A Look at the Inspiration Behind Van Cleef & Arpels' Stunning Jewelry

From left: Francois Coquerel; Courtesy Van Cleef & Arpels

Van Cleef & Arpels chief executive Nicolas Bos channels an interest in everything from folk art to Shakespeare into his designs.

If you ask Nicolas Bos, the 48-year-old chief executive of Van Cleef & Arpels, the house’s most exquisite fine jewelry is first and foremost about telling a story. “When we do a collection on flowers or butterflies,” says Bos, “we’re going to look at it through the angle of literature and eloquence.” And as with any great work of literature, it tends to matter quite a lot who’s doing the telling.

Courtesy Van Cleef & Arpels

For Van Cleef’s previous high jewelry collections, which have had themes like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the French fairy tale Peau d’Ane, Noah’s Ark, and the tales of the Brothers Grimm, the house called on visual artists like Robert Wilson for its presentations. This year, choreographer Benjamin Millepied’s production of Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet served as part of the inspiration for 100 one-of-a-kind baubles. “I was a bit afraid that it would be too obvious, in a way, because Romeo and Juliet is so cliché,” Bos says of the Shakespearean tragedy. “We all know the love story, but the play itself is about the Renaissance, the places, the gardens. We didn’t want to do something that’s only about two lovers or the romance, but we used the collection to tell the story.”

From left: Courtesy Van Cleef & Arpels; Craig T. Mathew and Greg Grudt/Mathew Imaging/Courtesy LA Dance Project

From left: Courtesy Van Cleef & Arpels; Francois Coquerel

But for all the myth and fantasy his work has evoked, Bos, who started his own career at the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art before joining Van Cleef in 2000 and becoming CEO in 2013, attributes his strongest influence to his real-life acquisitions—namely, the 20th-century art and photography; con- temporary French, American, and Japanese works; and African and Oceanian folk art with which he’s filled his home. “I have a tendency to accumulate a lot,” he says. “I like to be surrounded by things I appreciate.” It certainly makes for a better story.