July 2023. Walking through the heavy door separating me from a noisy Parisian street to admire the latest high jewellery collection from Van Cleef & Arpels can only mean one thing: amazement. A few minutes later, as the pieces were unveiled, there was no doubt that the jewellery house had just signed a magnificent collection in which the great cities of Europe had become jewellery prodigies. The Grand Tour by Van Cleef & Arpels is nothing but diamonds, multicoloured stones and blooming flowers on jewellery sets with multiple wearings.
1- The Grand Tour, a voyage of initiation
The “birth” of the Grand Tour is usually attributed to England in the sixteenth century. But in reality, the historical traces of this great voyage of initiation go back much further. From the 11th century onwards, the Middle Ages, with the Gregorian reform, saw the emergence of monastic and cathedral schools that would gradually give shape to the great European universities. The Schola Medica Salernitana was founded in the 10th century, the University of Bologna in 1088 and Oxford in 1116.
Reserved for the clergy (many of whom were members of the nobility), these schools were part of a political context of relative stability in Europe, which paved the way for greater geographical mobility and saw the establishment of the practice of an academic tour, also known as peregrinatio academica, which consisted of studying at other universities to enrich one’s culture. This notion will inevitably bring to mind the current Erasmus programme (created in 1987), which will bring back memories for many of you. But the abandonment of Latin is gradually signalling the end of this medieval practice.
Back in the 16th century, this travel system reappeared. Reserved for aristocratic youth, this two- to three-year tour of Europe’s major cities became a compulsory part of their training before they entered the world. Its purpose: to enrich their general culture, perfect their political education, develop their knowledge of foreign languages and their sexual education. But we mustn’t forget its ultimate goal, with its undeniable social function. By taking this trip, young men created shared memories and affirmed their financial position. By visiting what had to be seen, the trip helped to strengthen the social ties between families. Back in 2023, there was nothing better than a school to present this new collection!
2- London, Paris, Baden-Baden, Venice, Rome… in any order you like
Although the original journey did not follow a precise itinerary, in the version standardised by the English, you have to leave London and go to France. Next, the Alps, the striking landscapes of Baden-Württemberg and Switzerland, then Italy, its ancient ruins, its paintings, its gentle way of life…
At Van Cleef & Arpels, the Grand Tour comprises almost 70 pieces showcasing the major stages of this journey. Admire the earthenware for which London is famous and visit Chatsworth House, nicknamed the English Versailles, the sumptuous residence of the Dukes of Devonshire. France offers the legacy of the Sun King, its effervescence and its French-style gardens, whose influences can be found in Italy.
But for that, you have to cross the Alps, stop off in Switzerland, admire the lakes and mountains, lose yourself in the wilderness and learn about edelweiss, a mysterious flower that is not easy to capture. Finally, there’s Venice, Rome, Naples and Florence, with the cries of the gondoliers, the ancient remains around every corner, the painters’ studios and the great names in painting, such as Botticelli.
Italy is the major chapter in this new collection. It infuses each bracelet, each necklace. Here the Piazza Divina in Rome, there Etruscan inspirations, elsewhere Saint Mark’s Square… But nature is also called upon. An eternal inspiration for jewellers, it is constantly reinventing itself, giving rise here to brooches with dense foliage, but also to a jewellery translation of the trees in the garden of Lichtenthal Abbey. Certainly my favourite pieces in this new opus.
The stones are fabulous, and bear witness to the privileged links that unite the House with the highest-quality suppliers. As for the care taken in selecting the raw materials, it is indissociable from the many skills that are setting Van Cleef & Arpels ever higher in the jewellery constellations.
See you soon!