Four German fairy tales are the inspiration behind Van Cleef & Arpels latest high jewellery collection. We discover how the maison came to embrace the brothers Grimm
At Van Cleef & Arpels, the narrative behind collections is given nearly as much importance as the jewels themselves. While jewellers typically create designs around the gemstones laid before them, the French maison’s creative process almost always begins with a story. In the words of CEO Nicolas Bos, “We give our jewels soul through these stories.”
It’s a formula that works beautifully, and one that has become expected by clients. Bos says that while the brand’s clientele is of diverse cultural backgrounds and tastes, the common ground is that they enjoy “embarking on a journey of storytelling.”
And he’s not talking about a tale hastily cobbled together a month before a collection is unveiled—a practice more common than you might think—but carefully woven prose that ties the inspiration, designs and the universe of Van Cleef & Arpels together exquisitely.
We’ve seen this done brilliantly in previous collections, such as L’Arche de Noé, a whimsical interpretation of the biblical story of Noah through a range of brooches, and the delightful collection dedicated to the French fairy tale Peau d’Âne.
This year, the house has combed through the 200-plus fairy tales published by the Brothers Grimm and chosen four on which to base a fanciful, romantic high jewellery collection called Quatre Contes de Grimm.
The brothers’ darker tales were passed over, Bos says, in favour of stories more in line with the world of Van Cleef & Arpels. With precious stones and metals, plus their exquisite craftsmanship, the jewellers have brought to life The Twelve Dancing Princesses, The Golden Bird, The Three Feathers, and Town Musicians of Bremen.
“The universe of the Grimm brothers is very different from the worlds that inspired us in the past, but we were attracted to the Germanic tales that are ever so slightly gothic,” Bos explains.
The four tales were selected because they immediately inspired ideas for jewellery designs. Their protagonists were perfect subjects: the cheerful and somewhat mischievous royals of The Twelve Dancing Princesses; the wise heroes of The Three Feathers and The Golden Bird, and the solidarity of The Town Musicians of Bremen.
“Right away we could envision the brooches, the pendants we could create around them,” Bos says. “These stories provided such a strong and beautiful starting point for the creations—sometimes quite literal, at times more figurative.”
In drawing inspiration from beloved tales and existing worlds, Van Cleef & Arpels exercises care and restraint. It makes sure that a piece taken out of the collection—removed from the context of the inspiration—can stand confidently alone and be appreciated just for itself.
“Continuity, consistency—these are very, very important values at Van Cleef & Arpels,” says Bos. “Whenever we tap into another universe and welcome it into ours, we have to make sure it is still very much our own. We also always ask ourselves of the pieces we create today: 20 or more years down the line, without having someone explain its inspiration or seeing them together as a collection, will they still look and feel like a genuine piece of Van Cleef & Arpels jewellery? It’s only when it’s a resounding yes, and without a shadow of doubt, will we proceed.”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you preserve a legacy.