In Conversation With Van Cleef & Arpels President and CEO Nicolas Bos

Can poetry and romance thrive in our fast-paced digital age with three-second attention spans?
Published: May 20, 2024
In Conversation With Van Cleef & Arpels President and CEO Nicolas Bos
Van Cleef & Arpel’s Les Jardins Secret boutique at Raffles Singapore. Photo: Patrick Swirc

In the world of glittering creations, Van Cleef & Arpels stands on a pedestal of its own. Imbued with visual and literal poetry, its creations guide you through tales of magical romance that span the universe and its celestial bodies right down to the humble ladybird flitting merrily through the garden. Ballerinas dance their way into your heart as necklaces transform into bracelets through an ingenious zip design that turns function into fabulousness.

It seems nothing is too big or too small a subject matter for the 128-year-old Maison to use as inspiration, resulting in handcrafted jewels that inspire and awe in equal measures. It’s precisely this sense of imagination and wonder, brought to life through a trove of precious materials, that draws people to its doors. But is there still a place for this Old World romance in a digital world of short attention spans and twitchy thumbs? According to Van Cleef & Arpels president and CEO Nicolas Bos, there is—and it is thriving. We caught up with Bos while he was in Singapore to get a sneak peek into the exceptional Van Cleef & Arpels handbook.

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In Conversation With Van Cleef & Arpels President and CEO Nicolas Bos
Van Cleef & Arpels President and CEO Nicolas Bos. Photo: Patrick Swirc

You have been with the brand for 24 years; this year marks your 11th anniversary at the helm of Van Cleef & Arpels. What still gets you excited about what you do?

I think that we are very blessed at Van Cleef & Arpels. We have a very rich identity that enables us to maintain it without repeating ourselves. Our artisans never get bored. There are always new translations, new interpretations, and new projects. That keeps me quite excited. Actually, a year and a half ago, I was here [in Singapore] with the team, and we were trying to see what we could do here [with the boutique at Raffles Hotel]. Then, it was a kind of storage space, and we said: “This is such a spectacular, historical address. Why don’t we try something different?” A year later, it’s here.

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The new boutique at Raffles Singapore is unique in that it offers visitors a chance to shop and learn more about the brand and craftsmanship once they step through the hidden doors.

In Conversation With Van Cleef & Arpels President and CEO Nicolas Bos

This project was very important for us, and I think it’s probably one of the best recent examples of what this house is about—which is not to develop the same set of initiatives across the world, but to adapt and adjust to find the right translation for a specific situation. This is what this space is about, and it is the first of its kind for us. And it feels organic because it expresses the brand in terms of decor and atmosphere. I’d say it’s very immersive and, I hope, quite poetic, discreet, and intimate. I am super happy with the way it is and the way it looks.

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What about its creations: What sets Van Cleef & Arpels apart from the rest of the jewellery Maisons?

I think it’s a combination of things: The sources of inspiration and how we interpret those sources, how we talk about colours and balance, and how we manage symmetry versus asymmetry. We have all kinds of rules and a set of characteristics that call for a combination of different crafts and certain approaches to jewellery techniques. It’s like in art. There are some artists that you can identify because they’ve done the same things pretty much for their whole career. Then, you have artists like Picasso and Matisse who evolve, but you can still identify them despite their different aesthetics. In all humility, I think that is what we have tried to do at Van Cleef & Arpels. We don’t necessarily repeat the same codes, but you can always identify the style.

How has this style evolved over the last two decades?

What is striking, I think, is the return of whimsicality and magic. In the last 20 years, the storytelling dimension has probably reemerged the most in high jewellery and watches. This idea that jewels can retell a story—it can be a story of patrimony or a fairy tale—maybe not in such a visible or explicit way, but it is always there.

And it’s something that every Van Cleef & Arpels design is imbued with intrinsically. What is the importance of storytelling and poetry to the brand's creation process?

They enrich the creation. We are jewellers with expertise in designing, crafting and selling jewels. So what matters is the quality of a piece of jewellery, be it a necklace or a ring. The narrative is everything that can create the universe and the experience around [that piece of jewellery]. Our ballerina brooch [for example] connects the brand with the world of dance. We have the jewels but can also create window displays or an experience for the collection’s unveiling; we can partner with dancers and choreographers.

In Conversation With Van Cleef & Arpels President and CEO Nicolas Bos

So that sets a whole context and universe around that beautiful object and enriches it. I think that 25 years ago, many people saw jewellery as pretty and expensive objects for wealthy people. What’s often forgotten, or what they were unaware of, is the artistic dimension or the collaborative process behind the jewel, and its links to other forms of art or science. We are trying to bring that back—that experience that experts, collectors, clients, families, and students can share. 

Is that experience resonating with students and the younger crowd? Does Van Cleef & Arpels have strategies to attract this younger generation or even the Gen Zers?

We don’t really have a strategy [laughs]. I don’t believe in chasing anyone. We don’t use social media or digital channels to chase that generation or that community. We use them because they are a fantastic opportunity in today’s world to share what we do and tell our stories. Maybe we are arrogant enough to think that what we have to say is interesting, at least for enough people. I was talking with my daughter’s friends, and strangely enough, the younger ones know the brand, and they know a few collections. This is interesting because we’re not dressing up celebrities or stars like Beyoncé or Rihanna; they wear our pieces because they buy them. The young generation today—maybe because they were born in the digital age—do appreciate craftsmanship and are quite impressed when they spend one hour with a craftsman who explains how they do things by hand. I find that quite comforting.

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