A DAY AT L’ECOLE VAN CLEEF & ARPELS
As some of you might already know from social medias, last week Charles and I traveled to Paris with Van Cleef & Arpels. Although my trip was organized under some last-minute stress, it’s planning turned out to be flawless, from the personal driver waiting for us at the railway station to the little goodies that we got in our hotel’s room before our departure – all this thanks to Van Cleef’s amazing team. But the highlight of this trip was not hidden in those little, charming attentions, but rather in the feeling of deep satisfaction I was left with while leaving Paris. See, the purpose of the voyage was to attend some classes in the prestigious L’ECOLE Van Cleef & Arpels, situated in the beating heart of the city, where the very essence of jewelry lives : the Place Vendôme. This school, opened in 2012, offers initiation courses in French or in English, with hands-on experiencing, to all those who want to learn the arts of jewelry and watchmaking.
I must admit having been a little nervous at the idea of these classes, as my knowledge in the universe of gemstones was rather limited. But having been introduced to my group, mostly made of journalists from all around the world, I soon understood that I had nothing to worry about, the people that attend these classes are not necessarily professional gemologists, they are people like you and I – eager to learn. Thus L’Ecole Van Cleef & Arpels propose 14 courses of four hours each, led by professional gemologists, jewelers and art historians – and these courses are divided between three different fields of jewelry : Gemology, a class where you learn to handle gemstones; “Savoir-Faire”, for experiencing the gestures of master jewelers and History of Art, with as you might guess a jewelry focus. The courses we attended that day were the introduction classes to those subjects, but this was enough to give me the taste of what it is like to work in this fascinating universe.
9AM – 11AM : Discover the gemstone
The first class we attended was an introduction to gemology, aimed to help us taking our first steps into the world of minerals. During this class we discovered some gemstones in their primary state, learned about their extraction from the earth and their cutting, learned how to use our emotions to talk about the gems and, at the end, to appreciate them. The most interesting part was without doubt the comparisons we had to make between two stones, identical by their type but different by some details – details that will define their value. It was the first time I heard about the 4C rule, four basic parameters for evaluating gemstones (Carat, Clarity, Color and Cut) – Van Cleef & Arpels also like to add a 5th parameter, the Character that is all about the natural charm of the stone, that little “je-ne-sais-quoi” that will make you adore it.
11.15AM – 1.15PM : Savoir-Faire
After a short coffee break we took place in a very particular room on the school’s top floor – a room designed exactly like a genuine jewelry atelier, with workbenches and real tools. The Master Setter initiated us into some different jewellers techniques, from the setting of various gems to the polishing and I must tell something : it is not as easy as it seems to be! There were hundred of times where I thanked God that my stone was not a diamond – I believe I would have destroyed it’s 4C’s by my clumsiness. Trying out those workshop gestures was such a unique and eye-opening experience. Now it feels like I will never see a piece of jewelry the same way; if before this course all I focused on was the beauty of the design, now I tend to give it some closer looks and visualise the work that is behind. As it often is the case, once you saw the real work behind a luxury item, you begin to understand it’s final price, because of the time and efforts put in it’s realisation.
3:30 PM – 5:30 PM : Art History of Jewelry
As an history bookworm, this was without doubt the class I was the most excited about – and I was not disappointed. Our introductive course was focused on the Art Nouveau period, and how it created a completely original style in only 20 years, reacting against the eclecticism of times, resonating with those who dared to make curves, to dynamize with asymmetry and to use new materials. Needless to say that I took notes of every word, trying to memorise every detail and characteristic of the Art Nouveau style on jewels.
The other history class that really interested me was the one on talismans, but let’s keep it for another trip and another adventure.
Pictures : Charles Legrand
Special thanks to the Van Cleef & Arpels team