The expert's view Tuesday, January 3rd 2012
After the recent sale, by Christie's, of several Van Cleef & Arpels jewels belonging to Elizabeth Taylor, Stanislas de Quercize, CEO, describes the poetry that surrounds the Parisian firm, established Place Vendôme since 1906.
Stanislas de Quercize, CEO from Van Cleef & Arpels © Van Cleef & Arpels
Much of the communication for Van Cleef & Arpels draws on a world of poetry that is unique to the House. CEO Stanislas de Quercize explains where this poetry originates.
You refer to the House of Van Cleef & Arpels rather than the brand. What distinction do you make between the two?
Stanislas de Quercize: Brands are all-encompassing and in the here and now, whereas a House is the guardian of a particular savoir-faire and a history that stretches back more than a century. A House is always forged by individuals whose passion is passed down from generation to generation. A House has a date of birth and an address whereas a brand is more immaterial. The House of Van Cleef & Arpels was established by Alfred Van Cleef and his wife Esther, or Estelle, née Arpels. They married in 1896. Van Cleef & Arpels opened its boutique at 22 Place Vendôme on June 16th 1906. More than a hundred years later, the Boutique du Temps Poétique remains a reference the world over for Fine Jewellery and Fine Watches.
What precisely is this poetry that surrounds Van Cleef & Arpels?
The world of Van Cleef & Arpels revolves around its founders, a young couple very much in love. It represents the world as it should be: a Paradise in the universal sense. The world of Van Cleef & Arpels is a world filled with love and happiness. Imagination is also at the core of our identity. Our collections throw open a window onto a world of fantasy, filled with kind, magical creatures such as fairies. Recognisable at a glance, our timeless style brings the promise of lasting enchantment. Our creations belong to both past and present, to eternity.
What inspires this poetry?
The inspiration for our collections could be the seeds from which a universal culture could grow. Nature has given us the roses, clovers and butterflies that bring our jewellery to life. Dance has inspired the ballerinas which are another symbol of Van Cleef & Arpels. We have also delved into the treasures of haute couture, such as when the Duchess of Windsor, in 1939, came to us with an idea for jewellery in the form of a zip fastener. Renée Puissant, then Artistic Director, transformed this inspiration into the famous Zip necklace, in 1950. Many of our creations originate in art and literature too, such as those in our Midsummer Night's Dream and Les Voyages Extraordinaires collections.
Is there a common thread to Van Cleef & Arpels' poetic world?
Our creative teams couldn't hope for more perfect allies than the nimble fingers at work in our ateliers on Place Vendôme. The mystery setting which Van Cleef & Arpels perfected in 1933 is behind some of our most poetic creations. This technique, which is particularly well-suited to rubies, lends mystery to a jewel by completely concealing the metal setting. Transformation is another of our creative cornerstones. Think of the Passe-Partout necklace, imagined in 1949, and the cuff bracelets made for Daisy Fellowes in the 1930s and which haven't aged a day.
Is this poetry expressed in the same way in your watches as in your jewellery?
Absolutely. Our jewellery and our watches view the world in the same positive light. The House of Van Cleef & Arpels has been making wristwatches since 1923. One of the most recent, the Lady Arpels Pont des Amoureux, is surely the most accomplished expression of the poetry instilled in our timepieces. Poetry gives meaning to something mechanical; it is a way for us to tell a story through a watch.
How else do you keep this poetry alive?
We share it through exhibitions staged at the Mori Arts Center in 2009 and 2010, and at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum in New York in 2011, where Patrick Jouin showcased over a century of creativity by the House of Van Cleef & Arpels. The school of jewellery-making that we are opening in February is another way to share this poetry with everyone who is in love with Van Cleef & Arpels.
What poetry will we find in the new models that Van Cleef & Arpels presents at the SIHH in January?
Expect some surprises as our new collections will make time even more precious than ever. ■
Stanislas de Quercize was talking to Anaïs Georges du Clos