Van cleef & arpels has always had a love affair with emeralds, a passionate relationship marked by the numerous spectacular jewellery pieces produced over the years for some of its closest clients. Some believed the gem had power and influence over their destiny, while for others, green represented hope and rebirth. From the crown, parures and earrings made especially for the Empress of Iran, Farah Pahlavi, to the Maharani of Baroda’s legendary lotus motif necklace set with more than 200ct of emeralds, the jeweller had access to some of the world’s most stunning emerald examples.
This year, its high jewellery collection, Émeraude en Majesté, pays tribute to this long-standing bond that exists between the Maison and emeralds. Composed of over 1,400ct of emeralds, each stone was carefully and patiently selected by the house’s expert gemmologists and required over 10 years to amass. Three years in the making (from the first sketches until the final gems were set by craftsmen), each piece is unique.
“A lot of our collections are inspired by stories, poetry and fairy tales, but there is another aspect to our designs that revolve around the stone,” says Nicolas Bos, president and CEO of the Maison. “We’ve used this approach a couple of times in the last few years, but they were on collections that were composed of a wide spectrum of stones of different origins and colours. For this collection, we challenged ourselves by working within a very tight framework, which has proved to be very fascinating from a creative standpoint.”
Emeraude Ballerina Clip
According to Bos, the emerald is the most interesting stone to work with because of the apparent colour limitations: Unlike sapphires and diamonds that come in a myriad of hues, emeralds are only offered in green. But unlike rubies, the other precious gemstone that is only offered in one colour, one can still find a diversity of hues, shapes and cuts in emeralds because of the stones’ different origins in Colombia, Zambia, Afghanistan or Brazil.
Regardless of their provenance, the stones are chosen for their unique character, with specialists examining colour, purity, sheen, cut and proportions before deciding on each stone. “We look for the best possible quality in each stone and the judging criteria is different between two emeralds of different origins. A Zambian emerald is very different from a Colombian one and we cannot set a hierarchy between the two. It’s the same for wine: We cannot say that white wine is better than red,” Bos explains the selection process. He elaborates: “There are distinctions even among Colombian emeralds: Those from Muzo are deeply intense and slightly darker in colour, while Chivor emeralds contain shades of blue”. There is also that inexplicable character of the stone that only a trained eye picks up: “Aside from the specificities that are determined by their origin, we also look at its personality, which is something very subjective. There are stones that are extremely rare, big and expensive that don’t talk to you or elicit emotions.”
Twist Emeraude Bracelet
Although associations with other coloured stones are prevalent, they serve to accentuate the beauty and character of the emerald, such as in the case of the torque bracelets that have inspired the Maison since the 1920s: The architectural Twist Émeraude bracelet in white gold features
a bold, symmetrical mix of colours and curved lines — alternating round white diamonds and round mauve sapphires — and ends with two emerald cabochons (weighing 19.80ct and 21.48ct) that share the same intense green colour, consistency and brilliance.
“The design and creative process for each piece really start from the stones, so when there are hints of blue within the emerald, we complement that with blue or purple sapphires that are going to make that specific shade stand out. For stones that are softly hued, we may complement them with pearls, which convey the softness in the stone to a higher level,” says Bos.
The same approach was used when it came to deciding on the metal framework. Emeralds with a more masculine vibe were paired with platinum or white gold and placed in more structured art deco designs while livelier stones in softer hues were paired with yellow or pink gold in slightly more evocative shapes.
The use of hand-engraved emeralds recalling the Indian ornamental tradition that has influenced Van Cleef & Arpels since the 1920s stands out from the rest of the collection. The pièce de résistance is the Grand Opus necklace embellished with three 127.88ct Colombian old-mine emerald drops engraved with gadroon motifs — usually found on the costumes of maharajas — linked by round, baguette-cut and princess-cut diamond ribbons. While the exact provenance of the carved emeralds is unknown, the engraving was likely carried out in the mid-19th century or earlier, and mounted on traditional Indian jewellery or garments. “The carving is not so precise, but that is what gives it amazing personality,” Bos discloses.
The Transformable Talisman Papillons
“Part of the magic of emeralds is you feel these are stones that have already led previous lives. They’ve been a stone of choice for millions of years and a lot of them have had quite an amazing history, which I think is quite moving,” he says.
Bouquet D’emeraudes Clip
Another jewel showcasing beautiful engraving and the Maison’s fondness for nature is the Bouquet d’Émeraudes clip in white and yellow gold crafted around 11 rare, flower-shaped carved emeralds from Zambia for a total of 32.53ct. Each emerald is mounted with a round diamond dot in the middle and accompanied by a cabochon-cut chrysoprase and diamond-set leaves that appear to be dancing in the wind.
The art of metamorphosis and versatility remains a key feature in many designs. This is expressed more fervently in the aforementioned Grand Opus necklace that may be worn in no less than six different ways. The three emeralds may be placed on or removed from the necklace, with one emerald put on a brooch and the other two attached to a pair of earrings, according to one’s mood. “Multifunctionality is very important for grand pieces like this,” Bos notes. “If you want them to have a true life and to be worn, it’s very important to use craftsmanship and techniques that enable the owner to wear them in very different ways.”
Another glamorous design that can be worn in different ways is the Serrania necklace that was designed around a particularly rare 26.43-ct Colombian cushion-cut emerald of vibrant colour and consistency. One of the largest stones in the collection, it is set amidst round, square-cut, baguette-cut, half-moon and pear-shaped diamonds arranged in a way that recalls pre-Colombian motifs and paired with a slightly baroque 26.82-ct natural white pearl. Following in Van Cleef & Arpels’ tradition of multifunctional pieces, the central motif and pearl can be detached from the necklace and worn as
Since emeralds are the key highlight for this collection, one of the major challenges was ensuring the jewellery pieces
don’t run the risk of looking repetitive. “Our multiple sources of inspiration gave us the opportunity to interpret emeralds in many ways: Through nature, couture and feminine figures that are designed in a spirit of benevolence,” says Bos.
One of the transformations of the Grand Opus Necklace
One remarkable example that recalls the brand’s intimate links with couture is the Drapé Majestueux necklace, designed to mimic the folds of fabric and structured to follow the curve of the neck. Composed of 150 consistently sized — between 6mm and 8mm — and intensely coloured emeralds worth 244.24ct, these are complemented by a scintillating lacework motif of round, square-cut, asscher-cut, baguette-cut and obus-cut diamonds. The necklace is designed to be worn on both sides, with the elaborate diamond-set motif plunging down the front or back.
Evoking movement in the form of a Herculean knot — a symbol of union in ancient mythology — the elegant Liens Antiques bracelet in white gold showcases 11 octagonal-cut Colombian emeralds of 19.38ct, complemented by pear-shaped blue sapphire cabochons and round and baguette-cut diamonds set along two curling ribbons. It continues the tradition of precious bows and ribbons initiated by the house in the 1950s.
Resurfacing throughout the brand’s history, the Mystery Setting makes an appearance in the Libellule Émeraude clip. Presenting round and buff-topped, baguette-cut emeralds, round and pear-shaped diamonds, round and cabochon-cut sapphires and buff-topped, baguette-cut black spinels, the dragonfly clip shows off a tail adorned with emeralds set in a new variation of the Mystery Setting technique. Using emeralds in this way is particularly challenging because the stones are softer and more fragile in nature. “What we’ve tried to refine with the Mystery Setting is to create the same feeling — of having the stones’ surface without any apparent metal that you can see from one side — but from both sides so that the stones appear as if they are floating. It’s really the idea of stained glass or plique-à-jour enamelling where you have this see-through effect but with stones. You are constrained by size and it can be a bit fragile because you have very limited metal structure, but there’s really a sense of magic.”