The stately colonial building of 11 Mount Pleasant Drive in Singapore is a fitting choice for the treasures that’s on display – the historical setting is home temporarily to 40 exquisite creations from the Van Cleef & Arpels Le Secret high jewellery collection, originally revealed in Japan in June this year with over 100 pieces.
Drawing on its proud heritage and cherished sources of inspiration like nature and symbols of love and luck, the French jeweler continues its enchanting narrative this year – but with a twist. Each of the pieces has a little secret to reveal; whether caressed by the eye or the fingertips, they are a delight to open and handle, playfully revealing what lies within.
At a mere touch, a precious parrot clip opens up to reveal a baby parrot snuggled up against its mother. In a game of hide and seek, the gemstones on a ring change colours when it is twisted, a long necklace transforms into a shorter version with detachable clips and a bracelet, a sparkling leaf reveals a lucky ladybird, while a dove – enveloped in Van Cleef & Arpels’ famous Mystery Set – rises into the air to deliver a tender message. It’s like a stroll through a secret garden, where the visible and invisible meet.
In the maison’s workshops (called the Mains d’Or) with its wealth of technical prowess, one belief is fundamental: beauty should take pride of place over effort. Hundreds of hours are spent at workbenches to perfect every creation and ensure seamless transformations and mechanisms that are effortless. While this virtuoso craftsmanship finds expression in the multiple secrets that nestle at the heart of the “Le Secret” creations, the collection reflects Van Cleef & Arpels’ desire to create surprise and emotion.
The French jeweler has after all made mystery one of its best-known signatures, and the theme lends itself to an exploration that is both familiar and inventive. From secrecy to disclosure, each piece reflects the playful spirit of this collection, elevating the art of high jewellery with its revelations of hidden meaning.
While exceptional stones and craftsmanship are key elements of the maison’s identity, according to Catherine Rénier, President of Van Cleef & Arpels in Asia Pacific, style and creativity are two other very important strengths.
“We are never out of ideas on how to express our inspiration. It is a very strongly identifiable inspiration, and I believe when you see a piece of jewellery from Van Cleef & Arpels, you get that spirit of a positive vision of life. It’s usually very feminine, inspired by nature and the whimsical worlds of faeries and magical feminine figures,” Catherine explains. “We love fairy tales and love stories, so there are all these positive elements.
“Our nature is always blossoming; there are flowers, animals that are playful, butterflies that are transforming and flying off… there’s a lot of movement in our nature – it’s a nature that’s alive. And it’s very colourful, too.”
“Le Secret” is certainly very colourful, with unexpected gemstone and colour combinations. “Yes, in this collection we play a lot with colour and the stones, and the associations of the colours. I think this is what you feel in our pieces, the beauty and elegance of creativity. We are not looking at creating imposing pieces – it is usually very delicate and refined.”
Catherine says she loves the idea of secrets and how to reveal them through transformable jewellery. “I love how every piece provides a totally different perception, depending on how you look at it. There are necklaces that can transform into two, pieces that have love messages… what we do in in terms of stones, creativity and craftsmanship is such a fine art and every piece in this collection has a story to tell.”
Asked to single out something from the collection that is a great technical feat, Catherine brings up the parrot clip (called Sous Son Aile) with the chick “hiding” under her wing in a delicate harmony of pink sapphires, coral and diamonds.
“In my opinion it’s a great symbol of Van Cleef & Arpels. I love it because, firstly, there is the Mystery Set – a signature technique that we have been mastering since the 1930s. Then there’s a bird, an inspiration of nature, with the surprising element of the mother and child. I love the kindness, the spirit of this very special bond. Parts of the two birds are made from pink coral, which is particularly challenging to cut.”
Also on her highlights list is the Dentelle Secrète Bracelet in white gold, diamonds, rubies, onyx and white mother-of-pearl. Thanks to an ingenious sliding system, the bracelet changes colour under the transparency of lace in a succession of openwork arabesques. Visible in the open sections, the underlying onyx can be replaced by white mother-of-pearl, alternating from brilliant black to iridescent white – without losing the bracelet’s fluidity and high flexibility.
“It really is a masterpiece… the fact that we mastered this new technique in a very simple way – to change colour and be transformable but with a very simple mechanism – is quite a feat. The bracelet can still lie flat, which is always a challenge for a jeweler because the natural shape a bracelet takes on is to be round.”
The role of high jewellery in the preservation of specialised crafts is undeniable, Catherine admits. “This is a very important consideration for us; if it wasn’t for the transition of knowledge from one jeweler to the next or one stone expert to the next, we could lose our expertise and potentially our identity. So this is something we strongly encourage in our workshop. We always have young apprentices joining us and their training can take 15-20 years – before they would start working on their own pieces. Patience is a rare virtue in this world we live in, and I find it remarkable that there are young people who are willing to wait that long.”
She also mentions L’École, the School of Jewelry Arts in Paris founded by Van Cleef & Arpels in 2012. “It’s a place for the public to learn about and discover the secret world of jewellery – another way for us to share and protect our know-how.
Through these initiatives and extraordinary collections like “Le Secret”, the one thing that stands out is how the maison always remains faithful to its highly distinctive style, characterised by poetry, refinement, creativity and artistic sensibility.