In the hallowed halls of luxury brands, vintage is hot property. Whether it’s searching for an original Alexander McQueen jacket or tracking down a Birkin bag, unearthing a rare heritage piece is akin to finding buried treasure. This is certainly the case at luxury jewellery houses, where there is a real appetite for timeless vintage designs, preferably with a past. Who wouldn’t love the fact their diamonds once dazzled at royal courts in Egypt, India or Great Britain? Or perhaps they have appeared on the arm of a famous Hollywood starlet.
At renowned French luxury house Van Cleef & Arpels, this connection between current collections and its deep history is intrinsic. “Our clients know that the pieces they are buying today are the Heritage pieces of tomorrow,” says Nicolas Luchsinger, founder of the maison’s Heritage collection and current president of Asia-Pacific. “They are timeless and have a story of their own.”
As the maison’s head Heritage hunter, Luchsinger is part modern-day pirate on the lookout for treasure from the archives, and part OTT jewellery junkie with a deep contact book of collectors and devotees. After almost 17 years at Van Cleef & Arpels and a decade prior as a jewellery specialist and vice-president at Christie’s auction house, he is the man with all the secrets and backstories of collections.
“I had a lot of clients who I wanted to bring over to Van Cleef, and a lot of collectors of course already loved the maison and its products,” he says. “But I noticed they had a real desire for vintage or heritage pieces and at that stage we had no program in place to help them.” Luchsinger put a proposal together to set up a Heritage collection: purchasing pre-loved antiques and vintage Van Cleef pieces with the view of reselling them to valued customers and clients. “I started to buy pieces slowly – firstly for New York – and it was very successful,” he recalls. What started out as a small collection of resellable pieces 16 years ago has now become a mainstay of the Van Cleef & Arpels offering, which ebbs and flows with supply and demand.
Now Luchsinger shares his search for buried treasure with a team of passionate detectives. While they sometimes get approached by a collector who wants to sell, often the process is painstakingly slow. “It takes a lot of time and a lot of memory,” he explains. “Clients will show me an incredible collection but they will be indecisive about selling, saying, ‘Oh, I have six children and maybe my daughter will like this piece one day.’ So then you have to remember who has what and keep in contact. Then, years later they will call and say, ‘I’m ready to sell.’”
VCA opened it’s first store in Paris in 1906.
Leaning into the luxury house’s storied 117-year history has proven to be a profitable course of action, but one requiring many checks and balances. Each piece goes through a rigorous appraisal for authenticity from Van Cleef & Arpels’ deep archives. Once verified, the pieces are either sent to one of the maison’s permanent heritage centres (in hotspots such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai) or form part of a travelling collection that often hits Australia. “Sydney has already been very successful with heritage pieces,” says Luchsinger. “And if we see that there is a high demand there then potentially we will make Sydney a heritage centre too.”
Luchsinger has a deep passion for beautiful jewellery. As a 13-year-old in Lausanne, Switzerland, he begged his family for jewellery books for Christmas and birthdays. As such, he doesn’t really have a favourite era. “I do love pieces from the 1970s but certain designs have gone in and out of fashion over the years,” he says. “The ’80s are definitely hot. It always makes me think of [the hit ’80s television series] Dynasty. Big dress, big hair, big jewellery – it’s all coming back.’’
For more information Van Cleef and Arpels