Global luxury jewelry brands in recent years have been hosting offline events in Korea to showcase the art and craftsmanship that go into their high-end jewelry.
One such event that has been spreading quickly among Korea’s fashion enthusiasts and influencers is an exhibition by a global luxury jewelry brand Van Cleef & Arpels, which opened at D Museum in Seongsu-dong of Seongdong District, eastern Seoul, on Saturday.
Titled “Van Cleef & Arpels: Time, Nature, Love,” the exhibition displays hundreds of priceless jewelry creations, including watches and other miscellaneous objects, dating back to the brand’s founding in 1906. Seoul is the fourth city to hold the exhibition, following Milan in 2019 and Shanghai and Saudi Arabia in 2022. The Seoul exhibit runs until April 14, 2024.
Some of the jewels on display include items that are referred to as the “legend masterpieces” of high-end jewelry, such as Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco’s elaborate diamond tiara as well as actor Elisabeth Taylor’s diamond necklace. The brand has brought in nine works to be displayed only during the Korean exhibition.
Despite the extravagant time and money needed to bring in such precious items from overseas, Van Cleef & Arpels keeps coming back to Korea. Even in January this year, the brand had held another exhibition at the DDP in central Seoul. Its D Museum exhibition, however, is larger in scale and will be held much longer.
Total sales of the Richemont Group, the luxury goods holdings company that owns Van Cleef & Arpels, from March to September this year amounted to about 10.2 billion euros ($11.1 billion), which is a 6 percent increase from the same period last year. The group’s jewelry brands like Van Cleef & Arpels, Cartier and Piaget are seen as the main contributors to the jump. Its jewelry sector has seen a 10 percent increase in sales this year compared to last year, and the region that saw the steepest increase was Asia, including China, Hong Kong and Macao.
To hear more about Van Cleef & Arpels and its latest exhibition in Seoul, the JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, sat down with Nicolas Bos, president and CEO of Van Cleef & Arpels, who was visiting Seoul for the exhibit on Nov. 14. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q. Why is Van Cleef & Arpels holding such large-scale exhibitions in different cities around the world?
A. We believe that we are part of a tradition, or a number of traditions, that are very artistic and inspiring — that can be very exciting and interesting to larger audience members. We find that stories can be very much enjoyable. So it’s like going to the museum or an art gallery and looking at art. Hopefully, you can enjoy it without owning it. Only a few people can buy the art, but most people there will still visit and enjoy and learn about it. And we feel that’s the role that we can play.
There are many different ways to introduce the brand, so why through an exhibition?
It’s really to show the history of a specific company and, for us, what jewelry can mean and represent in terms of artistic dimension, in terms of sources of inspiration, in terms of the diversity of techniques and that there are many elements of surprise that can also come with.
I would love to have visitors coming out of the exhibition feel that high-end jewelry is definitely a form of art that you can enjoy in a museum. Within that form of art, Van Cleef & Arpels has a specific identity and specific history. If you go to an exhibition of one specific artist or one specific architect, you will feel that you have understood one specific personality and style.
Just one piece of jewelry displayed in the exhibit can cost up to hundreds of millions of dollars. Weren’t you hesitant to hold such a large exhibition filled with priceless works at a public venue?
We feel it’s important for brands like us, or companies like us, to give access to all the different aspects of what we do and open our doors instead of being as closed as possible and as restricted as possible for limited customers. We should focus on providing — be it new creations on the history, craftsmanship, and expertise on a different level. This is very much the identity of our company.
Seoul is Van Cleef & Arpels’ fourth city for this exhibit. Why Seoul?
Korea always has been an important market for luxury, and it has grown in the past few years. It is true that the Korean market in the last 20 years has really developed quite strongly. The luxury market here was very much driven by the duty-free operation. But now, what we’ve seen for the last few years, is that there is a complete change in the domestic market. Korean customers are grown and have become very strong and very sophisticated. We’ve seen more and more appreciation, more and more understanding of international or Western jewelry, and the style of Van Cleef & Arpels here in Korea.
I believe that communications, articles, advertising and exhibitions have played a role in that development and that discovery. That is a good invitation for brands like us to come and express themselves because now you’re talking more to the Korean clientele than talking to people who come only for a few days or for a week and buy and go.
Another element is because of all the growing influence of Korean culture in the world. Korean culture around the world is more and more identified and understood as a specific and unique culture, which is very different from other Asian countries, and I think this big exhibition that’s going on right now at the Guggenheim Museum on Korean Avant-garde is an example of that.
What do you hope to achieve through this exhibition?
We don’t look for an immediate consequence or outcome. So we don’t expect at all that visitors from the exhibition to go to the boutique and buy something. That’s not the point at all. We feel and we’ve seen in the past that at large, over a long period of time, projects like this help people to have a general understanding and appreciation and discovery of the brand. It’s very difficult to identify exactly what the impact is, but there is an impact in the long term. And we see it, after the exhibitions like this one, how the brand gets better understood.
What are some of Van Cleef & Arpels’ key strategies in the future?
It’s pretty much always the same. Everything that we do is based on our identity, which actually is quite well understood in the exhibition. What we try to do continuously is not to show different types of products, different styles, different activities or different quality. We try to be the same company, perceived as the same company, but at the same time, make it more visible, better understood and better appreciated.
This applies to everywhere in the world. When it comes to Korea, we’ve reached a certain level of visibility, and recently we’ve formed a network of boutiques with a strong team here in Korea. So we have more and more opportunities and more resources to organize events and exhibitions, and to be more present to connect more with local artists. We have Seoul Maison that we opened quite recently, which is for us a very important place where we can create bridges with Korean craftsmanship and culture.
BY YOON KYUNG-HEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]