PRE­CIOUS WINGS At École Van Cleef & Ar­pels, jew­ellery lovers have a chance to go back to school.

Thanks to the École Van Cleef & Ar­pels, jew­ellery lovers have a chance to go back to school and un­der­stand how the house’s pre­cious pieces are crafted.

VOGUE Australia - - News -

On a brisk Jan­uary morn­ing in Paris, just be­fore the haute cou­ture col­lec­tions, I get lost on my way to school. For the past 110 years Van Cleef & Ar­pels has sat at 22 Place Vendôme, so I knew I was in the right place, sort of. As I linger in­side the jew­eller’s cav­ernous en­try­way fran­ti­cally thumb­ing at my phone, a house rep ma­te­ri­alises. Min­utes later, we’ve cir­cled the block and whisked through the back door of the Hô­tel de Ségur, just in time for a fast cof­fee be­fore class.

Named af­ter an in­ti­mate of Louis XV – the Mar­quis de Ségur, known as the “Prince of Vines” – the Van Cleef & Ar­pels hô­tel par­ti­c­ulier was built by Ange-Jac­ques Gabriel, one of 18th­cen­tury France’s pre­mier ar­chi­tects, who also de­signed the Petit Tri­anon at Ver­sailles. While its aris­to­cratic aura re­mains in­tact, in re­cent years the man­sion’s in­te­rior has been com­pletely re­con­fig­ured into the mod­ern, light-filled sa­lons and ate­liers that now com­prise the École Van Cleef & Ar­pels.

The only jew­ellery school of its kind in Paris, the École opened in 2012 for stu­dents from the gen­eral pub­lic, be they novices or ama­teurs éclairés – en­light­ened en­thu­si­asts. For a jew­ellery ob­ses­sive like me, it’s a dream come true, an à la carte op­por­tu­nity to lift – at least par­tially – the cloak of mys­tery sur­round­ing one of the world’s most jeal­ously guarded, se­cre­tive crafts.

Van Cleef & Ar­pels, which will be open­ing its first Aus­tralian store at Mel­bourne’s Collins Street in late June, built its for­tune on se­crets. In 1933, the Parisian house’s serti mys­térieux earned a French patent, and in­vis­i­ble set­tings be­came the jew­eller’s sig­na­ture. Five years later, in 1938, the house pro­duced a gouache of what would be­come its most fa­mous in­vis­i­ble set­ting: the Zip di­a­mond neck­lace, com­mis­sioned by Wal­lis Simp­son, Duchess of Wind­sor. The war in­ter­vened, and the duchess re­ceived the com­pleted piece in 1951. To­day, the Zip neck­lace re­mains one of the most in­no­va­tive jew­ellery de­signs of all time.

On the morn­ing of my class, Van Cleef & Ar­pels’s lat­est serti mys­térieux is fea­tured in the pages of the lead­ing French daily Le Fi­garo. The Ru­bis Se­cret, a hid­den time­piece, its bracelet set with more than 150 carats of Mozam­bique ru­bies hemmed with rows of di­a­monds, was the hit of the SIHH lux­ury jew­ellery and watch ex­hi­bi­tion in Geneva. As it hap­pens, our teach­ers for the morn­ing, Maxime and Frédéric, the two “Mains d’Or” (at Van


Cleef & Ar­pels, jewellers are called “golden hands”) spent well over a year craft­ing that very piece. We’re wel­comed by Brigitte Pery Eveno, a pro­fes­sor at the École Van Cleef & Ar­pels whose ties to the house date back to her great-grand­fa­ther, Lu­cien Pery, a jew­eller for Van Cleef & Ar­pels from its found­ing, in 1896. Her grand­fa­ther, Al­bert Pery, cre­ated the Zip neck­lace. A Parisian with the kind of style the whole world en­vies, Pery Eveno runs us through more than a dozen course op­tions, from art his­tory to the colour and char­ac­ter of gem­stones, savoir faire, un­der­stand­ing me­chan­i­cal time­pieces to art nou­veau and the art of Ja­panese lac­quer. To­day, we’re to ex­plore “wax projects and set­ting tech­niques”.

Once we don our white lab coats, our small group of six stu­dents gets a crash course in the ancient art of cire per­due, or the “lost wax” tech­nique of jew­ellery-mak­ing. We take up our sta­tions at a work­bench, and Maxime walks us through the process for etch­ing out gem­stone place­ments on one of the house’s best-known sig­na­tures, a but­ter­fly. Green wax but­ter­fly in hand, I jug­gle a com­pass, a white marker and a “fraise” pierc­ing tool as I at­tempt to align 10 tiny holes evenly along the up­per lobe of the but­ter­fly’s wing. On the penul­ti­mate hole, my left wing fis­sures. I’m afraid I’d never make it in your work­shop, I tell Maxime. “I’m not look­ing to make you into a jew­eller,” he replies kindly. “I just want help you ap­pre­ci­ate what you see and what­ever jew­ellery might be of­fered to you.” At that mo­ment, I wish my hus­band had tagged along.

But­ter­fly duly man­gled, it’s time to move on to gem-set­ting. The sil­ver body of a but­ter­fly, ren­dered in two prong set­tings and one bezel, plus one pear-shaped and two round fac­tice stones, are on the bench. Op­ti­cal glasses perched grasshop­per-like on my nose, I coax the stones, point down, into their set­tings and try to squeeze the prongs around them with­out tip­ping the stone’s ta­ble. It’s eas­ier for me than work­ing with wax, but I’m quite cer­tain this but­ter­fly will never take wing ei­ther. Still, there’s some­thing satisfying about the work, al­most med­i­ta­tive, like get­ting lost in time. Be­fore I know it, it’s lunch hour: my four-hour class is over. For the hun­dredth time that morn­ing, I re­alise I prob­a­bly shouldn’t give up my day job, but I feel en­er­gised, ready to come back and try again.

I thank our two Mains d’Or and be­gin plot­ting my re­turn, and since they have chil­dren’s classes, think that per­haps I’ll bring along my six year-old princess-in-train­ing. “The real se­cret is that jew­ellery is re­ally all about emo­tion,” Maxime ob­serves. “Our job is to cre­ate hap­pi­ness.”

AN ANTIQUE VAN CLEEF & AR­PELS YEL­LOW GOLD ZIP NECK­LACE SET WITH DI­A­MONDS, EMERALDS, EMERALD BEADS, SAPPHIRES AND SAP­PHIRE BEADS, P.O. A. The Van Cleef & Ar­pels bou­tique at Place Vendôme in Paris. Work­ing on the face of a Lady Ar­pels Fée On­dine watch....

Cre­at­ing the face of a Lady Nuit des Papil­lons watch. As­sem­bling the jew­elled band of a Lady Jour des Fleurs watch. Work­ing on the un­der­side of a bracelet. Cre­at­ing a wa­terlily for an Lady Ar­pels Fée On­dine watch. CADEAU IMPÉRIAL WHITE GOLD DROP...

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