Inside Van Cleef & Arpels' L'Ecole, Paris

At L'École, Van Cleef & Arpels have been welcoming people into the world of fine jewellery –up until recently one of the most secretive areas of human activity – since the school's foundation in Paris in 2012.

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29 July 2014

Taught at its beautiful premises on Place Vendôme, L'École is also to become a touring school, visiting Tokyo for two weeks in July 2013, it will be in Hong Kong from 16 October to 1 November 2014.  At SIHH in Geneva, in January 2014, LUXOS spoke to Marie Vallanet-Delhom, President of L'École, and Professeur and Director of Training, Inezita Gay.

LUXOS: After Japan, you're going to Hong Kong. Where next?
Marie Vallanet-Delhom: I think that very soon we will be visiting the United States and probably after, Hong Kong. L'École is strongly demanded by many Van Cleef & Arpels networks in different countries all over the world, but it's not easy to stage the school elsewhere: it's like a circus, with a huge amount of material, and people to move. And at our base in Place Vendôme there is something different, something that can't be transported: a special atmosphere.

Gay with her class

LUXOS: If you had the opportunity to open more schools, where would they be?

Marie Vallanet-Delhom: I hope that we'll be able to do that. But it's a new baby, just 3 years old, and we are moving one step at a time. After Place Vendôme, and the touring school, probably the next step will be Asia and the U.S.A.

LUXOS: What is the feedback from your students?
Marie Vallanet-Delhom: It's always good. In total we've had about 2,200 students of 33 different nationalities. When L'École started, there were just seven courses, and today there are fifteen, each taught in both French and English. Our courses are taught with very small classes, each with six to twelve students students, and for that group there is a minimum of two teachers, sometimes as many as four.
Inezita Gay: Some of our courses were developed as a result of requests from participants. For example, the course on Talisman jewels deals with a subject that interests many people. During the two years of research that I did for the course. I had quite a few revelations, and I share these with the students during their voyage of discovery, both into the symbolic meanings of gemstones and the powers that they are believed to exert. When you first start to study this subject, it seems complicated, as complex as humanity and human culture. Did you know that about 67% of Talismans were made specifically to protect children? There's much more, of course, but in the end, you discover that the power of a Talisman is a human power, the power of a man or a woman, a limitless power. During the course, the students actually make Talismans themselves, as part of the process of discovery, because one of the things that we have discovered is about how adults learn, and the importance of students doing thing with their own hands.

     The Bibliotheque at Place VendômeLUXOS: Are your students surprised by the move away from the secrecy that previously surrounded the jewellery and watch industries?
Inezita Gay: At the start, everyone was very surprised. The first time we went to SIHH, we spent the whole week trying to convince journalists that our intention was to open the door on what were previously trade secrets. In actual fact, we open not one, but three doors: the three areas of our courses. These are History of Art, Savoir faire, and the Universe of Gemstones. In each of these areas, we run a series of courses. For example, in the gemstones course, activities include recognising and handling stones. We look at all sort of things, such as inclusions, rough stones, carved stones and so forth. Just think of the emerald: do you know what the name for the inclusions in an emerald are? The garden. These are facts that enable students to look at a piece of jewellery very differently, with a much deeper understanding.
Marie Vallanet-Delhom: Our sessions on gemstones include two courses on diamonds, their properties, and the mystery of their existence. A diamond, any natural diamond, has been on this earth for longer than life itself. And the fact that it is a diamond, and not a piece of coal or graphite, is a pure chance, the result of a very improbable sequence of occurrences. Once you have learnt all this, the hardness, purity and fire of a diamond take on a far deeper significance.

    
LUXOS: What is the basic motivation of your students?
Marie Vallanet-Delhom: Many people love jewellery, more than who can actually buy and wear it, probably because of price. It's their fascination with this type of object that leads them to apply and take part.
Inezita Gay: Sometimes, people may just want to dream, and they may never actually enter the field. I like to look at jewellery in terms of a series of optical instruments, prisms offering a different view of reality. For example, they discover that it is only very recently that gentlemen were not emblazoned head to toe in jewellery, as can be seen from Renaissance and Elizabethan portraits.
LUXOS: Could you tell us about your experience in Japan?
Inezita Gay: Japan was a professional summit for me, even though it was very intense, with fifteen courses in fifteen days. It was remarkable to share with Japanese people how their art became Art Nouveau and created a revolution in western culture.
Marie Vallanet-Delhom: In Japan, the greatest satisfaction for me was the expression on the students' faces. But this is something that happens every time. All the students want photographs of the class, with the professors, and none of them want to leave!

For further information on the courses offered by L'École, visit www.lecolevancleefarpels.com
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