My Day Learning the Craft of High Jewelry at the Van Cleef & Arpels School
I always thought of the French term savoir faire as sounding quite glamorous and elusive, but after taking a class at L’École, Van Cleef & Arpels’ jewelry school, which opened on October 24 and runs through November 9 on New York’s Upper East Side, I know it actually means precise work and extreme dedication.
On a recent Saturday morning, I enrolled in the class “Trying Out the Jeweler’s Techniques,” one of the many offerings in the program, which was founded in 2012 and travels to cities throughout the world to demonstrate the fine craftsmanship and art of jewelry. Along with six other eager pupils, I donned a jewelry maker’s jacket, which is much like a white lab coat with fitted cuffs that prevent jewels from getting lost, and took my place at a workbench similar to the ones at the maison’s atélier in Paris. Over the next two hours, I learned how absolutely frustrating it can be to polish a setting, carve a mold in wax, and cut a straight line in a piece of tiny metal.
Each task taught to us by the master jeweler on hand was so exquisitely precise that it came as no surprise that it takes 15 years to rise to that rank in the jeweler’s hierarchy. After two hours of focused study, I had a piece of metal with a crooked cut through it and an unevenly ridged piece of green wax to show for my efforts. Far from perfection!
After class, I took time to walk through the exhibition “Through the Eyes of the Connoisseur,” which is on the ground floor of the Academy Mansion on East 63rd Street, the school’s home for the next week. On display are phenomenal pieces by Van Cleef & Arpels, Tiffany, Cartier, and Boucheron, all on loan from a private New York collection. Having undergone my training (however scant compared with the years of experience displayed by the master jeweler), I could now look beyond the sparkle of the gems and see the skill and knowledge that go into each work of art.
Although I didn’t come away with a glittering new accessory I had made to show for my time spent in class, I did leave with an extremely deep appreciation of the craft—and what could be more priceless than that!
The jewelry school is open in New York City through November 9.