Van Cleef & Arpels chief Nicolas Bos finds history has a funny way of inspiring even the most avant-garde designs

 

Text Patricia Gajo | Photographs Yoann Stoeckel | Hair & Makeup Jean Pierre Canavaté | Props Emma Jaubert


Photo above: Gold bracelets and a Between the Finger ring from the Perlée collection. Van Cleef & Arpels is exclusively available at Birks in Canada


The parisian haute joaillerie house Van Cleef & Arpels is steeped in decades of glamour, its intricate designs luring aficionados and aristocrats since 1906. Nurturing such an esteemed brand is clearly no ordinary task, but one that CEO, president and creative director Nicolas Bos approaches with the skill of a renaissance man. The day I meet Bos, the tall, blue-eyed 45-year-old embodies prep-school chic in a navy blazer and grey slacks—balanced by what looks like a three-day beard. Two contrasting bands are on his ring finger. The first, and most noticeable, is a piece from the Perlée collection, featuring five rows of small “couscous” beads. The second is a sliver of yellow gold.

 


Van Cleef & Arpels CEO, president and creative director Nicolas Bos shows off the L’Arche de Noé collection in Paris.


During a chat at his Paris headquarters—in the giant jewellery box that is Place Vendôme—Bos, who has been with Van Cleef & Arpels since 2000, holds forth on art, design, poetry, gastronomy and fashion. He lingers on that last one, showing that it’s no coincidence the brand presents new collections during the couture shows in Paris. Indeed, one of Bos’s primary obsessions is finding enough levity in gold, platinum and diamonds—the hardest materials on earth—to emulate couture fabrics. “If you manage to capture the feeling of a feather, the feeling of lace and fabric or a butterfly, this is the ultimate goal of jewellery,” says Bos. “It’s fabric that’s going to last forever.”

 

 

 

A selection of the one-of-a-kind clips.


The house’s signature “Mystery Setting” for one, showcases gems on virtually invisible railings, creating a fluid, textile effect. In the same spirit, the hot new Bouton d’or collection, a jewelled take on the light-catching sequin, was a Van Cleef & Arpels staple in the 1930s. Originally in gold and diamond, it now comes in a wider choice of stones. And some of the most current pieces, the ultra-contemporary “Between the Finger” rings, are based on a Van Cleef & Arpels design from the 1970s. Timely, yes, but Bos isn’t interested in chasing trends or influencers paid to promote brands. He has pride in the house’s history with icons such as Grace Kelly, the Princess of Monaco—precisely because they chose to wear the brand on their own. “There was no contract. There was no marketing. They were our clients,” says Bos. “I’m not sure that spending two million dollars to have somebody wear a necklace in Hollywood is going to build real value for the house.” Instead, Bos works in a “traditional way,” looking to designers and craftspeople to create a compelling narrative for each piece. “The way we look at elegance is about a certain form of discretion, understatement. We don’t necessarily want to talk to everybody in the loudest way,” he says. “We try to expand on some collections and to continue to tell stories. We just do some nice things and then we see what happens.”

 

A selection of the one-of-a-kind clips.


That sounds like an understatement coming from a man producing some of the world’s most covetable baubles (exclusively available at Birks in Canada), but with it comes an enviable artistic freedom. In the past, the house has drawn inspiration from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Perrault’s classic French fairy tale Peau d’âne. For a recent blockbuster, the L’Arche de Noé collection, Bos drew on a single moment in art history, the extraordinary coterie of animals in “The Entry of the Animals into Noah’s Ark,” a 1613 painting by Jan Brueghel the Elder, at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

The resulting exhibit, called L’Arche de Noé, racontée par Van Cleef & Arpels, showcases a glittering menagerie of his-and-her animal clips, including tiny pairs of giraffes, kangaroos and owls, as well as larger-than-life ladybugs.

The process was as labour-intensive and exacting as all the house’s work. An average of 300 hours went into each of the L’Arche de Noé pieces, passing through several sets of mains d’or (“golden hands”), the company’s craftspeople— akin to the petites mains of haute couture. The masterful five-step process begins with a gouache drawing, which must be approved before it is translated by a sculptor into a three-dimensional form in green wax. This mock-up is then matched to carefully selected stones, which are cut and sanded. Finally, the gold is shaped, and polished with brushes or threads.

 

A selection of the one-of-a-kind clips.


Bos’s personal favourite is the Pegasus, one of three solo creatures in the collection, for its craftsmanship. “It’s an imaginary animal that found its way to the ark. It’s an expression of the highest complexity of high jewellery.”

The exhibit took place in a neighbouring townhouse at Place Vendôme. American artist Robert Wilson created a fantastical cube, seemingly carved out of the sea thanks to digital images of water on four walls. Inset cubes displayed each pair of clips. A tiny boat dangled from the ceiling. Arvo Pärt’s lullaby “Spiegel im Spiegel” was the soundtrack, interrupted intermittently by flashing lights, thunderclaps and the sound of pouring rain.

Bos likens the exhibit to molecular cuisine. “You have all the ingredients— the animals, boats, the sea, the storm, the rain—but deconstructed. And still the story appears.”

 

The paillettes that make up Van Cleef & Arpels’ Bouton d’or collection were invented by the house in 1939.