Van Cleef & Arpels CEO Nicolas Bos talks Challenging Times and Moving Forward Positively

Lara Mansour   |   23 - 07 - 2020

As the world starts to recover from COVID-19 we discuss moving forward and the upcoming year for the jewellery house.

Van Cleef & Arpels prides itself on creating exceptional experiences for its clients. The 124-year old company has been sharing its stories and moments with clients for over a hundred years. So when this period of isolation crippled the world, the company had to rethink its plans and find innovative ways of connecting with its clients when it couldn’t physically be with them. The decision was taken to postpone this year’s High Jewellery collection until 2021 as the brand decided it would be impossible to provide clients with the experience they deserve to accompany the collection. So, over the past few months, Van Cleef & Arpels has been moving forward with other less traditional projects to keep inspiring clients and allowing them to dream.


This September will see the launch of Pierres Precieuses. An exhibition in Paris that will display over 200 pieces of the House’s high jewellery creations. The exhibition will propose a continuous dialogue between minerals, gems and jewels, displaying the ways gemstones can be made into works of art by adding them onto jewellery.


Leading the brand through this turbulent time is CEO Nicolas Bos. Bos has been working with the company for almost 20 years but he took over in his role as CEO in 2013. Bos understands the importance of relationships and experiences when it comes to Van Cleef & Arpels – a challenge he sees himself facing today. We find out how he plans to overcome some of these testing moments, and why he believes the future will bring better days.


Photography: Anuschka Blommers & Niels Schumm Art Direction: Gaspard Yurkievich & Guido Voss


As we start to resume back to normality what is a positive lesson that you have learnt from this time and will it change anything in the way that you communicate and direct the brand?

That is quite a complex question to answer. It’s not a motto as such, but something we have been discussing a lot as a team is that one of our greatest assets for more than a century is that while we have gone through very good periods, we have also gone through a lot of bad periods – economic crisis, wars, disasters. When we look back, these are the references that we can use to work for the future. When we see that the company, like many others, has survived and has innovated through these situations it encourages us to move forward. So this is definitely an asset and strength that we have as a company. We are not immune of course, but we do have the ability to overcome some of the worst periods. I think this is a source of optimism for us. If our company can overcome something like a war, there is no reason why we couldn’t make it after a very bad pandemic. So this was the first thing that I wanted to share with my team – that we are going to bring back that element of our historical perspective.


And then, when you look at the strengths that we have as a brand, a lot of it is to do with the vision of life that the brand is conveying, which is mainly very positive and optimistic. We have a close relationship with nature and love and there is an element of happiness and magic associated with the brand. For centuries, our jewellery has always been treasured by mankind and we feel this is a very important aspect of the house. I think even the representation of time at the House is more about looking at the cycle of time in nature. All cycles have ups and downs and I think this is very important to the brand. It’s very human and it’s all about balance. There are great barriers, but we should try and use these barriers to move forward, to perfect our craftsmanship and to develop initiatives within the brand.


Photography: Anuschka Blommers & Niels Schumm Art Direction: Gaspard Yurkievich & Guido Voss


How is Van Cleef & Arpels staying close to its clients during these difficult times?

It’s true, it’s a challenging period. When I think of all our collections but mostly High Jewellery, which is what we used to present in July, it’s a category where being physically close is key – close to your clients and in physical proximity to the pieces. As these are complicated objects you need to be able to touch, try, understand, see the colours of the stones etc. So there is a physical element that is almost impossible to recreate, even with the best of digital tools.


We are lucky enough to be an international company with stores all around the world so we can work on being close to our clients through our international boutiques on a local basis. This is something that we do anyway, we keep in very close contact with our clients and we have friendships with many of them and make sure that we can keep the conversation going, even if it’s not for commercial purposes, but more to share with them what we are doing and offer them the chance to dream and have some pleasure, which we all need at this time.


Van Cleef & Arpels Craftsmanship


But it is true, especially in the last decade, high jewellery has developed a lot around exceptional moments for our international clients and collectors. And for the past few months and probably for many more to come, this has been almost impossible. So the challenge is to keep that proximity but to offer experiences when we may not have the fireworks of an amazing evening. We need to take more care and to narrow down our selections of jewellery that we show to clients and use all the tools that we can have access to today to build a relationship with them. Then we can bring only the relevant pieces to each client rather than taking all of the collection to a specific destination as we have done in the past. So the relationship is still there, but the magic of the experience is something that’s very difficult to recreate.


Van Cleef & Arpels Craftsmanship


What can you tell us about high jewellery for this year and what will you be presenting for the rest of the year?

Let’s start with what we didn’t do. As you know, every year we have a new High Jewellery collection with a whole new story and a very enjoyable experience to go with it. We looked at all the different scenarios and we decided to keep the High Jewellery collection until next year so that we can bring the whole experience to our clients and friends around the world.


But the company always has a few things cooking at the same time. In September we have an upcoming exhibition organised by the French National Museum of Natural History. They agreed to dedicate a whole exhibition that will last for nine months, to precious gemstones. Based on their incredible collection that goes back to the 17th and 18th centuries, alongside some examples of High Jewellery that show how these exceptional stones become expressions of beauty when they are integrated into jewellery pieces. And they decided to partner with us as we have had a very long relationship with the museum. They will showcase 400 pieces of their own collection of minerals alongside more than 200 pieces selected from Van Cleef & Arpels historical creations. I believe it will be a beautiful exhibition.


Van Cleef & Arpels Craftsmanship


At the same time, the designers have been working to produce a limited number of exceptional pieces that will be a contemporary counterpoint to what’s going to be on show in the exhibition. This is what we presented in July. It’s just a few pieces but they are quite spectacular and they reference in a modern way, some historical milestones of the house. There is one necklace that has emeralds totalling 35-carats which is a reinterpretation of an Art Deco design. It is an echo of a really important piece created by the House in 1929 in terms of the structure and design. It’s a spectacular High Jewellery piece.


We also created a bracelet, that was inspired by a bracelet from 1937. It’s a unique object, with more than 8-carats of rubies. Each of them could be a single stone but we decided to play with the impact of the colour and to group them all together. When you think of the mystique of High jewellery and the high levels of detail, work and exceptional stones, these pieces are a good example of that.


One of Van Cleef & Arpels favourite motifs is the fairy – can you tell us a little more about that?

Fairies have been present in our creations since the 1940s and I think they represent lightness, movement and magic. We love them for that, so we continue to create new presentations including fairies, year after year. We like to associate fairies with elements of nature and this is something that we explore throughout jewellery and watches. It’s an ongoing inspiration. Fairies are quite an important signature of the house and they are around to stay.


What can you tell us about L’Ecole Van Cleef & Arpels and how has it been functioning during this time?

The L’Ecole has been very active, especially during this period as it’s also a platform where we can develop lots of activities where we can educate others. We also partner with organisations that are supporting education and that’s something that is needed at times when things are complicated, so it has been very active. We have been launching a lot of new programmes and stories throughout this time, organising online lectures etc. We are going to resume classes soon. We have also opened a school in Hong Kong and that will be reopening soon and we are developing with the team in Dubai a new programme in the Middle East involving our partnerships in the region, to allow us to introduce a lot of new projects, lectures and exhibitions. We are going to be working a lot with local exhibitions for now and leverage this before we bring back the full programme later in the year.


Van Cleef & Arpels Craftsmanship


What is something that you would still like to see done at Van Cleef & Arpels that hasn’t been done yet?

I love this company and I have been working with it for almost twenty years. There are still so many stories to tell and we are working on collections for two, three, four years from now. L’Ecole VCA is a very important project for me and there is so much we can do around it. The Middle East is probably the region in the world where we had the most positive response to our education programmes and we have had a lot of interest from companies and initiatives in the region that want to partner with us and work together. So it’s a really important project. In the coming year, I have to further develop initiatives coming from the world of ballet and dance. There’s a lot of things to be working on, we are very active!