Artistic depictions, produced over the centuries by keen astronomers, writers and artists, have fuelled the imaginations of the maison’s designers, experienced gemmologists and artisans. The result is a vast multitude of jewellery that sits at the crossroads of Van Cleef & Arpels’ emblematic style and free creativity. The brand’s first celestial creation dates to 1907: a star-shaped pearl and diamond brooch, which featured in one of the first Van Cleef & Arpels ledgers. The dynamic lines of the freshly designed 150 pieces in the Sous les Étoiles collection represent a fascinating new vision of the intergalactic landscape.
“The maison has always been interested in that moment when the observation of nature meets poetry and imagination,” says Nicholas Bose, President and CEO of Van Cleef & Arpels.
10 years ago, the Les Voyages Extraordinaires high jewellery collection was released, inspired by Jules Verne’s novel De la Terre à la Lune (From the Earth to the Moon, 1865). To honour tradition when creating Sous les Etoiles, the company relied on the concept of space as described by the Ancient Greek author Lucian of Samosata; the inspirational 17th century novel Somnium (Latin for "The Dream") on lunar astronomy by Johannes Kepler; the works of the 19th century French astronomer and writer Nicolas Camille Flammarion, which are perfectly illustrated and translated into every language in the world; and incredible shots of the cosmic landscape thanks to the wonders of modern technology.
Originally painted in gouache on paper, the collection was brought to life with a rich colour palette provided by some of our planet’s most stunning mineralogical treasures: from emeralds, rubies, sapphires, spinels, imperial topaz, tourmalines, spessartine garnets and aquamarines to lapis lazuli, turquoise and onyx. The deep blue colour of sapphires, accentuated by a variety of cuts, is matched by the brilliance of diamonds and lapis lazuli with pyrite dots in the Ciel de Minuit necklace dedicated to the Milky Way. And in the double-sided Antennae necklace, a representation of a star, the gemmologists did not hesitate to include 154 Madagascan sapphires of blue-pink colours and shades weighing a total 417.33 carats. It took more than two years to find them, not unusual when it comes to creating high jewellery!
The Halley necklace, made with both classic colourless and yellow diamonds, is expressive and dynamic, dedicated to the bright comet of the same name whose passage can be observed from Earth every 75 years. Another highlight among the yellow-coloured works is the Hélios transformable long necklace, named after the Ancient Greek sun god. The elegant composition of diamonds and cultured pearls is modelled around a splendid yellow sapphire from Sri Lanka weighing over 50 carats. The maison’s jewellers have paid great attention to the articulation of numerous elements to ensure the overall flexibility and visual appeal of the necklace.
Incidentally, did you know that there are stars much brighter and larger than the Sun? The maison dedicated a 13-carat sapphire ring to one of them, the blue and white coloured Rigel star, and the Céphéide set to another of the same name. The set includes 11 chalcedony cabochons weighing 159.72 carats attached to a detachable brooch pendant, while 21 baguette-cut two-tone grey-blue tanzanites accentuate the necklace. These are accompanied by diamonds, tsavorites and sapphires. This unusual gemmological set is especially spectacular. And this is not the only one that contains stones not usually found in the high jewellery collections of Place Vendôme maisons. For example, the Temple dome ring is made with petrified wood and the Etoile Binaire necklace has 63 jade beads, a feature more typical of Asian jewellery.
Awash with innovations, the collection contains motifs and techniques of traditional significance to the brand. In the central composition of the Boucle Cosmique necklace, which depicts the Thor’s Helmet nebula, sapphires are fixed using the Mystery Set technique, patented by the company in 1933. The Déesse Mercure, Neptune and Fée Cassiopée brooches, whose graceful appearances are inspired by Mercury, the Solar System’s most remote planet (Neptune), and the beauty of the Cassiopeia constellation respectively, expand the pantheon of diamond-faced ballerinas and fairies that have populated the Van Cleef & Arpels universe since the early 1940s.
My personal favourite is the Ellen bangle with a 9.03 carat Colombian emerald, sapphires, black spinels and diamonds. It was inspired by an existing Van Cleef & Arpels work from Ellen Barkin’s private collection. A similarly shaped bracelet belonging to the American actress was made with nine beautiful emeralds, a sprinkling of diamonds and a volumetric gold rim decorated with engraved stars and diamond inserts. The bracelet sold for $408,000 at Christie’s in 2006.
In keeping with tradition, the collection also includes jewellery that tells the time. The novelty timepiece Planétarium follows the path of other pieces with a Midnight Planetarium aventurine dial depicting the movement of the planets. The Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth and the Moon all come to life thanks to an exclusive watch developed in collaboration with Christiaan van der Klaauw. The look has not been reworked much, but the classic bracelet is replaced with a cuff that is completely covered with precious stones: coloured sapphires, spessartines, spinels and diamonds.
The Sous les Etoiles collection includes about 140 pieces that pay tribute to the captivating beauty of the starry sky and the extraordinary skills of Van Cleef & Arpels’ jewellers.