True virtuosos of their craft, the jewellers, polishers, designers and gem setters of Van Cleef & Arpels are dedicated and truly passionate about what they do — in fact, some of them see their work as more like a hobby or a way of life that combines artisanal skill with pleasure. More than a few of Van Cleef & Arpels‘ ‘golden hands’ have been working for the maison for decades, often hailing from families that are also in the jewel-making trade. Thus, Van Cleef & Arpels fosters an extended family of some of the best jewel designers and makers in the world, and ensures that their skills are honed and challenged by a constant search for innovation and the highest standards of quality. Apart from jewellers, stone sorters, gem setters and the like, the jewellery house also employs moke-up makers, engravers, sculptors, painters and many other artists who help create the elaborate, one-off artefacts seen in Van Cleef & Arpels‘ collections. When I visited the Ateliers, the new summer collection named ‘Seven Seas’ was being created. What struck me the most was the fine scale of the work: it is simply amazing how so much detail and elaboration can fit into the smallest surfaces of a watch, a ring or a brooch!
The design studio
The creative process at the Van Cleef & Arpels’ateliers begins in the design studio. Here, imaginative artists use their inspiration to create a first drawing of what will eventually become a one-of-a-kind Van Cleef & Arpels jewel. After an initial pencil drawing, the design is painted with gouache on grey paper (because on white paper clear and white details like diamonds would be hard to see). For the designer, it is important that every single detail is provided in the drawing, so that the craftsmen will be able to understand his/her intention easily.
The mock-up studio
After the drawing room, the jewel design makes its way to the moke-up workshop, where experienced mock-upmakers create a mock-up of the jewel using pewter and strass crystals (rhinestones). This is an important phase in the design process, because the designer can see his/her drawing come to life without wasting precious materials, and the jewellers can test the weight, movement and shape of a jewel before they start working on the real piece. Van Cleef & Arpels is perhaps the only jewellery house in the world that provides its team with the luxury of a mock-up-making studio, thus enhancing the communication between designers and jewellers and allowing room for testing and creative experimentation
(source) – Photo © Van Cleef & Arpels.