COUTURE FASHION WEEK, the high jewellery fashion house, Van
Cleef & Arpels, based its new season’s collection on a few prestigious,
extravagant balls. Those that attended the presentation looked forward
to viewing the artistically magical universe that Van Cleef &
Arpels created. Lucire was there to get up close and personal
to the house’s collection and to learn more about a newly published
book filled with history and luxury.
Upon entering the boutique on the chic rue de la Paix,
only a few steps away from la Place Vendôme in Paris, the
wonderful pieces glistened and glowed. Such an experience made one’s
heart pound as one viewed the wonderfully detailed and seductive
pieces that followed the theme of Bals de Légende
(Legendary Balls). Five tables dressed with beautiful cloth in the
shape of chic gowns, portrayed a movingly elegant feeling. Each
table had a theme and for each theme there was a story that added
to one’s overly active imagination. We stepped back into time to
when people attended such lavishly organized events, put together
for lucky attendees to enjoy as they indulged in the stunning surroundings.
The five balls of the twentieth century that Van Cleef
& Arpels based their collection upon are le Bal du Palais d’Hiver
(Winter Palace Ball), le Bal du Siècle (the Ball of the Century),
the Black and White Ball, the Oriental Ball, and the Proust Ball.
Each ball was dazzling and elegantly designed with amazing costumes
and décor. While taking a tour around each ball, we travel
back into time; upon looking at the pieces, the stories of each
event begin to unravel one at a time. Each jewellery piece is accompanied
by an artistically designed box.
Le Bal d’Hiver took place in Saint-Petersburg on February
11, 1903. While their outfits marked beautiful details and breathtaking
designs, the jewellery collection does the same. The Loup Diamants
décor earrings, in the shape of masks with diamonds and 12
white cultured pearls hanging down, revealed a lovely artistic creation.
The Providence ring, a large emerald of 20·12 ct embraced by beautifully
cut pieces of shiny, precious stones of violet and pink sapphires
and diamonds, represented the ball’s highly magnificent appeal.
As though the first ball was not enough to fulfil one’s
wonder and curiosity, we step into another ball that took place
in Venezia on September 3, 1951. The Venetian air certainly filled
the room as our eyes studied the details of each piece on display.
The Evantail décor clip, with pink sapphires and diamonds,
exposed a creative piece in the shape of a fan that can easily open
and close. As the transformation portrays a wonderful touch of artistic
splendour, the next piece also portrays finery at its best: the
Notte Azzurra clip with turquoise, sapphires and diamonds, in the
shape of a woman in a dress can be transformed into a butterfly
prepared to flutter. As it flies it lands on our next destination,
the Black and White Ball.
The Black and White Ball took place in New York’s Plaza
Hotel on November 28, 1966. Truman Capote, an American writer, hosted
such a grand ball to mark the climax and success of his career at
the time. A range of celebrities were present amongst the 500 guests,
including Mia Farrow, Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo and Frank Sinatra.
Although the theme might sound simple, the jewellery designs symbolized
a complex feature that wonderfully emerged in all of its beauty.
The Diamond and Onyx décor clip portrays a beautiful woman
with diamonds and onyx brightly glistening. With a smaller range
of colours, more details were highlighted.
The Oriental Ball marked a chic party in Paris on December
5, 1969. The pieces were enchanting, filled with colours deeply
moving and attractive to the eye. Painter Salvador Dali was also
present at the ball, along with the French actress Brigitte Bardot.
One of the first pieces that we come across amongst the collection
is the Kingfisher necklace with red spinals, turquoise and diamonds
that fantastically come to life. One of the many pieces that catch
the eye is the Makara ring with a 30·78 ct yellow sapphire surrounded
by turquoise, amethysts, diamonds, peridots and sapphires. As one
closely examines the Makara ring, an image of an elephant comes
to life, a superb addition to the piece’s exquisiteness.
The last ball that we land in is the Proust Ball, hosted
by Baroness Guy de Rothschild, who previously attended the Oriental
Ball two years before. On December 2, 1971 the Baroness celebrated
writer Marcel Proust’s 100th birthday, by organizing a majestic
ball in Ferrières. Each guest had to go to the ball dressed
in an outfit designed according to one of Proust’s 2,000 characters
from one of his written works of art presented in seven volumes,
In Search of Lost Time.
The jewellery pieces that represented the ball were
beautifully refined and pleasurable to look at. The Miss Audrey
ring includes pink and white diamonds that envelope a 17·92 ct natural
pearl placed at the centre. The Proust Ball jewellery collection
has colour, detail, poise and luxurious features brilliantly highlighted.
As a general overview, each jewellery collection delightfully
goes hand-in-hand with each ball’s theme.
As our tour of the jewellery collection comes to an
end, our attention focuses on the book, Bals: Legendary Costume
Balls of the Twentieth Century. Nicholas Foulkes, a British
historian, journalist and author, provides us with a clear vision
of how the balls were organized and how they were perceived at the
time. With pictures and detailed text, everything comes together
to highlight the various events that were presented.
In order to have an even deeper perspective about Van
Cleef & Arpels as well as the different balls discovered, we
spoke to Foulkes. He also talked to us about how it was to work
with Nicolas Bos, the vice president and creative director at Van
Cleef & Arpels.
We sat with Foulkes as we were surrounded by the jewels
majestically shimmering around us.
Lucire: What is the first thing that comes to mind when
you think of Van Cleef & Arpels?
Nicholas Foulkes: Well, I like Van Cleef … Funnily enough,
my wife bought me old Van Cleef cufflinks for my 40th birthday.
I have always quite liked them … obviously, the mystery setting
is something very special, but I wind up with a lot of stuff from
the ’70s from Van Cleef, which I love—it is just very elegant and
very cosmopolitan. I don’t know why I sort of associated [it] with
the 1970s but I think that was a particularly interesting period
in its history.
In your personal perspective, how has Van Cleef & Arpels changed
over the years?
Well, all of these businesses have changed. If you look at what
Cartier was, it was a handful of shops; it was London, Paris and
New York, all of them owned by different members of the family.
Then they had Munich; I think they had Cannes, Biarritz maybe …
and now Cartier is huge. And Van Cleef, thirty or forty years ago
[it] had more shops, now it does not have as many.
I suppose what is interesting is that high jewellery
did not cease to exist ,but there was a disconnect between high
jewellery and fashion then. In the ’70s, it was a lot of exotic
materials—coral, turquoise, wood and things like that; in the ’80s,
it became a lot of custom jewellery. Until then you had fashion
and high jewellery marching almost side-by-side because fashion
tended to be couture and the jewellery was couture jewellery by
the nature of the work and by the nature of the people who commissioned
In [the] subjective, it is only in the last ten, fifteen
years that you have had a realignment of fashion and high jewellery,
that is, I think, to a degree due to emerging economies, where you
have younger people who are both interested in fashion and in high
jewellery. What is interesting about Van Cleef, I suppose in the
’80s and ’90s, was that it became very quality-oriented in terms
of stone—what you did have was an incredible, meticulous purchasing
policy regarding stones. So while it wasn’t perhaps the most original
designs, you did have high quality stones.
What is quite interesting is that with Nicolas Bos,
who I rather like, he is a sophisticated guy and he is great fun
and he has got a breadth of cultural reference, you have got again
very creative interesting work coming out …
What has been quite nice for me, it hasn’t tried to
be everything to everybody. It has basically tried to be Van Cleef
and there is enough people who like it. I don’t think they ever
want, well I hope they don’t want it to become a great big machine.
It is sufficiently flexible as a business, which can be frustrating
at times, because [the] organization is perhaps a little too flexible.
But you can have very interesting exchanges of ideas and Nicolas
is very good like that; because having run the Fondation Cartier,
he understands that he has got a flexible mind set.
For example, when we were working on the book, he said
there are these balls and we fancied doing a collection but we don’t
know much about them, that was it. So, I went away and looked at
it and saw the balls that there were. I wasn’t told these are the
balls we are going to do and these are what we want … I came back
with my suggestions and I came over to talk for a morning to the
creative team in Paris and it sort of evolved, that is what I quite
liked … What I really hope remains is this flexibility and this
responsiveness … I think jewellery needs to be appreciated in a
Now, let us talk about the book. What did you think when you learned
that the book would cover a few lavish balls that took place in
the twentieth century?
Well, it was interesting, we were having a cup of coffee a couple
of years ago in London and Nicolas kind of floated the idea and
I thought it was interesting … I hope it conveys a sort of extended
snapshot of a way of life that no longer exists. [Nicolas] approached
it very much as a sort of holistic cultural experience, so you will
have the jewellery, you will have the book … some of it is elusive
and some of it is abstract so you have a range of dimension to it
and that is what I tried to do with the book … There is stuff in
there that is quite interesting.
What was your favourite part about putting the book together?
It was fascinating. It turned out to be twice as long as we originally
envisaged. It is like an iceberg, what you see is only a portion
of what I actually managed to dig up …
What I hope is it provides entertainment and I hope
it illuminates an aspect of privileged life in the past century.
It has sort of been neglected up until now and I was delighted to
have the opportunity to investigate it and to meet some really fabulous
How would you be able to compare people’s lifestyles then to their
Well, it is very different. It was not sort of jet-set or bling
… It is very difficult to compare it. I think people don’t have
the time today and I guess the patience isn’t there. We are very
used to getting stuff very easily whereas these things [the lavish
balls], they weren’t very much fun, they were an effort. You had
to get this costume, and not just your costume, but the costume
of all your people. You had to almost write your own little drama
and you would come in and do this tableau vivant … •