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A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Van Cleef & Arpels

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© In Praise of Hands by Franco Cologni, Marsilio/Rizzoli New York, 2013. Photography by Patrick Gries and Francesco Cito.

Head-turning jewelry and Van Cleef & Arpels go hand-in-hand, but the art of creating the iconic brand’s exquisite pieces is largely unknown. The book In Praise of Hands: The Art of Fine Jewelry at Van Cleef & Arpels (Rizzoli, $90; rizzoliusa.com) aims to change that, delving into the fascinating process that brings the gorgeous baubles to fruition. The action, performed by designers called Mains D’Or—who glean inspiration from nature, fashion, architecture and more—happens at Van Cleef’s workshops on Place Vendôme in Paris. Nicolas Bos, the brand’s global president and CEO, answered a few questions.

Q: What part of the process takes the longest?
A:
That ultimately depends on the complexity and aesthetics of the piece. Sometimes the finalization of the design and gouache [painting] is the longest part of the process. Other times it’s finding a new technique to create the volume needed for the piece. Or the stone selection process can take up to three years.

Q: Most people aren’t familiar with your mock-up procedure. Can you briefly explain?
A:
In high jewelry it is important to make sure the design on paper is perfectly constructed before making the final piece. After the sketch, tracing and gouache are completed, an exact replica—or mock-up—is created out of pewter and crystal to test and perfect the way in which the piece is crafted.

Q: How many hours can it take to complete one piece of jewelry?
A:
It varies based on the design. For instance, it takes hours to create the perfect band, delicate beadwork and lustrous polish of a Perlée ring, all of which is done by hand. With high jewelry, it can take months, even years, to create a single piece.

Q: What design is the most laborious?
A:
The Mystery Setting, which was invented in 1933 and is unique to Van Cleef & Arpels, is one of the most time-intensive techniques. Perfectly cut and matched stones slide onto rose-gold tracks to create a seamless precious surface of rubies, emeralds or sapphires.

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