From diamond-dusted fairies to bejewelled florals and gem-set butterflies, Van Cleef & Arpels has long been known for its capability to conjure an air of mystery and wonder through the language of jewels. With the latest ‘Le Secret’ high jewellery collection, however, the Maison has taken this to a whole new dimension, as it explores the world between the visible and invisible through the transformable jewellery pieces that the brand is most known for.

Van Cleef & Arpels
Catherine Réiner, President of Van Cleef & Arpels, Asia Pacific

“For Van Cleef & Arpels, transformation has always been something very important in our inspiration,” says Catherine Réiner, President of Van Cleef & Arpels, Asia Pacific. “When you go back to the collection in the 1930s, it consists of large flowers that you would wear on your neck chained as a necklace, as a bracelet, or as a belt — that’s one of the most transformable pieces we have in our heritage. We also have the Zip necklace — an idea originated from the Duchess of Windsor — which took over 10 years to complete and can be zipped up and turned into a bracelet.”

Van Cleef & Arpels
Left: Van Cleef & Arpels’ first gouache drawing of the Zip necklace for the Duchess of Windsor, circa 1938. The necklace took over a decade to complete. / Right: Zip necklace from Van Cleef & Arpels’ latest high jewellery collection.

Consisting of over 100 pieces, the ‘Le Secret’ collection draws inspiration from nature and symbols of love and luck, featuring jewellery pieces that can be transformed, twirled or unfolded to reveal the secret that lies within.”We have a very deep and rich heritage of inspirations in our archives, and we always think about how we can go further and keep our inspirations creative,” says Réiner. “This time, we explored how we can interpret the secrets within nature.”

Dontelle secrete bracelet
The mother-of-pearl shutters, now visible through the openwork sections of the Dentelle secrète bracelet, can be switched into black onyx plates with just one push, thanks to a special mechanism developed by Van Cleef & Arpels.

From a flying diamond dove that clutches a love letter beautifully in Mystery Set rubies, to the sparkling leaf that can be pushed aside to reveal a ladybird, to the Fleur Bleue ring that can be turned to reveal an engraved quote from Oscar Wilde: “Une vie sans amour est comme un jardin sans soleil (A life without love is like a sunless garden)”, the level of transformability varies within the collection. “They represent the different elements of secrets,” Réiner explains. “For some of the pieces, it’s a simple love message hidden at the back or behind a motif, so that you can reveal by turning the piece. Other pieces, such as the Dentelle secrète bracelet, require a lot more technical expertise. The bracelet features a lace motif set on top of a green stone, with a special mechanism that allows you to switch to a different stone setting for a totally new look.”

Van Cleef & Arpels
Left: The Colombe Mystérieuse clip in white gold, red gold, pink gold, diamonds, emeralds and Traditional Mystery Set rubies. When turned over, you’ll see a ribbon of pink gold engraved with the message “L’Amour”. / Right: The Fleur Bleue ring in white gold, diamond, emeralds and Paraíba-like tourmalines. The cushion-cut sapphire weighs 5.13 carats (Burma), and can be turned to reveal a quote by Oscar Wilde.

To ensure that the moving mechanisms can be manipulated with fluidity and ease, ingenuity, precision and patience are required from the rendering all the way through to the final execution. At a time when machinery and digital technology dominate, Van Cleef & Arpels continues to insist on having every single step of the process done by hand.

“Sometimes the modern techniques come in handy, but the machine is always there to help the jeweller, not to replace the hand,” says Réiner. “The beauty of high jewellery is in the hand, a jeweller will tell you that there is a way to cut a stone or a way to make the movement of the gold match exactly with the petal that a machine would never know exactly how to interpret, so the maker’s hand will always bring the extra touch. For us, and for high jewellery in particular, protecting this know-how, whether it’s the drawing of the piece (every single rendering is hand-drawn), or the know-how and the gesture of Mystery Setting, is especially important. If we didn’t do that, we would lose a lot of our identity, and we wouldn’t be what we are today. This is why we have a school, to protect the know-how by sharing with the public.”

Van Cleef & Arpels
“The beauty of high jewellery is in the hand. For us, and for high jewellery in particular, protecting this know-how, whether it’s the drawing of the piece, or the know-how and the gesture of Mystery Setting, is especially important,” says Catherine Réiner, President of Van Cleef & Arpels, Asia Pacific.

Through the journey of discovery, Van Cleef & Arpels has not only created a renewed sense of fascination through its transformable ‘Le Secret’ collection, but also enhanced the personal connection between the wearer and the jewellery. “I think women have always been passionate in jewellery for what it symbolises and for the memories it brings,” says Réiner. “What people like is the enchantment and the added character we give our jewels.”

Van Cleef & Arpels, Prince’s Building, Shop G16-17, G/F, 10 Chater Road, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2522 9677

Cindie Chan
Style Editor
Fashion blogger turned editor, Cindie has spent over seven years covering all things stylish in the digital world. When she’s not busy poring over the latest covetable releases or attending the most talked-about fashion events in town, you’ll find her enjoying some precious downtime with her newborn son and sweet dog Rosy.