A highlight of Haute Couture Week, which took place in Paris in early July, was Van Cleef & Arpels’ unveiling of its latest high jewelry collection. Titled Le Grand Tour, it encompasses 70 pieces, all inspired by a tradition in 17th- to 19th-century Western culture that saw young aristocrats taking lavish trips through Europe to experience its cultural wonders.
“The collection celebrates a tradition that has always fascinated us,” Van Cleef & Arpels president and CEO Nicolas Bos commented in notes on Le Grand Tour. “The collection blends the traditions of jewelry and decorative arts—such objects were brought back as souvenirs from the grand tour—with the idea of once again discovering and mixing periods and cultures. For that, we followed the trail of our predecessors and chose cities that were renowned stops historically. We took inspiration from antique jewelry, marrying it with our own heritage, style, and craftsmanship. The result is like a colorful sketchbook that invites to dive into destinations and gemstones.”
Stops on this glittering journey include London, Paris, the Swiss Alps, and Baden Baden (in the heart of southwestern Germany), but the most action-packed chapter unfolds in Italy. Read on for a “travelogue” of the treasures located therein.
A quartet of flexible bandeaux bracelets typical of Van Cleef & Arpels’ work in the 1920s provides a kind of amuse-bouche to the multicourse Italian feast to come: There is one bracelet each for Venice, Florence, Rome, and Naples, the destinations highlighted in this portion of Le Grand Tour.
Sculpted gold motifs depicting well-known Italian landmarks glint from gem-set backgrounds that evoke a bejeweled panorama of colorful micromosaic tesserae. You can make out the architectural features of the Colosseum in the example shown below.
The city’s glorious canals and picturesque gondolas are expressed in the magnificent necklace below (just in case you needed further proof that turquoise can be unbelievably luxe). This choker style is fringed with 16 articulated turquoise pendants topped by pavé diamond arches, a nod to Venice’s bridges. Deep blue sapphires add contrast, and the back of the necklace is finished with the most decadent surprise: neat rows of gradated blue sapphires.
Beyond the Venetian landscape’s distinctive features, other inspirations inform this group. For example, the Carriera earrings are an homage to the Venetian painter Rosalba Carriera (1675—1757), a member of the Rococo movement, whose work, according to the collection notes, is said to have influenced a penchant for pastels among the courtiers of 18th-century France. Hence the earring’s various shades of pink; the inclusion of pearls alludes to the jewelry styles that were in vogue during the Rococo era in France and in Italy.
Magical Firenze, forever steeped in Old World charm and romance and Renaissance history… The jewels from this stop on the tour lean heavily on stones in painterly colors that also evoke passion and desire, taking a cue from the city’s magnificent artisan traditions. Van Cleef & Arpels fittingly offers an homage to the Florentine painter Sandro Botticelli and his famous 1485 masterpiece The Birth of Venus with a ring that centers an oval-cut pink sapphire in the hollow of a rose gold shell. The spiraling gems and metalwork of the Ode à l’Amour ring capture the essence of the painting’s iconic sea-themed details and the tendrils of Venus’ water-swept hair.
An original take on Florentine aesthetics: the Villanova necklace, inspired by Etruscan-style jewelry, with its generous ensemble of rubellites and diamonds descending from a rose gold choker woven in a chevron pattern. Each rubellite element is detachable in case the moment calls simply for the richness of gold and diamonds. And that clasp!
Van Cleef & Arpels artisans were endlessly inspired by the Eternal City’s architectural and historical marvels, from St. Peter’s Square to Villa Borghese. The Piazza Divina necklace borrows the former’s geometric layout, first designed by Bernini in the 17th century, with its elliptical motifs—including the 13.08 ct. oval-cut emerald that is the centerpiece of the detachable medallion.
A celebration of Roman antiquity, the Anfora clip reveals a red jasper intaglio dating to the 2nd century A.D. It sits at the heart of a composition inspired by the ancient art of goldsmithing and punctuated with a lapis lazuli cabochon, a splash of diamonds, and an oval spessartite garnet that bathes the jewel with a warm, sun-like glow.
Finally, the Diana transformable necklace is a reference to the temple of Diana in the gardens of Villa Borghese. Its distinctive columns and cupola surface at the base of the necklace’s ornate central medallion, enclosing a sapphire, and crowning a tassel of pearls and emerald beads. The tassel is detachable so the necklace can be worn a number of ways; the jewel also breaks down to form two matching bracelets, and the sapphire medallion doubles as a brooch.
Van Cleef & Arpels’ last stop in Italy includes a necklace inspired by the city’s famed Church of Gesù Nuovo; the other pieces in this group are rooted in locales that are often included as “day trips” on itineraries covering Napoli and its environs.
The Ninfe necklace summons the mosaics of the ruined Nymphaeum, a monument that was built in the ancient enclave of Herculaneum on the Bay of Naples (like Pompeii, Herculaneum was decimated by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 70 A.D.). The necklace takes its form from a lavish floral crown worn by one of the nymphs in the mosaics.
Floral and foliate motifs—a Van Cleef & Arpels signature since its inception—also show up in three brooches in the Naples group, including the Symphonie Végétale. They’re inspired by terraces and gardens found in the villas of Ravello on the Amalfi coast.
Who wouldn’t want to linger in these blooming paradises, real or bejeweled?
Top: Postcard from “Naples” via Van Cleef & Arpels: Symphonie de l’eau clip in white gold and rose gold with black opal cabochon, sapphires, tsavorite garnets, green tourmalines, and diamonds.
Follow me on Instagram: @aelliott718
Follow JCK on Instagram: @jckmagazine
Follow JCK on Twitter: @jckmagazine
Follow JCK on Facebook: @jckmagazine