Taking inspiration from an author is no stretch for Van Cleef & Arpels; in 2010, the 115-year-old French jeweler saluted writer Jules Verne with its Les Voyages Extraordinaires line. Yet in this Proustian brooch, VCA was thinking of something bigger than books. The house’s new high jewelry line, Bals de Légende, fetes five famous masquerade balls of the 20th century: le Bal du Palais d’Hiver (St. Petersburg, 1903); le Bal du Siècle (Venice, 1951); le Bal Black & White (New York City, 1966); le Bal Oriental (Paris, 1969); and le Bal Proust (Ferrières, 1971). “The starting point was a photo from le Bal Proust of Liz Taylor…wearing a Van Cleef & Arpels necklace,” says company worldwide creative director Nicolas Bos. This Cantacrice is part of a still-evolving 160-piece collection. Says Bos, “It’s always kind of moving and alive.”
Phantom of the Opera
At le Bal Proust—held on the centenary of the novelist’s birth—guests were asked to come as one of the 2,000 characters in his À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time). Yet the Cantacrice was not outfitted so literally. “Proust was a lover of opera—Wagner especially,” says Bos. “So we worked on an opera atmosphere, costumes from that late-19th-century, early-20th-century period with a bit of a Wagnerian vision.” The singer is set against a cloudy mist and setting sun of yellow sapphires (4.43 cts. t.w.) and mandarin garnets (2.92 cts. t.w.), evoking a “romantic, nostalgic” vibe. Very Proustian…and pricey. This lady retails for approximately $290,000.
Van Cleef loves to design brooches featuring “feminine characters,” says Bos. Fairies, mermaids, ballerinas, nymphs…“It’s one of the very specific styles of the house.” He likens the process to sculpting: “It’s first created in wax, exactly like in traditional sculpture. We use the old tradition of lost-wax casting. Then we cast the wax in [18 karat] white gold. From that we create the whole jewelry, the setting and everything.”
“Most of these characters,” says Bos of the brand’s beloved bejeweled women, “don’t have a face with eyes and nose and mouth.” The Cantacrice’s face is represented by a single 0.44 ct. rose-cut diamond. “The décor is really in the dress—in the folds and gradations from white diamonds to pink [and] red spinel.” Some 300 spinels (2.98 cts. t.w.) adorn her evening gown.