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Van Cleef & Arpels’ fantastical, fairytale-inspired high jewellery

HighLifeChannel July 22, 2018

It can be difficult, sometimes, to align the story behind a piece of jewellery with what’s in front of you. Jewellers design instinctively to emphasise the beauty of a rare gem – so the narrative can seem secondary, retrofitted for marketing purposes. Van Cleef and Arpels never has this problem. Storytelling is intrinsic to the house, tied up in its history and DNA, and its high jewellery creations are alive with references to the fables that inspired them.

Having previously dedicated ranges to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the story of Noah’s Ark and the French fairytale Peau d’Âne, this year’s high jewellery offering is named Quatre Contes de Grimm, with four chapters each inspired by a fairytale published by the Brothers Grimm.

The Grimms’ Twelve Dancing Princesses appear as a collection of ballerina clips, each one adopting a different pose in her gemstone-covered ball gown. One hides her face with a diamond fan; another wears an emerald crown; their sister sports a yellow-sapphire necklace. Bursting with life and character, these one-of-a-kind clips were all snapped up by a collector, joining the sought-after ranks of tiny dancers that Van Cleef has created since the 1940s.

The tale goes that the king was alerted to his daughters’ nighttime dancing antics by the worn-out soles of their shoes: a diamond-covered pair of which perch atop a cushion of lapis lazuli in the Souliers Précieux clip. Other pieces in the chapter are more abstract. The 12 errant princesses are represented by 12 gemstones in one bracelet, while two magnificent blue Burmese sapphires either end of another signify the lake they would cross to reach the enchanted castle.

From the protagonist princes and princesses to their supporting cast of birds and beasts, there are overt references along with whimsical winks to the stories throughout. In the Golden Bird chapter, the subject peeks out of a cage at the end of a necklace, while a half-eaten apple, stolen by the bird in the story, is engraved beneath a 20-carat yellow sapphire in a cocktail ring, two onyx ‘pips’ embedded in the mount.

Many of the pieces are transformable: earrings can be worn long or short, richly detailed pendants can be worn as brooches, and long swaying ropes of pearls and beads can be changed into chokers that wouldn’t look out of place on one of the fairy tale’s 19th century heroines.

There are modern touches, too, especially in the palette of gemstones used: yes, there are Burmese sapphires and Colombian emeralds, but also minty green tourmalines alongside purple amethysts and blue sapphires, a Persian-pink spinel in a bed of pomegranate-seed rubies, lavender-blue chalcedony providing a soft contrast to a jolt of electric lapis lazuli.

A strand of grey pearls complements a pendant of blue and mauve sapphires, while turquoise beads pop against green and pink stones, reflecting the current trend in high jewellery towards bold, unexpected hues.

Van Cleef’s creativity is matched by its reputation for craftsmanship, and the house’s high jewellery demonstrates the full clout of its Paris-based artisans.

The mechanisms behind the transformable jewels are the result of the same drive for innovation that saw the house finally master the iconic Zip necklace in 1950, while its signature ‘mystery set’ technique – in which precisely-cut stones slide into their tracks, rendering the metal invisible – is demonstrated to mesmerising effect with pastel-coloured sapphires in the Panache Mystérieux feather brooch.

From elegant cascades of white diamonds to antique-like drops of rose-cut, faded yellow diamonds, via an exotic, magic carpet-inspired spray of coral and sapphire, there’s little to grasp in terms of an aesthetic thread throughout Quatre Contes de Grimm. But a very Van Cleef sense of magic and romance, along with its inimitable knack of storytelling, are never far from reach.


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