This July the cohort paid an in person visit to L’Ecole des Arts Joailliers by Van Cleef & Arpels the esteemed haute jewelry brand. Founded in 2012 the mission of the L’Ecole is to share with people the art of jewelry. It goes beyond just the history and work of Van Cleef & Arpels and focuses on educating and developing an appreciation for the craftsmanship, heritage and beauty of fine jewelry as a whole. The school offers 20 different initiation courses across two campuses, one in Paris and another in Hong Kong.
The Paris campus is situated on a street parallel to Place Vendome the famous home of many French haute joaillerie brands. On the afternoon of our visit the cohort enjoyed two classes one on the history of Art Nouveau and its impact on jewelry design and the other on “Trying Out the Jeweler’s Techniques” which dealt with the savoir faire of jewelry.
During the savoir faire course we met with two master jewelers and a lecturer who trained us in stone setting, metal cutting, and wax carving and molding. We donned white lab coats before entering the classroom which was setup with desks and tools that were exact replicas of those used by the craftsmen at the workshop of Van Cleef & Arpels a few floors above us. Over the course of two hours, we were put to work pressing, sawing and polishing metal and carving wax. Working with our hands we experienced first-hand the attention to detail and intricacy involved in crafting fine jewelry. It helped us develop a deeper appreciation for jewelry pieces and what it takes to make truly exceptional work. The master jeweler’s who guided us stressed that it took weeks to months of training for them to master these techniques.
When the bell tolled (it is a school after all) we handed in our lab coats and adjourned to the salon for a quick 10-minute break before climbing the stairs once again for our Art History class. Taught by two professional art historians the history of Art Nouveau came to life before us. One lecturer likened the period to a shooting star, a brief shining art movement that lasted only 20 years but paved the way for some truly memorable jewelry creations. To give us a better understanding of the backdrop against which Art Nouveau in France developed, we traced the history of the industrial revolution, colonialism and the belle epoque. We learned about the inspirations for the period in unusual flora, fauna, and feminine ideals. These inspirations were reflected in the intricate jewelry designs of the time, many featured unusual flowers or animals like thistles and daisies or frogs, bees and bats.
Japanese culture was another big inspiration. The school has in its possession a collection of books on Japan that was published in France during the time of Art Nouveau. As a special treat our lecturers donned black satin gloves and lifted two of these aged books from the mantelpiece of the classroom to show us. It was an enchanting way to bring to life the colors and thinking of the time period. Notable in the books is the use of pale colors that are typical of the Art Nouveau style.
Once we had finished examining the books we transitioned to learning about the life and work of notable jewelers of that time from Rene Lalique to George Fouquet and Paul and Henri Vever. We than closed with receiving our certificates for both courses and an invitation to stop by the new free exhibit happening for the next few months or to drop by the school library should we wish to learn more. All in all, a truly educational afternoon.
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