Romance is dead: it’s a headline that has been scattered across the news since at least 2010. Blaming modern dating (or lack thereof), experts in psychology, relationships, and technology have all weighed in to let us know that chivalry is very much resting in peace—or perhaps more accurately, rolling over in its grave.
It is true that the ways we find love are not as straight-ahead as they were when Estelle Arpels and Alfred Van Cleef met at the end of the 19th century, but the lasting legacy of these passionate souls—who went on to marry in 1895, and then co-found Van Cleef & Arpels in 1906—is one based on ardour, whimsy, and passion. When it comes to fine jewellery, there is always romance. Even today.
“I think we need more and more romance,” says Van Cleef & Arpels Americas president and CEO Alain Bernard, seated inside the Parisian company’s new standalone Vancouver boutique on Alberni Street that opened in December 2017. “Everyone wants to come back into a positive vision of the world, which is what we express. Everyone wants to come back into the true nature of human relationships, and that’s what we do through our jewellery.”
While the brand already had a presence in Vancouver due to a partnership with Birks, this two-floor store solidifies a serious commitment to the Vancouver market. Spanning over 43,000 square-feet, the free-standing boutique—only the second in Canada, following Toronto—is the largest location in North America after the New York flagship.
From the outside, the store’s metallic gold drapes shimmer through the polished glass, creating a fanciful yet urbane sparkle. Stepping inside, attention is drawn to the handmade Murano glass chandelier, which hangs directly above four quarter-circle display cases that form an inviting centrepiece. Also featuring custom gold-leaf wall paneling, bubble-shaped glass displays, and contemporary dark flooring, the bottom level makes for a warm welcome. Following the art deco staircase to the second floor, guests end up at the private salon and library, with large windows overlooking the luxury corridor of Alberni. “The library is an important component of the boutique; it is more than just decorative, it is also a way for anybody crossing the floors of the boutique to go deep into the history of the house,” Bernard explains. “There is so much to say in our 111 years of history. So we feel that it’s our duty and our role to tell our stories.” Throughout the space, accents of black, soft cream, and gold create a cohesive, understated opulence.
On display here is the whole Van Cleef & Arpels offering: high jewellery, jewellery, and timepieces. Bernard notes that the more unique items, along with the watches, are very popular among Vancouver shoppers. Still, he is hesitant to define the local client. “Vancouver is such a diverse city, and universal in the sense that you have a mix of cultures,” he says. “It’s a city completely open to nature and open to the world.” Bernard, who jokes that he fell into the luxury jewellery industry “by accident” after being trained in engineering, admits that now his son, who is attending university in Montreal, wants to get into the business. Indeed, the romance of high design is alluring even to the young—perhaps, in the case of Van Cleef & Arpels, due to its singular creation process.
Take, for example, the Bouton d’or collection, which pays homage to the maison’s historic “Paillette” motif first implemented in the late 1930s. Boasting diamonds set in rose and white gold, the pieces are at once a hat tip to history and an arrow to modern day. “We don’t see the past on one side and then the present and the future on the other side,” asserts Bernard. “Every single piece is based first and foremost on the creative inspiration, so it’s an identity and a story that we want to express; it doesn’t come from nowhere, it comes from roots. We love to say that a tree doesn’t have branches that go further than the roots—the roots are what are most important. When you have some roots, then you can have long branches and beautiful leaves and flowers. That’s exactly the same for Van Cleef & Arpels.” Call us romantics, but we’re inclined to agree.
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