GOR­DON LAM goes back to school in Paris to learn how to make jew­ellery, cour­tesy of Van Cleef & Ar­pels

#Legend - - SPARKLE -

A DAY SPENT in class at the Van Cleef & Ar­pels school of jew­ellery and watch­mak­ing in Paris, prop­erly called L'École, School of Jew­elry Arts, is a rare plea­sure. Af­ter the hec­tic Sa­lon In­ter­na­tional de la Haute Hor­logerie an­nual watch fair in Geneva in Jan­uary, #leg­end was in­vited to spend a few leisurely days in Paris with the team from Van Cleef & Ar­pels Hong Kong. Some wellde­served re­lax­ation was much needed, al­though the prospect of going back to school was daunt­ing.

Our first evening in Paris was cer­tainly a re­lax­ing one, de­voted to din­ner at Rech, the fa­mous seafood restau­rant run by Alain Du­casse. The su­per-at­ten­tive, flam­boy­ant maître d'hô­tel was the high­light. This ex­tra­or­di­nary, larger-than-life per­son­al­ity made our evening spe­cial by re­peat­edly ques­tion­ing my wear­ing sun­glasses in the restau­rant. He had in­suf­fi­cient English and I had in­suf­fi­cient French for a proper con­ver­sa­tion, so we de­pended on ges­tures and mime to com­mu­ni­cate. The com­i­cal episode pro­vided our lit­tle party of Hong Kong jour­nal­ists with their en­ter­tain­ment for the evening – quite apart, that is, from the fan­tas­tic food.

The next day was back-to-school. At L'École, School of Jew­elry Arts, which oc­cu­pies an 18th cen­tury man­sion in Place Vendôme, we were led straight to the high jew­ellery workshop, where the Van Cleef & Ar­pels ar­ti­sans work their magic, mak­ing dreams come true. Watch­ing ex­am­ples of some of the jew­eller's most iconic pieces take shape be­fore our eyes was sur­real. At each ar­ti­san's sta­tion, their tools and ma­chines, suited to the in­di­vid­ual needs and skills of each, are laid out. Di­a­monds and other pre­cious stones are ev­ery­where. The ar­ti­sans are not only su­perb crafts­man but also watch­ful guard dogs, never los­ing sight of any di­a­mond lest it go astray.

Af­ter lunch at the Park Hy­att Ho­tel, we re­turned to the school, where we were wel­comed warmly in the lounge by the head of the

school, Marie Val­lanet-Del­hom, and treated to beau­ti­ful aper­i­tifs be­fore our class be­gan. Our pro­gramme in­di­cated that the lessons would cover the ini­tial and fi­nal stages of the process of mak­ing jew­ellery, start­ing by teach­ing us how to model a piece of jew­ellery in wax and fin­ish­ing by teach­ing us tech­niques for set­ting stones. The pro­gramme sounded very tech­ni­cal.

We trooped up­stairs and donned crisply starched white coats bear­ing the badge of the L'École, School of Jew­elry Arts, which made us look more like a set of highly trained ar­ti­sans than a bunch of am­a­teurs. We as­sem­bled in the teach­ing workshop, which looked like a clin­i­cal lab­o­ra­tory. We may have been am­a­teurs but we were also keen learn­ers and since each of us rep­re­sented a dif­fer­ent Asian publi­ca­tion, we set about learn­ing the rudi­ments of the jew­eller's craft in a com­pet­i­tive spirit.

Our party was split into two groups of four. My group be­gan by learn­ing how to chisel and file wax to make a model for a piece of jew­ellery – in this case a bejewelled but­ter­fly –shap­ing the model sym­met­ri­cally. Then we learned how to mark where each pre­cious stone should go and how to drill the holes that would re­ceive the gems.

It was no easy task. It must take years of prac­tice to do it right. My first at­tempt was far from bril­liant but at least pass­able. Even al­low­ing that I am the fiercest critic of my own ef­forts, I can­not see my­self last­ing even one day in the job should a jew­eller ever be rash enough to em­ploy me. Ar­ti­sanry is no oc­cu­pa­tion for me.

For the next two hours we learned tech­niques for set­ting stones. We were given in­struc­tion in two meth­ods em­ployed by the school: bezel set­ting and prong set­ting. We prac­tised these meth­ods us­ing real di­a­monds and other pre­cious stones.

I dis­cov­ered that I was quite good at set­ting gems, which in­stantly lifted my con­fi­dence from zero to 100. I can imag­ine my­self set­ting gems all day long, day af­ter day. Or maybe I just love play­ing with ex­pen­sive di­a­monds. I may even ask Van Cleef & Ar­pels for a job one day.

At­tend­ing L'École, School of Jew­elry Arts, even if only for a day, was an ex­pe­ri­ence worth ev­ery minute in­vested. We were pre­sented with cer­tifi­cates of our achieve­ments and got to take home the wax but­ter­flies we made. My only re­gret is that we didn't get to keep the crisply starched white coats or the di­a­monds.

L’École, School of Jew­elry Arts, is hold­ing classes in Hong Kong un­til the end of the month. For de­tails, visit hash­ta­gle­ or scan the QR code

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