The renowned Parisian jeweller Van Cleef and Arpels has long held a close relationship with the world of dance, dating back to the 1920s, when fervent ballet fan Louis Arpels would take his nephew Claude to the Paris Opera. Now the maison has released a new high jewellery collection, Ballet Précieux, featuring a series of delicate jewel-encrusted ballerina pins to celebrate their love of this enchanting art.
Ten newly minted ballerinas are twirling en pointe under the spotlights, their slender arms held elegantly aloft or gently curved in front of their gleaming costumes. One, enacting a moment from Igor Stravinsky’s Song of the Nightingale, carries a tiny bird on her left hand, its gilded plumage shining as she pirouettes. It’s a scene that could be playing out at London’s illustrious Royal Ballet School, but this troupe of dancers is, in fact, a collection of high jewellery ballerina pins. Entitled Ballet Précieux, they are the latest handiwork of Parisian jeweller Van Cleef and Arpels, and each pin has been mounted on a tiny rotating frame so that its exquisite goldsmithing, gem-setting and enamelling can be appreciated from every angle.
Van Cleef & Arpels has had a long-standing love affair with the art of dance, stretching back to the 1920s when Louis Arpels (who worked at the company founded by his brother, Charles, and their brother-in-law, Alfred Van Cleef) would take his nephew Claude to shows at the Opéra Garnier. Claude went on to head the New York branch of the jewellery firm and, under his leadership, the maison produced its first ballerina clips in the early 1940s.
Designed to invoke a feeling of joy during a time of war, these sparkling figurines, with their delicate rose-cut diamond faces, coloured-stone fans or headdresses and tiny tutus crafted from engraved gold, enchanted collectors such as Barbara Hutton and Marjorie Merriweather Post and soon became a signature motif of the house. Designs were often modelled on famous performers, such as the Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova and the 18th-century dancer Marie Anne de Cupis de Camargo, or iconic repertoires like Swan Lake and The Nutcracker.
Van Cleef & Arpels’ relationship with dance was deepened further when Claude Arpels befriended the illustrious choreographer and co-founder of the New York City Ballet, George Balanchine. In 1967, inspired by the precious gemstones that feature throughout the house’s creations (and perhaps even by the ballerina clips themselves, which are said to have been displayed in the brand’s Fifth Avenue boutique window, where they were admired by Balanchine on his daily walks), Balanchine debuted a new three-act ballet called Jewels. Each of its parts was named for a different gemstone – Emeralds, Rubies and Diamonds – and featured its own unique score, costumes and movements.
Over half a century has since passed, but Van Cleef and Arpels is still renowned for the craftsmanship of its ballerina pins (each takes between 300 to 400 hours to complete) and is continuing to honour Louis and Claude’s legacy by supporting dance troupes and championing new choreographic performances around the world. For 11 years the maison has sponsored the L.A. Dance Project, founded by French choreographer Benjamin Millepied and, since 2015, it has also funded the €100,000 Fedora – Van Cleef & Arpels Prize for Ballet which rewards excellence in experimental compositions.
In 2020, Van Cleef & Arpels even created its own dance festival, Dance Reflections. Spearheaded by its director of dance and culture programmes Serge Laurent (previously the curator of live arts at Paris’ Centre Pompidou), the initiative promotes post-modern works by both new and existing creatives – from Lucinda Childs and Gisèle Vienne to (LA)Horde, which also recently designed movements for Madonna’s Celebration tour.
Composed of roughly ten works, each annual edition takes place in an international cultural hot spot – this year, following tours in London and Hong Kong, it travelled to New York. “Dance Reflections is as much about education as it is about support for independent companies,” says Laurent. “It’s the only way to preserve many of their dance pieces and ensure they can be appreciated by a new generation. Much like keeping the historic craftsmanship of jewellery alive so it can be passed on.” With Dance Reflections slated to return to Asia in 2024, and then to Europe after that, Van Cleef & Arpels’ historic pas de deux with the world of dance looks set for encore after encore.