How Van Cleef & Arpels Turned the Grand Tour Into a Sumptuous High Jewellery Collection
The upper-crust travel tradition informed a suite of stunning creations, each more worldly than the next.
BY Paige Reddinger  |  November 20, 2023
3 Minute Read

Van Cleef &. Arpels

Stilt-walking harlequins, leaping court jesters, gladiators, riders on horseback, harem girls, and more descended upon the courtyard followed by a gilded carriage carrying five statuesque ladies dripping in jewels. This was the setting for one of the year’s more spectacular high-jewellery reveals, courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels. The Cirque du Soleil–level performance in the gardens of Rome’s Villa Medici (now home to the French Academy) brought to life the building’s 19th-century Louis Dupré painting Châteaubriand reçoit la grande-duchesse Hélène de Russie dans les jardins de la Villa Médicis le 29 avril 1829. It was followed by a dinner at an outdoor pavilion on the property, where guests were serenaded by an opera singer, suspended from a series of lit balloons, who floated on the gardens’ horizon. 

The reenactment at the Villa Medici in Rome for Van Cleef’s high-jewelry reveal.

All of this was put on to show off the opulent jewels inspired by the Grand Tour, a custom dating back to the 16th century in which upper-class Europeans traveled the continent to study art, literature, architecture, music, and more as a sort of extended (and lavish) cultural boot camp. The pieces in the collection all correspond to a leg of the journey—including London, Paris, the Alps, and Venice. Take, for example, this white- and rose-gold Fleuve de glace (“ice river”) necklace with a 48.8-carat cushion-cut green beryl meant to represent the hues of the Grindelwald Glacier, in the Swiss Alps, as well as the colors used in the works of Swiss landscape painters Caspar Wolf and Samuel Birmann. It also comes with a 4.17-carat cushion-cut pink spinel and 288 blue-tourmaline beads totaling 157.09 carats, plus emeralds, pink sapphires, gray cultured pearls, and diamonds. 

Van Cleef & Arpels’s Fleuve de glace necklace

“The idea is to never go too academic but to also offer our guests an invitation to discover some elements of art and culture that we feel are inspiring,” says Van Cleef & Arpels president and CEO Nicolas Bos. “And then, of course, our job is to translate this into jewels that stand by themselves, and I hope are nice pieces of jewelry, but are also an interpretation of this story.” 

Louis Dupré’s Châteaubriand reçoit la grande-duchesse Hélène de Russie dans les jardins de la Villa Médicis le 29 avril 1829.

For more images of Van Cleef & Arpels Le Grand Tour Collection click here.