JEWEL IN THE CROWN
With 25 years of journalism to his name, internationally renowned writer NICHOLAS FOULKES takes us on a journey of his thoughts, as well as his appreciation of classical timepieces, as we meet in Marrakech to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Van Cleef &
FROM HIS FIRST piece of jewellery at the age of 10 to his first encounter of Van Cleef & Arpels at 14, Nicholas Foulkes pays homage to his enduring relationship with the jewellery house. Having written for most national newspapers in Britain, as well as Vanity Fair and the Financial Times, Foulkes is a wellestablished author with a love of style. Classic yet current, he reveals some of his favourite pieces from the Alhambra collection as well as some time-honoured pieces he hopes to collect down the road.
For us watch aficionados in Asia who think we know everything, there are things we have to learn about Van Cleef & Arpels. Can you tell us a few things that would surprise us?
Oh gosh, well, the only thing I can say that will surprise anybody is that I did develop a fondness for Pierre Arpels. He appeared as himself in the movie Fantômas, which I always rather liked. He invented one of the most elegant watches, with the articulated T-bar. He invented that at the end of the '40s and commercialised it at the beginning of the
'70s, and it was perfect. He also did the first fragrance by a jeweller, called First – in '76, I think – and he opened La Boutique, which was again a revolution when he opened it in the '50s. This was affordable Van Cleef & Arpels. It was brilliantly judged, accessible, friendly and slightly chic. And people like Jackie Kennedy, Princess Grace and Jacqueline Susann loved it. For men, you could get brilliant money clips, lighters and cufflinks. I've got two sets of old Van Cleef cufflinks. My wife got them for my birthday and I just love that a great name makes such wonderful, small things.
Tell us about the evolution of your relationship with the brand from the early days to your book Van Cleef & Arpels: Alhambra?
Well my relationship with Van Cleef & Arpels probably starts from when I was about 14, when I read a book called The Pirate by Harold Robbins, which is a piece of schlocky 1970s jet-set fiction. But it mentioned Van Cleef & Arpels in there – and Van Cleef was the grand name in jewellery in those days, so I've always been fascinated by this. And then when I was 40 – which, since then, I unfortunately have celebrated another decade! – my wife bought me these wonderful Van Cleef &
Arpels cufflinks. So I came to the house already as an enthusiast. [Van Cleef & Arpels CEO] Nicolas Bos is a great guy and about 10 years ago, he asked me to write a book about costume balls. It turned out to be the inspiration for a collection of jewellery, so I have worked for
Van Cleef a couple of times. This was a departure for me, because it was something that I was unsure about doing to start with, but they actually knew better than me – so in the end it worked.
If you could have just one Van Cleef & Arpels piece, which would it be and why?
It would be an astrological belt buckle in my sign, based on a model they did in the '70s, and I'd have it made in 18-karat yellow gold. I actually found a silver version, not in my star sign, but I found it in a flea market and got it for a bargain. Unfortunately the price I have been quoted by Van Cleef is somewhat higher, so it will be some time yet.
How long have you been collecting jewellery?
As a kid, I found a silver ring with an onyx stone set in it in a park, and I also asked my parents to buy me a silver bracelet as well when I was still at primary school, so this must have been before I was 10, I suppose. Collecting is a big word, but I have been acquiring and wearing jewellery since before I was 10.
How do you assess auctioneer Aurel Bacs?
I've known Aurel for an awfully long time and he has done so much for the industry. He's quite a remarkable figure, he loves watches and he's a great showman – he has got great flair. Auctions are like a great performance. You don't need subtitles for Aurel; he's a kind of multilingual thing [imitates his voice], which kind of gives people time to build up the bids. But he is just brilliant. And his wife, Olivia, is a great Rolex expert, an amazing woman. He has generated some pretty remarkable results and I know that he takes it all quite seriously as well.
As a serious writer, how do you adapt to the growing digital world?
That's a tricky one, because I got into writing quite young and I was just used to print pages. I liked the physicality of the thing. Yes, I write online and the stuff I do gets online; I use social media to promote my work and my books.
It's not that print is dead, but it is different. If you're in the business of sheer information or basic information conveyance then yes, print probably is dead because the information comes to you through your smartphone or wherever. But in terms of a book, being a beauty, it isn't just a store of information. It's something that is tactile, hopefully attractively written and something that you would be happy to see. It can remind you that digital stuff is stored abstractly somewhere you don't know. I like physical things; this is probably why I like jewellery, watches and objects. And I see a book as a cultural object as much as anything. What I've noticed is that yes, people read digitally but they also like having the physical object and print no longer has a monopoly. I still love writing for papers and magazines, and it's something that I hope to continue doing.
Who is your legend?
My grandfather was one, Mark Birley was another, and the Duke of Windsor I suppose, in some ways. I can't choose just one.