Uncovering Le Secret with Van Cleef & Arpels
Just as its name tells, there is a lot more to Van Cleef & Arpels' Le Secret than meets the eye. Every single creation in the breathtakingly beautiful high jewellery collection holds a secret of its own. Some pieces carry hidden messages, engraved in a way that is visible only to the wearer, while others bear highly transformable facades, waiting to be unveiled through fascinating metamorphoses—all testaments of exceptional craftsmanship and technique.
It is even more magical to see Le Secret and all its mysteries in person, as we discovered one afternoon with Van Cleef & Arpels in Singapore. Among the many wonders on display, a ring with a stunning Burmese sapphire centrepiece twists to unveil a quote from Oscar Wilde, while a sparkling dove hides a love message on its other side.
Here, we speak to Van Cleef & Arpels Managing Director of Southeast Asia, Elise Gonnet-Pon, to delve a little deeper into Le Secret:
What are your personal thoughts of Le Secret?
"I am actually quite fascinated by this collection, because it takes time to discover before you get to fully embrace the possibilities of each piece. I like that because it feels almost like a personal relationship where you first meet a person, and then you connect and discover more about the many sides and personalities of the person. That was how I felt about the collection—the more you discover, the more the emotions will grow and arise from the pieces.
I really like the fact that it is a collection that is not inspired by a specific fairytale, myth or book, but it is a concept in itself. Le Secret is a concept, and it relates to the very first jewel in the history of mankind—a talisman. Talisman is something extremely personal and meaningful. That applies to most jewellery, because a piece of jewel can be related to someone's very personal history. It could be a symbol of celebration, or a gift from a special moment in life. From that regard, it is very personal. Sometimes, jewellery also come with hidden messages. That has been the case for some of our very famous historical clients, notably the Duke of Windsor, who offered jewellery engraved with hidden messages to the Duchess. We recreate, in a modern way, that same ID of having hidden motifs and functionalities, and I find this ID very unusual and interesting."
Looking back at some of Van Cleef & Arpels' archive pieces, movement is not new to the Maison, and today, we see it integrated into many of the creations in Le Secret. Is that a feature that is quite specific to this collection, or is it something that we'll see more in upcoming creations?
"At Van Cleef & Arpels, nature inspires us a lot. It is something that is in perpetual movement and asymmetry, so those are two very key features in our creations. Fairies, butterflies, or fireflies—like we have in Le Secret—these flying creatures have always been main sources of inspiration for us.
In this collection, many of the pieces reflect a high concentration of movement, transformation and the idea of versatility, which have been in some touches all along the history of Van Cleef & Arpels as well as in recent collections, and I believe this is something that we will try to continuously include in our pieces."
What is your favourite piece from the collection?
"There are two that I like very much. One of them is this cuff bracelet from the collection that reminds me of a piece that was given from the Duke of Windsor to the Duchess. It was from 1937, before they were officially married, and he engraved a love message inside. I like the romantic secrets from the historical pieces. The bracelet from Le Secret is called Cœurs enlacés, which means interlaced hearts, so it has two detachable clips that can be removed to unveil the motif of enlaced hearts."
"But if I had to pick one favourite, it will be the Sous son aile clip. I love it for many reasons, which you can see on the piece. I find it a signature of Van Cleef & Arpels at many levels. There is the mystery setting, where the setting of stones is done in such a way that no metal is visible. It is the first secret technique invented by the Maison in 1933, and is perhaps the best kept secret of jewellery-making in terms of craftsmanship. I like how the wing of the mother parrot unveils its chick underneath, which is very cute. The selection of stones used is also very exquisite, and you can see many different kinds of stones in the piece, down to the tiniest details."
"Turn it over and you'll find another secret that only the person who owns or wears the piece will be able to see—the parrot is actually 360 degrees. That is another signature of the Maison, the meticulous work on the back of the pieces, it is truly exceptional. This piece itself took a total of 2,300 hours to complete."
Have you noticed a change in consumer behaviour over the years and how has it affect the designs or philosophy of the brand?
"These days, the clients and the public are more and more knowledgable about jewellery and gemmology. We see this rising interest for gemstones. I think gemstones have fascinated mankind for a long time now, and science these days enable us to understand more about all the properties of gemstones, compared to 100 years ago when gemmology was not so advanced. We've also entered a digital era, where people can educate themselves in a way and be able to nourish their curiosity on just about any topic. Those are some of the major changes.
For us at Van Cleef & Arpels, it's even more important to stay true to who we are and not to compromise on the excellence of craftsmanship. In today's digital pace, this is also probably what the clientele appreciates. It might not be the easiest route to take, considering how many hours go into the making of a piece, but this is what makes our jewellery last for generations. What we can further explore is how to convey this to today's world. What we do is we have a lot of initiatives to share more about the world of jewellery to the public, like patrimonial exhibitions and L'École, the school of jewellery arts."
Is it a challenge for a heritage-rich brand such as Van Cleef & Arpels to stay true to itself in this very digital era?
"It is not so much a challenge to stay true to the heritage—that is our approach, and that won't change—the reality is that there are two very different paces, that is the handcrafting of the pieces and the digital world. Our challenge is to make sure we fully embrace this fast-paced digital era while remaining true and faithful to who we are, on which we would not compromise."
Are there more secrets to come next year?
"Yes. Full stop. (laughs)"
And with a knowing smile from Elise, we bade farewell to a delightful afternoon with Van Cleef & Arpels and look forward to what it has in store for us in the year to come.