s founding, following the love story of Estelle Arpels and Alfred Van Cleef,” says president and CEO Nicolas Bos. But if you have followed the house’s more recent history (or if you read this magazine), you will note that the new Legend of Diamonds high jewelry collection seems like a bit of a departure. There is not the intricate narrative we have come to expect from Van Cleef High Jewelry—no French fairytale inspiration such as the 2014 Peau d’Ane collection had, or the eclectic references of last year’s Sous les Etoiles pieces, which included classical author Lucian of Samosata imagining a voyage in space and Camille Flammarion’s illustrated Astronomie Populaire from 1880, plus Cyrano de Bergerac’s tales of failed trips to the moon, 1970s comic books, and Barbarella. Nor is there the rare colored stone saturation or specificity of 2019’s Treasure of Rubies or 2016’s ode to emeralds. Don’t look for a turquoise skirt on the ballerina brooches.

Photo credit: Van Cleef & Arpels
Photo credit: Van Cleef & Arpels

But also, don’t be fooled by the simplicity on display. “Even though it could seem a more minimalist design at first, this collection has challenged our teams in both creativity and know-how,” Bos says. “From the initial drawings through to stone-setting and the final polish, every detail has been designed to instill the creations with brilliance and life. Each diamond in the collection has been carefully selected by Van Cleef & Arpels’s expert gemologists with the strictest criteria, and they possess a diversity of cuts, from the classic ones to the most fancy,” he continues. “The combination of white and rose gold results from an extremely complicated technique achieved by our craftsmen in our Paris workshops. The pieces’ designs are inspired by different art periods, from the 1920s to the 1980s—architecture, painting, but also interlacing movement echoing couture symbols. One of our main challenges was to maintain the ability of some creations to transform, offering up to eight different possibilities for how to wear them.”

Photo credit: Van Cleef & Arpels
Photo credit: Van Cleef & Arpels

When I went to preview a selection of the collection’s 82 pieces earlier this year in Paris, Bos and I got on the subject of tailoring. The artistry of an exquisitely cut navy jacket is not obvious, we agreed, but that is its beauty, and its challenge. There are no sequins to distract from a misplaced line, no ruffles to hide an ill-fitting shoulder. The fabric must be of the highest order, the construction and craftsmanship visible. And you feel it when you wear it. So, too, with the right diamond necklace.

Photo credit: Van Cleef & Arpels
Photo credit: Van Cleef & Arpels

This story appears in the Summer 2022 issue of Town & Country. SUBSCRIBE NOW

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