Paris-based L’École, a School of Jewelry Arts supported by Van Cleef & Arpels, was established in 2012 with the aim to nurture interest in the art of French High Jewellery through education.
“The inspiration behind the founding of L’École was to open up the inner world of jewellery to the public, provide a form of initiation for those interested, and to share the passion of our professors and experts,” – Marie Vallanet-Delhom, President of L’École.
This year, L’École once again set up temporary home at the Qube in PMQ, Hong Kong, the sole venue for the region. A diverse range of courses and workshops led by their team of expert jewellers, art historians and gemmologists were held during the 16-day stint, among them was a Japanese urushi lacquer class—which is what we were in Hong Kong for.
Led by lacquer master Franck Cengizalp, the hands-on workshop introduced us to the beautiful artisanal art that is Japanese urushi lacquer, from its origins (urushi refers to a type of lacquer processed from the sap of the urushi tree) to the traditional techniques employed in the craft, and experience it for ourselves by making our own lacquered butterfly.
It started off somewhat light and easy, as we decided on the design and traced it onto the butterfly. Next came one of the more meticulous steps—using a fine brush to apply lacquer to the outlines. The challenge here is keeping just the right pressure on the brush to get the strokes nicely painted in.
Then, it was time to bring the butterfly to life with the three techniques we learned that day: placing colours, Maki-e (sprinkling of gold powder over urushi), and Nacre (mosaics in mother of pearl). While the art of urushi lacquer is usually a delicate, time-consuming process, requiring careful application of multiple layers, not forgetting the drying time, our class was condensed so we could try our hand at the aforementioned traditional techniques.
Cengizalp made it a point to demonstrate each step beforehand, then he’ll go around the class and check in with us to make sure everyone was on the right track. After the 2-hour workshop, I came out of the classroom armed with new knowledge, and an imperfect lacquered butterfly (I’m no artist) that I’ll treasure.
Later that day, we returned to L’École for a session of Evening Conversation, a discussion platform hosted by experts in a variety of jewellery-related fields. Our host for the evening was Vincent Meylan—a specialist in precious stones and high jewellery, Editor-In-Chief (Royalty, History and Jewellery) for the French magazine Point de Vue, and author—who kicked things off with some food for thought.
He propositioned: “Invest in jewellery”. Rather than spending on several designer handbags at once—which, he argues, may or may not stand the test of time—buy jewellery, for jewels have eternal life. Jewellery also often have a story to tell, as we learned from his insightful session that evening. In writing the book Van Cleef & Arpels: Treasures and Legends, Meylan delved deep into the Maison’s archives and shared the stories of some of the most iconic jewellery with the world.
I listened in fascination as he talked about how lost historic jewels have come to resurface over time; sometimes at prominent jewellery auctions, and at times, interestingly enough, through his books. In one case, after reading Van Cleef & Arpels: Treasures and Legends, an acquaintance of his revealed that she knew the whereabouts of one of the pieces that was thought to be lost. What were the odds? Amazing, really.
At the end of the day, I left L’École with a deeper appreciation and admiration for jewellery—both the making of as well as the stories they carry.
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