At Watches&Wonders, Chief Executive of Van Cleef & Arpels Nicolas Bos was nothing if not cool, calm and collected. The economic climate in Asia may be dismal to say the least, this is water off a duck’s back for the brand… a duck whose colourful feathers wouldn’t look out of place on one of its watch dials. “We are something of an atypical brand,” comments Bos. “Broadly speaking, the watch-focused brands that have built a strong presence in China with a network of own-name stores are the most exposed. Van Cleef & Arpels, in contrast, is very much jewellery-oriented, with genuinely international distribution and no own-name boutiques in the region. This partly explains why we have been spared. Then there is the fact we were relative latecomers to China. This means we didn’t benefit from the boom years, but because we are less exposed to the market, we have been less hit.”
While not one to gloat, Van Cleef & Arpels doesn’t necessarily take a dim view of the Chinese government’s crackdown on corruption, and the wall of suspicion this has raised around luxury. Not just for commendable ethical reasons either. In these troubled times, customers inevitably gravitate towards brands for which the words history and authenticity actually mean something, and Van Cleef & Arpels has every right to take its place among them. “This also proves China has become a mature market, which we believe bodes well as we develop our activities with the same approach, whether in Paris, New York or Shanghai,” continues Nicolas Bos. “We are loyal to our partners and we banish opportunist strategies. In a word, we build to last.”
A twofold approach
And to tell stories! Van Cleef & Arpels could easily take on the part of an ancient Greek aoidos to recount the spells cast by Circe and the transformations that ensued. Still, oral traditions are not the question here, and any enchanting has a solid inspiration when it comes to the brand’s watches. As Nicolas Bos explains, this is the theme which the Maison explored during the four days of Watches&Wonders: “The vast majority of visitors to the fair are watch lovers. If they are familiar with Van Cleef & Arpels, it will be mainly for our jewellery. Watches&Wonders is therefore the ideal opportunity for us to introduce them to our approach to time measurement.”
This approach takes two forms in 2015. One is to combine the brand’s watchmaking and jewellery identities in an original and bewitching symbiosis. The Cadenas watch is the perfect example, and lends itself to new references for Watches&Wonders. This particular design has been a fixture of the brand’s collections ever since its launch in 1935, and comes to the fore this year with subtle changes that adapt it to contemporary tastes without taking away from its intention that time should be read secretly. The year’s second major theme revolves around the métiers d’art, an area in which the brand has shown its strength and perspicacity. Visitors to the fair were greeted with three exceptional creations on the theme Enchanted Birds. Joining the Lady Arpels Extraordinary Dials collection, these Cardinal Carmin (crimson cardinal), Colibri Indigo (indigo hummingbird) and Martin-Pêcheur Azur (azure kingfisher) are remarkable for their use of feather art on a background of hard stone marquetry. However, the star of the show had to be the Lady Arpels Peau d’Âne Forêt Enchantée, which requires consummate skills in gem-setting, sculpting and engraving gold, and miniature painting. Charles Perrault, author of the fairytale that gave this watch its name, would doubtless have felt at home in the dreamlike world of Van Cleef & Arpels. A story without end!