15 Minutes With… Nicolas Bos, CEO Of Van Cleef & Arpels

The CEO of Van Cleef & Arpels walks us through the maison’s philosophy of jewellery design, how its support of dance and the arts is integral to its creative universe, and tells us why the journey of legacy-building is never complete
Van Cleef & Arpels CEO Nicolas Bos on the maison’s philosophy of design, and how dance and the arts are integral to its creativity
Van Cleef & Arpels CEO Nicolas Bos

How does Van Cleef & Arpels’ latest high jewellery collection, Le Grand Tour, fit in with the maison’s tradition of high jewellery?

Nicolas Bos (NB): It’s a narrative collection in the sense that it follows a journey. You have collections that are more like landscapes, where there is not necessarily a hierarchy or chronology in the pieces, but we try to create a whole universe when you see all the pieces together in a display and exhibition, for instance, a collection like Under the Stars or The Diamond Collection or The Treasure of Rubies. Meanwhile, Le Grand Tour was more of a narrative, and it was a celebration of places and a way to revisit a subject that’s very important in the history of jewellery and decorative arts, which is the celebration of travel and discovery of cultures. The Grand Tour story is interesting because it was the origin, at least for Europeans, of individual travel to experience culture and art and for discovery, as opposed to travel for trade or conquest. We found it was quite a fascinating story to explore, and we worked with historians and experts to expose that whole phenomenon again.

How do all the themes and concepts that Van Cleef & Arpels has explored through its jewellery and watches contribute to the ethos of the maison?

NB: It’s pretty much the way we try to work: we try to stay true to the brand’s territory of expression, which covers a certain number of sources of inspiration, approaches and ways to design that define the style of the house. And then of course, there are craftsmanship techniques and technical choices and signatures that have been developed along the way. So there is quite a well-defined territory of expression that can be identified. What we hear is that a lot of our pieces can be recognisable but don’t necessarily need a logo—there is a recognisable signature style, but at the same time, you don’t want to repeat yourself and do the same thing over and over. And I believe that this territory of expression is, on the one hand, recognisable enough, but, on the other, rich enough and wide enough so that you can continue to explore and develop it.

I always try to find a starting point that resonates with the maison and with creations from the past, and that is not necessarily already being explored as such and that can, at the same time, ensure continuity and open new doors. For instance, when we do a high jewellery collection based on Romeo and Juliet, you see there are obvious connections throughout history with the celebration of love, abstract or figurative. Then there is the link with dance, because it’s about also about the ballet of Romeo and Juliet, so we can associate that inspiration and the whole story of Van Cleef & Arpels with the world of dance. And at the same time, it’s a timeless and universal story, so for people that love ballet and literature, you can almost have infinite levels of reading.

How does the maison create jewellery and watches that are fresh and yet immediately identifiable as Van Cleef & Arpels creations, that suit contemporary tastes now and will remain attractive far into the future? How do you balance all those considerations?

NB: By not thinking too much about them? (laughs) Because then it would be too complicated! Though, thank you for saying that, because I think it is really a compliment to the collections. It pretty much goes back to that territory of expression and trying to be good at doing what we do. We have a history and previous sensitivity and expertise for some techniques, representation or inspirations that we try to translate into jewellery or into watches. The results might not be relevant for everyone, but I think that they’re relevant for some people, so even if it’s not to their taste—because it’s often figurative, delicate and ornate—there are always people that appreciate the quality of what we do and the level of detail.

What’s your view on how interest in and appetites for jewellery and watches have evolved over time, and how has the maison responded to these changes?

NB: What I definitely noticed in the past 25 years or so is that there is much higher interest in this type of activity and craft. And we’ve seen that through print and online media, and in exhibitions, fairs and museums. There are a lot of platforms now that offer access to this culture of jewellery and high watchmaking, which a couple of decades ago was much more secretive and discreet, and restricted to a handful of wealthy collectors and experts. It’s difficult to identify specific trends, but I think there’s a very high diversity of propositions, from the very simple and abstract to the super figurative and ornate, and I think there’s a high diversity of tastes and expectations from clients, collectors and visitors.

There are so many components to the Van Cleef & Arpels story: its contemporary and heritage jewellery and watches, its support of dance through Dance Reflections by Van Cleef & Arpels, and its support of jewellery craftsmanship and education through L’ÉCOLE School of Jewelry Arts. How would you describe the throughline among all these varied approaches and efforts?

NB: I think they all have to do with the identity of the brand and its territory of expression. Of course we’re quite specialised—we’re not a lifestyle brand—so we stick to this expertise and these product categories. There are some values that have been very important, that are really part of that territory and that have to do with education and access to art, and there are some artistic disciplines like poetry and dance that have been important since the very early days of the maison. We celebrate these disciplines through our collections because they are still a source of inspiration—such as our ballerina brooches or Poetic Complications watches—but we also love to collaborate with disciplines independently from the jewels. And it’s the same for the school: the transmission of expertise, stories and inspiration has been always central in the workshops, stores and exhibitions.

Now that the maison is synonymous with jewellery and watches, the arts in general and dance in particular, is the process of legacy-building ever complete?

NB: Never, because it would be super depressing if it was complete—we wouldn’t be able to have a job! I think that the great thing with all these stories and disciplines is that they’ve been there forever, and they’ve been permanent sources of renewal and creation. Though sometimes we feel that everything has been done, but no, there are combinations that are being done and inspirations that haven’t been explored. There’s always evolution, in technical complexity, taste and inspiration.


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