Behind the scenes

Intergalactic: Van Cleef & Arpels looks to the skies

President and CEO Nicolas Bos explains the brand’s starry inspirations

“I think it was a very discreet revolution,” says Nicolas Bos, pondering the 1634 publication of Somnium (The Dream) by Johannes Kepler. First completed in 1608, the German scientist’s novel describes a dreamt journey to the surface of the moon, which proves the ideal vantage point to view the workings of the universe. Today, Somnium is considered pioneering for its presentation of a cosmos that is not earth-centric.

Musings on 17th century lunar astronomy from Van Cleef & Arpels’ president and CEO may come as a surprise at first, but it was texts such as Keppler’s that have shaped Sous les étoiles, the Parisian brand’s latest high jewellery designs unveiled this week. A blockbuster collection counting about 150 rare creations, Sous les étoiles – which translates as “under the stars” – pays tribute to the history and wonders of astronomy, astrology and natural history.

At Van Cleef & Arpels, looking skywards for creative stimulus has history: at its Place Vendôme headquarters, the jeweller mastered gems in the shape of stars as early as 1907. Other archival treasures include a 1924 cigarette case, its deep black enamel finish a nod to midnight skies, a 1934 minaudière bag topped with a sparkling crescent moon and printed proofs of 1940s advertising campaigns picturing Place Vendôme come dusk, with Van Cleef & Arpels’ illuminated windows the only source of light. Issued in time to commemorate the 1969 moon landing, pendants imagined the satellite planet’s surface in densely worked gold. A selection of complicated watches with narrative dials –  including a 2019 Lady Arpels Midnight in Paris – count among more recent examples of the heritage make's fascinations, as does Les Voyages Extraordinaires, the brand’s 2010 collection in homage to Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon. “We love to look at nature for inspiration,” says Bos. “Often, we look at nature as seen in gardens, forests or underwater. The skies are another element of nature that has been inspiring to creators for a very long time.”

Van Cleef & Arpels' night-sky inspiration

Van Cleef & Arpels’ night-sky inspiration as seen in the brand’s archives

Van Cleef & Arpels' night-sky inspiration

Highlights of Sous les étoiles includes a white gold Saturne clip, which paints the planet’s ochre colour in hammered yellow gold, glimpsed through white diamonds set in cloud-like formations. A buttercup yellow sapphire mined in Sri Lanka comes in at more than 50 carats and sits at the centre of a transformable necklace christened after Helios, Greek mythology’s sun deity. Other celestial designs illustrate the jeweller’s technical prowess: during our call, Bos explains the make-up of a new Ison cuff. Crafted from white gold, the bracelet sparkles with Mystery Set rubies a trademark process that requires individual gems to be hand-cut and placed on gold rails for a smooth, fabric-like finish.

Elsewhere, the collection is striking for its use of colour. Case in point is a dramatic necklace inspired by Cepheids (outsized stars that brightens and dims with time). Its design lists eleven milky blue chalcedony cabochons, matched with mauve sapphires, green tsavorite garnets and colour-gradient tanzanites. “We looked at more recent imagery of the universe,” Bos explains. “They show something quite new, in a way: that the sky is not black and white, it's actually an infinite combination and explosion of colours. The eye of a jeweller sees sapphires, garnets, opals; all types of stones, colour combinations and shapes.”

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