Hubert Burda Media

The Van Cleef & Arpels Trifecta

Most aficionados recognise two particular signature flourishes of jewellery maison Van Cleef & Arpels - but there's another of note.

A model showcases a VC&A Cadenas watch and jewellery line

There’s the enigmatic Mystery Setting technique, a patented method originating from the first few decades of the maison. The procedure allowed gemstones to be set with invisible prongs, revealing full bands of gemstones, uninterrupted by metal, to be displayed – beautifully utilised in pieces that imitated, for instance, the ripple and flow of fabric.

To be sure, other jewellers like Chaumet and Cartier also developed this skill. Yet, for the difficult task of consistently producing swathes of colour gemstones on curved surfaces, often even mimicking the flow of fabric, Van Cleef & Arpels was singularly recognised. The incredibly labour-intensive process, which utilises gold rails a fraction of a millimetre thick, meant that pieces that required Mystery Settings are still relatively rare, with only a few made each year.

Then there is the Zip necklace, which was revealed in the ‘50s. The hefty piece takes advantage of a technical feat, allowing the re-appropriation of an everyday adornment (a zipper) into a diamond and jewel-encrusted masterpiece that nonetheless retain the zipper function. The finely-crafted necklaces are thus transformable.

Cadenas watches by Van Cleef & Arpels

Cadenas watches by Van Cleef & Arpels

Another iconic creation, however, intercedes the Zip necklace and the Mystery Setting – the Cadenas timepiece.

As the oft-repeated story goes, the Cadenas (French for ‘padlock’) watch was born of women’s desire to be discreetly in control – in fact, of one woman’s etiquette requirements in particular: American socialite the Duchess of Windsor.

In an era where a true lady of a certain stature had no need to worry about time, and certainly, in polite company, could not be spotted checking her timepiece, the angled dial of the Cadenas watch allowed the genteel class to check the time without detection.

The daughter of one of the co-founders of the jewellery maison, Renée Puissant, and also creative director, designed the watch with the glamorous jetsetter in mind, and the first Cadenas watch was revealed in 1935.

Straps made of precious metals and exotic skins disguised the true nature of the watch; a lady could almost be forgiven for sporting the watch, as it was half jewellery anyhow. The straight lines of the case, contrasting with the rounded form of a padlock, exude a strong, feminine feel. And, of course, its simplicity, solidness and bold lines were in keeping with the era’s aesthetic.

Last year’s iterations of the Cadenas line – nine models in total – were nearly faithful reproductions of the original 1935 version, save for a few slight differences.

The first is almost invisible: for the clasp, a more secure mechanism (consisting of two tiny ceramic balls) eases the ends into place and locks the clasp tightly without causing stress to the metal pieces.

The second is warmly welcomed, especially with the trend of ever-larger women’s watches eternally growing: The size of the dial has been subtly increased, improving visibility.

The movement is quartz whereas the originals were mechanical.

Finally, the hidden side of the clasp is engraved with a discreet personalised design – as desired by its wearer.

Otherwise, for several of the models, the focus of the Cadenas watch has shifted from everyday adornment to a jewellery object, with mother-of-pearl faces, full pavé facets, and most distinctively, diamonds in serti type neige (snow-set diamonds). Particularly lovely is its rose gold, white diamond and pink sapphire combination, which takes advantage of multiple hues of pink to create a luminous 3D effect.

Alligator skin straps are available alongside the snake chain bracelets.

A Siamese Welcome

Catherine Rénier, president of Van Cleef & Arpels, Asia-Pacific, tells Prestige about the maison’s newest opening at Emporium in Bangkok this month.

We’re looking forward to seeing your new store in Bangkok!

This is a big moment for us – it’s really important for us to be in Thailand. It’s also the opening of a new story in our maison’s timeline. It’s not very often that you open the door to a new country. Thailand is a place that the maison relates to very highly. We have a lot of clients across the world from here. It’s a country that’s highly educated in jewellery, so it was due to happen one day, and we are extremely excited to have gotten the right opportunity and the right location to be able to share our creations in Thailand.

Will the boutique be the same concept as the others?

Yes. This will be our latest concept – the concept is always evolving so every now and then there are new elements. The latest element we introduced in the store is the Grid... It is inspired by the minaudières that ladies were quite fond of in the ‘30s. You will find similar elements across the boutique in Thailand, but it’s also going to have its own identity, and it’s very exciting actually.

What made you think it was time to open a boutique in Bangkok?

We felt our presence in Southeast Asia had reached a good level of maturity, where we first went to Singapore and Malaysia... Then we found the right opportunity, saw a location that we felt was proper for us in terms of size and location. It’s a matter of finding a really good opportunity at a time when we were searching for it – there’s no order for things to be happening, it’s not planned 10 years ahead... We actually recently opened in Rome, Italy and re-opened in Milan as well. I’m sure you would have believed that we had been there for many years! 

How do you think the market currently relates to the brand?

We’ll learn more when we open... Clients and others tell us that the market is ready, that people are anxious to see us in Thailand. We’ll hopefully see this when we open the store, and we’ll understand better what people are really wanting and expecting from us. Key for me is to remain exactly who we are – we are not going to try to be different in Thailand, we are bringing our heritage and all of our creations. We will share that and see how the Thai people appreciate it. We will take our time; we are opening the store, not to be rushing into a very commercial approach and expecting everybody to visit us no matter what. It takes time to educate, to build the awareness. We’ll take the time to tell our stories, to explain who we are.

Are you going to be bringing new collections to Bangkok?

Yes, we’ve always got new collections. Within the next 12 months, there will be several new introductions of major collections, including in Bangkok, that will be coming in the spring and in the fall. We always have new stories to bring, and [this] year will be quite a fulfilling year. I can’t say anymore at this stage!