Pick out your first-day-of-school outfit. Van Cleef & Arpels is airlifting its world-famous L’École jewelry-arts institute from Paris to NYC for three weeks this fall.
“It’s something like transporting a fine-art school and a gem museum, combined with a circus!” says Marie Vallanet-Delhom, president of L’École des Arts Joailliers. “We pack up a huge range of materials, jeweler’s tools, artwork, gemstones — and, of course, we transport the teachers themselves.”
The French school embraces this nomadic approach, previously traveling to Dubai and Hong Kong and now popping up at the Academy Mansion, on the Upper East Side, from Oct. 24 to Nov. 9. Open to the public, L’École’s offerings (from $15 to $250) will include hands-on technical and artistic workshops, classes in gemology, and lectures in jewelry history.
New Yorkers will be able to “put on the jeweler’s white coat, sit down at the bench, pick up the tools and try setting stones, carving wax, polishing, opening up the mises à jour [the back of settings, allowing light to shine through gems] with the hacksaw — all the while guided by a master jeweler,” promises Vallanet-Delhom.
“In this digital age, where there is such prioritizing of all that is instant, people yearn to experience slowly learned, apprentice-based arts practiced by our ancestors,” she adds. “In order for these arts to thrive, the general public needs to understand them.”
It’s something like transporting a fine-art school and a gem museum, combined with a circus!
And that’s precisely the intent, says Alain Bernard, president and CEO of Van Cleef & Arpels Americas, explaining that while VCA founded the school in 2012, it’s run independently from the brand.
“It’s a separate entity — we want novices and connoisseurs to experience the rich world of jewelry, not only from Van Cleef & Arpels but also from other creators and maisons,” he tells Alexa.
(Has he ever taken a class himself? “Of course! It’s a huge pleasure — you interact with the best experts and the other students. The experiential ones, where you actually are working, are my favorite.”)
The school is just one of many arts and educational projects the Parisian brand has sponsored since its inception in 1906.
In 1967, Van Cleef partnered with iconic ballet choreographer George Balanchine on a performance piece called “Jewels,” which was inspired by VCA jewelry and featured dazzlingly embellished costumes designed by the house.
VCA commissioned another ballet work (“Gems”) in 2013 from Benjamin Millepied’s LA Dance Project, which the brand continues to support. It has also sponsored the School of American Ballet’s annual winter ball in NYC for many years.
“Our clients are art and culture enthusiasts,” notes Bernard. “They have a discerning eye for creations. Jewelry is an elevated art form, just like dance and literature and design. And jewelry creations are wearable pieces of art — art that adorns your own body, which makes them even more elevated in a way.”
Indeed, the maison first debuted its signature “Ballerina” clips in the 1940s, and ballet-inspired pieces have continued to appear in its collections each year. Bernard describes the intricately bejeweled (from tiaras to toe shoes), pirouetting brooches this way: “Femininity, elegance, movement, refinement: They are very complex to realize, but they express an outstanding simplicity — it’s a beautiful paradox.”
Van Cleef’s other local sponsorships include the New York Academy of Art Tribeca Ball, which raises funds for art-student scholarships; the Cooper Hewitt’s annual “Design by Hand” series of public workshops and lectures; and the Albertine Prize, supporting that beloved French bookstore on the UES.
“This sort of support is not only an incredible sense of inspiration for our creations, but it’s what we feel is a true mission and profoundly important to us,” notes Bernard.
It also reaffirms the brand’s decades-long love affair with the Big Apple, where VCA opened its first US store in 1942, on the corner of 57th Street and Fifth Avenue. The boutique remains its NYC flagship to this day.
“It says a lot about our deep historical connections with the city,” says Bernard. Then, with a hopeful sigh: “One day I hope a branch of L’École des Arts Joailliers will be permanently located in New York.”
Sign us up.
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