Van Cleef & Arpels’ president and chief executive officer Nicolas Bos is in New York, doting upon a Robert Wilson-designed installation housing the firm’s Noah’s Ark-inspired high jewelry collection.
“If you look at the history of the house, we always promote a nice vision of Nature. We don’t have snakes — it’s never a vision of an animal that is threatening or dangerous or poisonous. We have some colleagues that do that very well. It can be beautiful jewelry. But at Van Cleef & Arpels it has always been more of that friendly, happy animal,” Bos said of the traveling installation’s contents.
While the Noah’s Ark jewelry was introduced in Paris in September 2016 and shown in Hong Kong in January, it has yet to be seen in New York. Precious-set giraffes, bunny rabbits, kangaroos and a pair of seals bouncing gemstone balls from their noses are recessed into the walls of a small room with video screens for walls. Every seven minutes or so, said screens’ ocean tableaus clatter black with the sound of thunder — a theatrical metaphor for the stormy fable.
The installation — located at the Cedar Lake event space in Chelsea and open to the public from Nov. 3 to Nov. 19 — is meant to bring haute joallerie’s exacting craftsmanship to a wider audience. In a world where cuddly animals are more prone to viral sensation than people, what better ambassador is there for the craft of fine jewelry than a sapphire-encrusted unicorn?
For Bos, the collection’s exposure is a matter of business and self-preservation.
“We want to make the world of fine jewelry more visible and enjoyable – not only to people who can afford it. We think it’s really an artistic category and a category of creative art,” he said.
“For me, it’s similar to the way the Met did the [Alexander] McQueen exhibition — it’s the best example. Probably less than one percent of the people waiting two hours to see that exhibition were McQueen shoppers and maybe five percent knew who he was, but it was an amazing way to introduce what fashion could be to a wider audience.
“I feel like we are part of a commercial world and we have to maintain commercial activities, but we are also a category of decorative arts,” Bos added. “It’s our duty and our pride to make it visible and make it relevant. I don’t believe we are in industries that can successfully exist in the long term if they lose relevance and fail to connect with a wider audience than only a small group of wealthy customers.”
Bos also noted that such exhibits can help bring a new generation of craftspeople into the fold. “In Paris we are facing a real issue with finding craftspeople,” he said. “Through projects like this and working with museums, there are young people who discover our world and after some years some of them embrace the trade and become craftspeople. It’s a way to keep the category alive.”