First Look: Van Cleef & Arpels’s Sous les Étoiles Collection

The Nuée d’Émeraudes necklace with emeralds, sapphires and diamonds, as shot by Chinese photographer Leslie Zhang. (Photo: Van Cleef & Arpels)

Despite its 150 designs, Van Cleef & Arpels’s Sous les Étoiles collection is by no means the maison’s largest. Instead, what makes the high jewellery collection truly remarkable is the depth of research and imagination that went into its making—and, of course, the brilliant results that ensued. Poised at the intersection of fantasy and science in true Van Cleef & Arpels (VCA) form, the starry works draw from the influential texts of 17th-century German Renaissance man, astronomer Johannes Kepler, and Camille Flammarion, a French author and astronomer of the 19th century. Complementing these are the high-definition works of French astrophysicist Isabelle Grenier, whose impressive portfolio would have Sheldon of The Big Bang Theory grovelling for a lunch date at the cafeteria. According to President and CEO of Van Cleef & Arpels Nicolas Bos, the journey has been one of much discovery for the Maison—and the wonderment and awe it felt informs every one of the collection’s creations. 

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Tell us more about the collection.

We have some beautiful pieces—of the sky, planets, constellations—from the 1930s, ’50s, ’60s… And we did a range in 2010, which was inspired by [the Jules Verne novel From the Earth to the Moon]. So the team and I thought that it would be interesting to dedicate not only a chapter in a collection but the whole collection to that vision of the skies, and to see how VCA could give its own interpretation on a universal inspiration. As always with VCA, we love books and poetry, and there were a few important texts from Johannes Kepler and Camille Flammarion. We also worked, in particular, with Isabelle Grenier, an astrophysicist who has been a good friend of the House for some time. What struck me is how we  went, in a way, from a black and white vision— because, you know, all the descriptions of the  sky from the 17th century or before are in words—to an infinity of colours and shapes, with  the wealth of images that have been developed in the past 20, 30 years with the giant telescopes and satellites. It’s extremely inspiring, especially when you’re a jeweller who is transforming photographs into shapes and stones. 

CEO of Van Cleef & Arpels Nicolas Bos (Photo: Van Cleef & Arpels)

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What was the most challenging aspect of producing this collection?

It was to create a whole collection that is consistently rich. There are a lot of designs in the collection, more than 100 pieces. So the difficulty that the team faced was to find a wide range of interpretations and representations that are surprising; to find our own way of designing the stars and with VCA’s specific voice on the subject. That was really the difficulty. How to make it exciting, consistent and strong; something that would be appealing and not too literal or scientific, but close to the inspiration nevertheless. 

First Look: Van Cleef & Arpels’s Sous les Étoiles Collection
VCA’s beloved fairy makes an appearance as the Fée des Astres brooch. (Photo: Van Cleef & Arpels)

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How does this collection push the boundaries of what is expected of VCA?

I think what is very strong is that we were able to explore the signatures of the House with gem selection, techniques and multi-functionality on pieces that are very identifiable. I think we added to and expanded on the vocabulary of the Maison—which to me is very, very important. I think there is definitely a whole new set of inspirations that we will be able to reintroduce in other collections. 

When you look at this collection in its entirety, what are you most proud of? 

It’s really that each and every piece is very different consistently—and I hope that translates. But when you see them all together, there is a feeling of consistency too. The collection turns you into a bit of a child who is entering a planetarium for the first time. 

First Look: Van Cleef & Arpels’s Sous les Étoiles Collection
The Quasar necklace and its 37.50 carats of oval-cut rubies. (Photo: Van Cleef & Arpels)

What is a personal highlight from the collection? 

There are quite a few, obviously, but I would probably pick the Ison [cuff], which features Mystery Set rubies. It’s a very emblematic piece, of course, because of the Mystery setting, [which is a House signature], but we’re using it in an interesting way because the lines of the Mystery setting create almost like the feeling of acceleration of a shooting star. Technical difficulty aside, there is an impression of movement and that’s quite new and exceptional. I’m very proud of that. 

Do you think the role of high jewellery has changed somewhat in a post-Covid society? 

I think that high jewellery has been a bit more challenged than other categories in the past two years. There are many dimensions to high jewellery, but at the end of the day, like couture, there are collectors who love the opportunity to wear them. And for the first time in a long time, maybe even since World War II, the opportunities have disappeared. On the other hand, I think that the artistic dimensions and the dream that high jewellery represents have even more importance today. We’ve felt a lot of interest and appreciation for high jewellery in this regard—as a form of art that makes you forget about your daily life. Twenty years ago, high jewellery was only for high jewellery clients and collectors; but we’re seeing an evolution of that. When we were able to reopen some of our exhibitions, we met many people from all across the world who came to just enjoy seeing these pieces; to appreciate the craftsmanship, the beauty of the stones, the inspirations behind the designs. And that’s something that’s beyond commercial values, beyond the transaction; which I think is good in a way. 

First Look: Van Cleef & Arpels’s Sous les Étoiles Collection
The Ison cuff with Traditional Mystery Set rubies. (Photo: Van Cleef & Arpels)