In his first visit to New Zealand, CEO and Creative Director of Van Cleef & Arpels, Nicolas Bos, spoke to us about his role in the evolution of such an iconic Maison, and what we can expect to see more of in the brand’s recently-opened New Zealand flagship.
As both CEO and Creative Director of Van Cleef & Arpels, how do you balance the demands of these different roles in your work? Well they are actually very connected. Historically, when you look at something like Van Cleef & Arpels, which started as a family run company, family members and founders have always had to manage a similar balance — the business with the creative. Companies that were only creative but with no sense of business don’t exist anymore. Similarly, the ones that were only business-driven but didn’t bring any creativity lost their appeal. I have more of a business background, but I started at Van Cleef & Arpels in a creative role so I can switch easily between the two. The idea of understanding both sides is something I try to maintain with the wider Van Cleef & Arpels team — so making sure that the designers in the studio know how the company is run from a practical perspective. And in the same way, ensuring that those in the office go to the workshops and meet the experts and see the jewellery as it is being made, so that everyone understands the vision. I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to do both, from the creative to the financial, to oversee it all.
Where do you start when creating a new collection? Tell me about your creative process. The first thing that’s very important for us is continuity and staying true to our identity. It’s not a matter of starting with a blank page and creating something that feels different every time. The collections are usually inspired by the Van Cleef & Arpels archive or from past designers or from the long history of the Maison. My role is to decide on the themes and inspirations, but it never comes from just one place. Often, we look at creating collections as though they were a curated exhibition, designed to a theme or an idea (usually from the arts or literature) that speaks to the essence of Van Cleef & Arpels. And while we might explore different ideas, even when we do something entirely new (like when we introduced our poetic watches) all of our collections are deeply connected to the same values and history.
“We look at creating collections as though they were a curated exhibition, designed to a theme or an idea (usually from the arts or literature) that speaks to the essence of Van Cleef & Arpels.”
Tell me about the incredible Legends of Diamonds collection. Was the creative process different considering the starting point was an incredible rough diamond rather than an idea or theme? We have done a series of collections in the past that were based on stones like rubies or emeralds, designed to showcase the diversity in origin, shape and colour of these stones. But diamonds are different because the highest quality demands that you can’t see any differences at all. We had been looking for an excuse to do a collection around white diamonds for a while, so when the diamond dealers told us about the exceptional rough that was mined in Lesotho, South Africa, they actually said that they wanted us to tell a story about it. And because we acquired the diamond in its original form, it was the first time we had the opportunity to create our stones from scratch, which was very different. There was an infinity of possibilities for carving up the rough, and we had experts in Antwerp help us come up with the most spectacular cuts. For us, the point was not only to show the most expensive or the most rare cuts, or to even create the biggest stones, but to forge elegant jewellery that felt connected to the poetic, romantic history of Van Cleef & Arpels. Working from the rough also brought us closer to the source which, as ideas of traceability and sustainability continue to become more and more important, will inevitably change the way we work in the future.
Speaking of the future, what is coming up for Van Cleef & Arpels? Particularly now you have opened your first store in New Zealand. We have a few beautiful new collections we’re making right now at different stages, both in high jewellery and essential pieces. For us, collections like Alhambra or Perlée that are more associated with everyday wear but still bring an element of preciousness are important for us to keep developing. We’re also starting to work on exceptional mechanical objects automata which is an expansion of our poetic complications but on a larger scale. It takes around five or six years to create just one of these pieces but they are very nice (we just unveiled three in April in Geneva). It’s also exciting to revive traditional craftsmanship like that.
Beyond that, we’re just focusing on our new markets like New Zealand, as well as growing our work in the wider fields of art and culture. We run a number of educational programmes for young designers in craftsmanship and decorative arts via a luxury arts initiative we developed 10 years ago at the school we started in Paris. We also have a lot of collaborative projects in the world of dance and choreography.