When American actress, Jaclyn Smith was quoted as saying: “Angels are like diamonds. They can’t be made, you have to find them”, it must have been the piece of advice which the Van Cleef & Arpels jewellers took to heart, for they have certainly found a diamond of a lady in the form of Geraldine De Vulpian to manage their first and only store opened in Italy in 2009, discreetly located on Via Verri, just off Via MonteNapoleone. During our introduction, she must have observed my dancing glances between her ice blue eyes and the dazzling Flowerlace pendant that sat around her neck, for she quickly ushered me to the top floor where comforting pistachio hues, traces of mother-of-pearl, pompoms and tassel handles on dainty furniture lend an appropriately feminine backdrop to their exquisite selection of fine women’s jewellery.
In soft-spoken, yet perfectly articulated English, Geraldine began to explain that the Van Cleef & Arpels brand is the legacy of the love story between its founders Estelle Arpels and Alfred van Cleef, who met and married in Paris in 1896. A most adorable ‘Lover’s Bridge’ ladies’ watch seems to retell their story over and over again with a double retrograde mechanism which details a tiny female figurine holding an umbrella while a suited gentleman hiding a rose behind his back trails his lady. The lovers meet every twelve hours at noon and midnight for a one minute kiss, making this a truly romantic timepiece finished in gold, diamonds and alligator leather straps.
Geraldine unlocked a glass cabinet and removed a dazzling diamond watch from their Midsummer Nights Dream collection. Enchanting and functional, she explained that this piece – like all their other exceptional jewels which center around flawless carbon rocks – are their treasures. For a few brief minutes, the flexible timepiece with its mother-of-pearl dial, diamond and barely-there white-gold bracelet, wrapped around my left wrist. Made in true Van Cleef & Arpels craftsmanship, this beauty is the realization of top spectrum D, E and F colour diamonds selected according to their unique shape to form the ‘petals’ which are then set one-by-one on an extremely thin net of gold or platinum. This means that the claws which hold the stones are almost invisible and due to the drastic reduction in metal, the brilliance of each stone is heightened even further – a job so well executed that when it came time to remove the watch, I even had trouble finding the clasp!
Geraldine led me to the VIP lounge, a small square area privatized by drawn curtains. She opened a large book on the coffee table between us and flipped through the pages which document some of their most valued VIP clients and the special pieces which they inspired. One such royal figure was Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, who made an impossible request: a bracelet that could be transformed into a necklace. It took the company’s master jewellers fifteen years to conceptualize, design and create the zip necklace in 1950, which sees the length zip up to form a shorter bracelet. While the duchess never got to wear the remarkable feat, it would never have come into being if she did not plant the initial demanding seed of innovation.
Perfectly poised, Geraldine and I stood at the top of the staircase musing about Milan and all it has to offer. Born in France and having worked in both Paris and Canada, she immediately drew comparisons between the Champs Élysées and Via MonteNapoleone, both world-class shopping destinations, but for different reasons. Comfortable in her skin and without a trace of make-up,she flashed an angelic smile, expressing gratitude for having gravitated here, a safe and intimate destination that places cultural hotspots amid must-see boutiques – a district in which she can indulge her artistic side as well as her passion for the iconic brand. In that moment, I realized that Geraldine has been blessed with both, a habitat in the heart of fashion and design as well as a fitting occupation that sees her sell diamonds as flawless as she is.
For more information, visit the Van Cleef & Arpels website