We’re all familiar with that well-worn tradition of the gap year, where students travel the globe to broaden their horizons and cram in as many wine-drenched adventures as humanly possible.
Just flick through Instagram to see them soaking up the wonders of Rome, Venice and Paris, while clutching backpacks and pinots. What isn’t widely known, however, is that this youthful rite of passage started back in the 16th century, well before planes, Google Maps and social media became travelling mainstays.
Back then, it was popular for young Renaissance aristocrats to embark on a lengthy expedition across the continent to expand their minds and sharpen their artistic skills – a journey that became known as “Le Grand Tour”. Typically, students spent months at a time in eight key destinations – London, Paris, Baden – Baden, the Alps, Venice, Florence, Naples, and the final stop, Rome – immersing themselves in the region’s rich culture.
Initially, it was a persona l folly of the privileged few, but eventually artists, writers and the intelligentsia joined the Grand Tour, which helped usher in new ideas that ultimately shaped society as we know it.
It’s little surprise, then, that the creative forces behind renowned French luxury house Van Cleef & Arpels – a maison that’s been inspired by travel since its launch 117 years ago – based its latest high jewellery collection on these epic voyages.
Spanning 70 creations, each piece is influenced by a different Grand Tour destination: a sapphire-and-diamond necklace gives a nod to England’s fine Wedgwood porcelain; rose-gold rubellite earrings mirror chandeliers found in the Parisian court; an emerald, diamond and gold bracelet shows hints of Rome’s Colosseum; and a sapphire and turquoise necklace echoes the waters of Venice “The collection blends the traditions of jewellery and decorative arts, the sort of objects that were brought back as souvenirs from Le Grand Tour,” says Nicolas Bos, president and CEO of Van Cleef & Arpels.
“For that, we followed the trail of our predecessors and were inspired by antique jewellery, marrying it with our own heritage, style and craftsmanship. This result is like a colourful sketchbook that invites you to dive into destinations and gemstones.” says Nicolas Bos, president and CEO of Van Cleef & Arpels.
In true Van Cleef tradition, most pieces are cleverly detachable: dramatic dangling earrings perfect for high-glamour events transform into diamond clusters for daytime; and long pendants carrying titanic-carat emeralds unfasten to become beautiful brooches.
The quality, colour and magnificence of the collection’s craftsmanship is jaw-dropping, which is why Van Cleef has never relied on personality endorsements, preferring instead to focus on the maison’s haute design.
At this year’s extravagant launch in Rome’s beautiful Villa Medici, the collection – not celebrities – was the main attraction. Models dressed in Renaissance era fashion showcased all 70 pieces while guests sat at long candle-lit tables strewn with summer blooms picked from the vast Medici gardens.
The evening ended with an opera performance by a soprano floating high over the forecourt in a striped hot-air balloon. Like the magical launch celebration, the collection is “an invitation to dream and escape”, as Van Cleef & Arpels aptly states on its website. And who doesn’t want a dose of that?
Le Grand Tour collection can be viewed at vancleefarpels.com/au.