With a resplendent New York enterprise this fall, l’École des Arts Joailliers—known in English as the School of Jewelry Arts—is hoping to open the historically insular world of fine jewelry to the public. Created and sponsored by French maison Van Cleef & Arpels, the Paris-based institution will fill the storied Academy Mansion on the Upper East Side with classes, lectures, and exhibitions that are geared to a general audience. From October 24 to November 9, expertise in the highest realm of jewel-making will be available to anyone curious to learn.
“If you’re interested in art history or in wine, you have a lot of opportunities to develop your connoisseurship without becoming a professional,” Van Cleef & Arpels president and CEO Nicolas Bos told artnet News in explaining the idea behind the program. “But in decorative arts, it’s more limited. Especially in the case of jewelry, it’s quite intimidating, sometimes a bit obscure.” The industry hasn’t always done its best to be transparent, he added.
At l’École, by contrast, the gatekeepers aren’t just standing aside; they’re inviting passers-by inside for champagne and mini quiches. In one view, it’s a genius marketing strategy: Instead of simply advertising to existing customers, Van Cleef & Arpels stands to create a new customer base with a sophisticated understanding of and appreciation for fine jewels. But it’s also an opportunity for master craftspeople, designers, historians, and other experts with a genuine passion for their field to share their excitement with others and create a broadly accessible repository for their knowledge.
To that end, Bos insists, l’École functions independently of its parent company and strives to form a complete picture of the jewelry landscape, including other brands. “Nicolas Bos of Van Cleef & Arpels has a great respect for the independence of l’École, and it’s why it works,” Marie Vallanet-Delhom, the school’s president since its 2012 inception, told artnet News.
In addition to running the programs at l’École’s main location on Paris’s Place Vendôme, Vallanet-Delhom and her team have spent the last few years jetting to New York, Dubai, Tokyo, and Hong Kong, carting tools, materials and jewelers’ benches in tow. Their Hong Kong trips have been so successful that the school plans to open a permanent branch within Kowloon’s Victoria Dockside complex, currently being developed by K11 Art Mall mogul Adrian Cheng and scheduled for completion next year.
L’École first alighted in New York City in 2015, with a program hosted by the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. This year’s reprise offers an expanded slate of talks, courses, and kids’ workshops, as well as three opulent exhibitions.
Those shows, all free and open to the public, will offer plenty of sparkle to go with the scholarship. The largest, “Daniel Brush: Cuffs and Necks,” will feature two groups of work by the American contemporary artist: his “Cuffs” series, comprised of 72 bracelets inspired by Indian jewelry traditions and the storied collection of the Nizams of Hyderabad, and “Necks,” an installation of the 117 necklaces Brush fashioned specifically for his monograph of the same name.
“The Fabulous Destiny of Tavernier’s Diamonds: From the Great Mogul to the Sun King“—the result of a joint effort by l’École, master gem cutter Patrick Dubuc, and François Farges, professor of mineralogy at the French Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle—tells the story of diamond merchant Jean-Baptiste Tavernier and the cache of stones he sold to Louis XIV in 1668. Though the 20 stones were said to be exquisitely beautiful, they were lost to history—except one, the French Blue, which Farges proved in 2009 had been recut to become the famous Hope diamond. Painstaking reproductions of all 20 stones will be on view within the exhibition.
“Through the Eyes of a Connoisseur” looks at the 19th- and 20th-century gems acquired by an unnamed New York collector. Vallanet-Delhom and Bos are keeping the collector’s identity secret, though they did say that the Cleveland Museum of Arts’s Stephen Harrison is curating the exhibition and that the trove promises to be exceptional.
The lecture series will focus in part on the exhibitions, but two of the six conversations will be standalone crowd pleasers: “Jewelry in Film” and “Truffles and Gems.” Attendees are encouraged to mingle at the cocktail hour before each talk.
The main draw, of course, is the classes, several of which include hands-on opportunities to explore the design and execution of high-end jewels. L’Ecole will offer 15 classes, all taught by at least two instructors and limited to 12 students; prices range from $125 to $250.
Course subjects are divided into three categories: jewelry art history, gemstones, and , a term that is here used to describe the tradition of craftsmanship passed down from generation to generation. In these classes, students actually work with jeweler’s tools and in some cases create pieces to carry home. (Nothing crazy, though—“We don’t yet give away diamonds,” Bos said.) One course, for instance, treats the art of Japanese lacquer.
L’École also welcomes children and teens with a budding interest in jewelry. Four workshops are planned for kids ages five to 16; each two-hour session is $15.
The full schedule of events will be released in August, and reservations can be made online. Though the classes and workshops will be repeated throughout the residency, Vallanet-Delhom recommends keeping an eye on the school’s Instagram and Facebook accounts to be among the first to know when the schedule drops lest the available slots fill up quickly.
Bos hopes those who can’t fit a class or conversation into their schedules (or don’t manage to snag a reservation) still find time to stop by. “I would love them to come out of curiosity, and maybe they will discover that there is much more to jewelry or to that world than they think sometimes.” Vallanet-Delhom agrees that there’s more to jewelry than superficial beauty: “Jewels are pieces of art. Simple.”