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The Secret World of French Jewelry Comes to New York

The Paris-based L’Ecole des Arts Joailliers is back in New York. Through November 9, the school sponsored by the French jewelry house Van Cleef & Arpels is offering a series of practical workshops, conferences, and exhibitions on the theme of high jewelry.

A mansion on the Upper East Side in Manhattan is currently the most closely guarded building in New York. From October 25 through November 9, the Academy Mansion is hosting the replicas of 20 diamonds that belonged to Louis XIV, the vintage jewelry collection of an unknown New Yorker, and an assortment of emeralds, sapphires, and rubies. This treasure trove is under high security but open to the public every day of the week.

L’Ecole des Arts Joailliers (the School of Jewelry Arts) was founded in Paris in 2012 and is used to sending its precious stones and staff all over the world. Alongside its program of weekly classes on the Place Vendôme, the school organizes practical workshops (by reservation, between 125 and 250 dollars), free conferences and exhibitions in New York, Hong Kong, Dubai, and Tokyo.

The gemology initiation workshop and another on the history of engagement rings are held under the watchful eyes of a security guard. After all, the students are working with real precious stones. However, fake gems are used in the practical workshops and participants learn how to set stones using cubic zirconium diamonds. The jewelry mounts are also made with sterling silver — a copper-silver alloy — instead of gold.

The workshops offered by L’Ecole last between two and four hours, but becoming a master jeweler takes 15 years. “We are not aiming to train jewelers, gemologists, lapidaries, or setters, but rather to make the highly exclusive world of jewelry accessible to the public,” says Dimitriy Kleiner, a teacher at L’Ecole and director of the Van Cleef & Arpels workshop in New York. “We do not provide qualifications, we award certificates instead.”

Students in Lab Coats

More than 30,000 people from 44 different countries have already attended classes at L’Ecole, and students include housewives, teachers, civil servants, a federal court judge from Chicago, a radiologist from the NewYork-Presbyterian hospital, the Canadian minister of natural resources, and a couple from Singapore on their honeymoon.

On the third floor of the Academy Mansion, eight students wearing lab coats discover the gouaché process. Using tubes of paint and an incredibly fine brush, they reproduce a pattern depicting a knot on a golden ribbon on a sheet of gray paper. Applying the gouaché technique to a bracelet requires between two and three days of work, and necklaces take up to a week. The life-sized drawing is used by jewelers to create the mount — the gold or platinum frame of the piece of jewelry that holds the precious stones.

Most students are there out of “curiosity” or “passion.” Kevin Creighton is a Manhattan-based jewelry designer and an antique dealer specialized in ancient stones. On his jacket lapel he is wearing two jabot pins in the form of daggers — 19th-century models from England. He decided to attend the workshops at L’Ecole to learn about the stages of high jewelry production from the first sketches to the display cases in boutiques.

In the practical workshop on jewelry techniques held on the first floor, students watch the meticulous gestures carried out by Laurent Lagardère, a teacher at L’Ecole in Paris, as he shows how to set stones. Using a tapered chisel, he pushes the metal to form prongs, or “beads,” that will hold the precious stones in place. He then takes a jaconas, a wax-coated, abrasive cotton ribbon, to polish the mount. Every bit of the piece has to shine — even the less visible parts. “Turn your necklace or clip around and see how much attention has been paid to the details,” says Dimitriy Kleiner. “That’s what makes the difference between jewelry and high jewelry.”

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L’Ecole, School of Jewelry Arts

From October 25 through November 9, 2018
2 East 63rd Street
New York, NY 10065
www.us.lecolevancleefarpels.com

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