Van Cleef & Arpels’ Legend of Diamonds High Jewellery collection is an epic statement of the maison’s most exceptional crafts.
It could be said that the story behind Van Cleef & Arpel’s Legend of Diamonds collection began in 2018 with the discovery of an extraordinary rough. The Lesotho Legend is the fifth-largest diamond rough found in the southern African country’s Letseng Mine – which, apart from having provided this and other legendary gemstones, is known for its commitment to complete traceability of rough stones. Van Cleef & Arpels, which for decades had bought no roughs, preferring to start with cut and faceted stones that are already suitable for use in jewellery, found the stone much too rare to pass up. Breaking with its own customs, the French jeweller acquired it. In the words of President and CEO, Nicolas Bos: “This is the first time in decades that we’ve been involved in a project from its starting point – the extraction of the stone – to the creation of a High Jewellery collection. The appearance of this extraordinary rough stone gave us this unique opportunity to tell a story around the diamond.”
And tell a story the maison certainly did.
The Lethoso Legend was sent to the best diamond cutters in Antwerp and yielded 67 diamonds totalling 441.74 carats. They were perfect Type 2A, D colour diamonds, with clarity ranging from Flawless to Internally Flawless (the highest standard) and, more importantly, the diamonds were cut to the taste and standards of Van Cleef & Arpels. The maison has a penchant for fancy cuts, ovals, pears, emeralds and Asscher, and, among them, the biggest specimen was a 79.35-carat oval-shape.
Van Cleef & Arpels told the story of the Legend of Diamonds over two chapters, envisioning first, a chapter that paid tribute to the Mystery Set technique that’s synonymous with the house, and the second, a chapter rendered in all white diamonds paying tribute to trends and timeless styles from its archives.
When the collection was finished in 2022, four years after its conception, it toured the world. After restrictions are lifted on this side of the world, the high jewellery pieces arrived in Japan earlier this Spring, and we flew over to join the launch event.
A legendary collection deserves to be spotlighted at a legendary location – and Meiji Kinenkan was it. The venue was built in 1881 as a dining and reception hall to receive important envoys to the Akasaka Temporary Palace, and it was there, under an exquisite Meiji Era mural of golden pheasants and peonies, that the Legend of Diamonds were presented to us. Over a fine meal of white asparagus mousse, smoked lobster and wagyu prepared by three-Michelin-starred chef Kei Kobayashi, who had flown in from Paris for the special occasion, we watched models glide between our tables and gasped over the extraordinary pieces that adorned their necks, ears, wrists and hands.
The brief to Van Cleef & Arpels’ Design Studio, its workshops at Place Vendôme, was an ambitious one. Not only were the designers tasked to work with hugely important diamonds that were cut from the Lesotho Legend, but they were also tasked to uphold one of Van Cleef & Arpels’ most recognizable style through the 25-piece collection – the Mystery Set technique. Director Thomas Pozsgai recalls the first six months of designing the collection as “particularly intense” as the Design Studio rarely designs with diamonds that had not taken their final shape. The next challenge lay with the artisans, who used more than 30,000 hours of work to produce the pieces, taking into consideration the designs, the mechanical elements, the wearing comfort, and the transformative magic of the pieces.
The 25 Mystery Set Jewels chapter marks the first time Van Cleef & Arpels has used the Mystery Set technique on its entire collection. The setting technique, which was patented in 1933, conceals the metal on the pieces entirely so that only the beauty and sparkle of the stones come through. Only a handful of artisans today know the immensely difficult process of mystery setting. The gemstones, usually rubies, but also sapphires and more rarely emeralds and diamonds – are fitted onto gold rails that hold the jewels in place. Each jewel is meticulously, masterfully hand-cut with grooves so that they can be slid snugly on to the metal structure.
The Legend of Diamonds – 25 Mystery Set celebrates the unique setting style, but it also celebrated another hallmark of Van Cleef & Arpels’ technical ingenuity – the transformability of its jewels, which is embodied by pieces such as 1938’s Passe-Partout model or the Zip necklace from the 1950s.
These techniques are best exemplified by key pieces like the Chevron Mystérieux necklace, which takes inspiration from 1950s fashion and the crossover collars that were a popular detail on evening gowns of the era. From the collar necklace, three majestic pear-cut diamonds hang precociously, the centre stone measures over 31 carats, flanked by two others weighing 12.18 and 12.07 carats respectively. And then of course, the beautiful composition of the sapphires and Mystery Set emeralds that make up the rest of the necklace, the complex setting showcasing the emerald’s intense and uniform gleam, uninterrupted by any hint of metal, and contrasted with the deep hue of the blue sapphires. The necklace is not just transformable in one way, but six. The central motif for example, could be worn as a pendant upon a simpler chain, and the two other diamonds can be worn as earrings.
The Collerette Mystérieuse is another couture-inspired collar necklace that drapes across the wearer’s neck in a stunning explosion of diamonds and Mystery Set rubies, edged with a line of pink sapphires and square-cut diamonds that depicts delicate lace, fastened at the nape with a beautifully set diamond bow. Two shining white diamonds take centre stage – both perfectly proportioned emerald cuts, with one over 51 carats and the other just over 10 carats. The larger diamond can be detached to form a ring, and is complimentary to the Individual Mystery Set ruby design which can be placed on the pendant. The Individual Mystery Set technique is a later technique that the maison mastered in 1937, in which the stones could be held in the metal individually.
The second chapter, Legend of Diamonds – White diamond variations highlights the purity of white diamonds itself, celebrating Van Cleef & Arpels’ connections to the precious stone since 1906. The maison’s first jewellery sale, according to its archives, was said to be a heart set with brilliant white diamonds. White diamonds have always been reserved for Van Cleef & Arpels’ most precious motifs – and in this chapter, the maison has rendered some of the most meaningful motifs and pieces in its heritage into new high jewellery pieces.
We’re invited to see this important connection to its heritage for ourselves at the Legend of Diamonds event in Tokyo. The maison had arranged for a selection of its archived jewellery to be displayed alongside the new High Jewellery collection. The 1950s was a period of glamour and success, jewellery dripping with diamonds found its way to Hollywood and the big screen. Designs from this period prioritized the interplay of different gem-cuts on an openworked structure, and from the collection, the Fabulous Fifties necklace features this popular style splendidly. Complimenting the necklace is the Chemin de diamants ring, which embodies a distinct style the maison has used since the 1940s – the snowflake setting, which combines round diamonds of various sizes to create depth and sparkle.
The Envol de Diamants necklace was one that caught our attention. The original was a creation Van Cleef & Arpels made in 1956, a commission by Marcel Dassault to the famed pilot Jacqueline Auriol, who in 1953 became the first European woman to break the sound barrier. Paying homage to the 1956 necklace, the new Legend of Diamonds piece creates the illusion of an airplane’s tail in only white diamonds and gold.
Van Cleef & Arpels’ classic clips and brooches are honoured in the Face À Face Clips, a double facing jewellery brooch that imitates the arch formation of dancers in Diamonds, one of the three tableaux in the George Balanchine ballet Jewels. Ballet has fascinated Van Cleef & Arpels since the 1940s and ballerinas have featured heavily in its portfolio since then. This more abstract aesthetic of the Face À Face clip is more akin to the trends of 1930s, but maybe in some ways, more easily wearable on various occasions today.
The Legend of Diamonds collection, at long last arriving in Hong Kong, is not just an immensely beautiful collection to see and to own, but a celebration of an incredible milestone – the acquisition of a legendary stone, encapsulated in a legendary collection that spotlights the most important years in the maison’s history.