Deep blue sea, bubbling white foam and undulating waves in sparkling sunshine — the Mediterranean has never seemed so alluring as from high on the hill in Monte Carlo.
Except that this week’s vision of iridescent water was played out in sapphires and diamonds. Van Cleef & Arpels has become the first high-jewellery brand to follow fashion and introduce a cruise collection.
Firstly, there was the theme: the Seven Seas, stretching the imagination of the jewellery designers, from the warm waters of Arabia and India and their hot coral colours mixing with the chilly depths of the Atlantic, expressed as a pair of yellow sapphire earrings set against blue stones.
Nicolas Bos, president and CEO of the Place Vendôme Paris jeweller, said that the idea of the Seven Seas was to catch the mythical Renaissance period when travel was as much in the imagination as a reality.
But the Van Cleef executive had another reason for trying to capture with gemstones the romance and preciousness of a past world, centred only on a few known oceans such as the Red Sea, the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean.
“There are two important things about the relation between Van Cleef and the seas,” Bos said. “Firstly we really wanted to capture the spirit of fashion’s cruise collection — the idea that there is as much technique, detail and work in pieces that were once meant to be worn in the summer when you are cruising in your sailboat. It is the idea of the jewels being lighter, easier to wear, very comfortable, happy and joyful. And that comes with all the shades of blue and all the inspiration from the ocean and the sea, as you can imagine.”
But the idea also has a business base that other jewellery houses will surely follow. Although accessible pieces starting in the hundreds of dollars or euros have long been on offer from the big brands, this Van Cleef collection is a gateway to the exceptional and rare pieces — but more warm and welcoming — despite high prices.
I looked at a starfish, glinting with diamonds and pink sapphires — inspired by the warmth and exoticism of the Arabian Sea. Another friendly offering from those waters was a tortoise clip, its diamond and sapphire “arms” and “legs” paddling out of its mother-of-pearl shell.
Many other jewels — especially an onyx and pearl necklace inspired by the Black Sea and a Mediterranean pink-sapphire bird necklace — looked ultra high-end to me. But Bos tried to put them in perspective.
“Sometimes with high Jewellery we tend to talk about exceptional pieces that are extremes: hundreds of carats and precious stones,” he said. “That is one element of our jewellery. But I think it is very important that high jewellery — meaning a unique piece, high quality with attention to detail — is also a category that has to express itself in wearable designs. I am not saying that these pieces are inexpensive, obviously they are not. But we wanted to create a balance. For some clients, there are formal pieces that you only wear a few times a year. You add them to your collection as an investment that will live in a safe.
“We want to make pieces that you see and you want to wear,” he continued. “So you say, ‘Great, I am going to Capri, and this is the piece!’ I really think that if you look only in terms of pieces that are outside of this world and most people’s lifestyles, we are not expressing the whole meaning of high jewellery. It is a about the mindset, about tradition and technique.
These pieces will be a less formal shape, lighter and easier to wear — that is what we wanted to capture. It is very important for us to convey this message because high jewellery is so often seen through a lens of amazement — bout pieces worth five million euros being sold by millionaires — there is kind of a myth around that. But it is very important that high jewellery is relevant for not just 200 people in this world, but for many more. It is something that should really be considered for its quality, tradition and creativity – not only for the formal aspect or its price. That is one of the driving intentions for this collection.”
As Nicolas Bos took me around the three-floor exhibition of present and past Van Cleef jewels, a one-day-only event at Monaco’s Villa Paloma museum, he explained the evolution of techniques and style — paying special attention to the three-dimensional sculpted effects of recent years. Since the Seven Seas Monaco jewellery alone has more than 350 pieces in its Iconic, Heritage and new collection this was a history lesson that became an orgy of gorgeousness.
But it was only when we took a boat from the crowded harbour, sailing through the sapphire-blue water around the rocky headlands of Cap-d’Ail and Cap d’Antibes, with only a few spidery helicopters breaking the vista of sea and sky, that I felt a visceral connection between the jewellery and its Seven Seas theme.
As the waves rolled and the spray rose, my mind’s eye went back to the jewels: the little sea fairy resting on a reef of chalcedony with diamond and sapphire bubbles floating in her hair. Or the rhythmic roll of the sea in a white-gold and diamond necklace that was a development of a similar Van Cleef piece given by Prince Albert of Monaco to Princess Charlene on their wedding day. (They held a reception in Monaco for Van Cleef’s most important clients, who wore some of the majestic jewellery — but that has to stay as a secret of the sea.)
ARABIAN SEA: Three white mother-of-pearl and sapphire tortoises swim in Indian file through waves of white gold and diamonds
ARABIAN SEA: White mother-of-pearl and sapphire tortoise
“Why the Seven Seas?” I asked Nicolas again, as we walked in the Cote d’Azur sunshine under our panama hats.
“It’s the idea of different colours, different stones, different traditions,” he said. “You have much bluer shades of the Atlantic ocean meeting the yellow shades of the Indian ocean. We found different colours and elements, and we also studied stories and myths. We tried to look at the Seven Seas as different chapters and explorations of this dream of the ocean, so they all have their identities which can be seen and enjoyed.”
One thing seems as sure of the flow of the tides: that this Van Cleef initiative of bringing high jewellery back to the realms of the possible (for some) and focusing on its life on the body, rather than in the safe, will be a new high-jewellery wave.