Van Cleef & Arpels, one of the oldest and most revered fine-jewellery maisons
(Image credit: Van Cleef & Arpels)

It's not often that we feel excited at the prospect of going back to school but when the teacher is Van Cleef & Arpels and the curriculum promises 'an education in taste and visual appreciation', our pencils are sharpened and at the ready. Add to that the fact that classes take place in an 18th-century townhouse on the place Vendôme, Paris, and, naturally, we want to be first in line and top of the class.

Today, Van Cleef & Arpels' school of jewellery - L'École Van Cleef & Arpels - opens its gilded doors for the very first time. Aimed at makers, connoisseurs and those just simply keen to get an 'intellectual and emotional grasp of the soul of jewellery through personal experience', the school will uncover the notoriously secretive world of fine-jewellery via a non-technical curriculum of classes, which will be taught in English as well as French.

That one of the oldest and most revered fine-jewellery maisons in the world is preparing to share a century's worth of knowledge, skill, craft and creative thinking is not only a truly generous endeavor but also something of a shock: fine-jewellery houses are fiercely protective of their patented techniques and distinctive design ticks, not least because they are a long time in the making and are the fundamental characteristics that distinguish one house's style from another's.

But Van Cleef & Arpels takes its role as an 'ardent defender of the artistic crafts' most seriously indeed. Hence it feels a genuine duty to share its knowledge to others with a 'shared love of beauty'.

Highlights of the course include a rare insight into Van Cleef & Arpels' brilliantly conceived micro mechanisms, such as 'mystery' setting, where gems appear invisibly set so that the metal clasps to which they are attached do not show. Also under the microscope will be the iconic 'Zip' necklace, directly inspired by the early 20th century invention of a 'continuous clothing clasp' that we have all since taken for granted but that Van Cleef revisited as a magnificent jewelled modular necklace in the 1950s (it can be worn open as a necklace or zipped closed and removed to function as a bracelet).

There are three modules and seven classes to choose from and there's also the added extra of learning the essence of savoir-fare from the masters.

A quick guide to the L'École Van Cleef & Arpels jewellery course
Each course chapter represents a single class and prices start at 600 euros. The first two levels are flexible and participants can sign up for one or more classes. In order to proceed to Level 3, students must have taken two classes out of each of the previous categories. It's a three-step curriculum:

Step 1: Unveiling
Chapter 1: Stories and Inspirations
Chapter 2: Interpreting the Gemstones
Chapter 3: Jewellery Mix and Match

Step 2: Shedding light on
Chapter 1: Symbol and Power of Jewels
Chapter 2: Admiring Uniqueness and Team Craftsmanship

Step 3: Revealing
Chapter 1: Entering the Van Cleef &
Arpels universe
Chapter 2: Accessing Van Cleef &
Arpels creations

Every Van Cleef & Arpels creation starts with an expertly realised gouaché

Every Van Cleef & Arpels creation starts with an expertly realised gouaché, depicting the look and feel of the finished design

(Image credit: Van Cleef & Arpels)

The gemsetter constantly refers to the gouaché so that he or she can select the right stones for a piece

The gemsetter constantly refers to the gouaché so that he or she can select the right stones for a piece. The combination of different shaped and sized gems adds a sense of movement

(Image credit: Van Cleef & Arpels)

A maker compares the initial maquette with the evolving piece of jewellery

A maker compares the initial maquette with the evolving piece of jewellery

(Image credit: Van Cleef & Arpels)

18th century town house on the Place Vendôme

Classes at the L'Ecole Van Cleef & Arpels take place in an 18th century town house on the Place Vendôme

(Image credit: Van Cleef & Arpels)

A Van Cleef & Arpels Zip necklace design from 1951 in yellow gold and diamonds

A Van Cleef & Arpels  Zip necklace design from 1951 in yellow gold and diamonds. This exquisite example of micro-engineering is the French jeweller's most iconic design and was a imaginative re-working of the humble zip fastener design

(Image credit: Van Cleef & Arpels)

Van Cleef & Arpels Panka necklace from 1972

Van Cleef & Arpels Panka necklace from 1972

(Image credit: Van Cleef & Arpels)

These Van Cleef & Arpels Mini Cosmos Earrings are a perfect example of the mystery setting technique made famous by the house

These Van Cleef & Arpels Mini Cosmos Earrings are a perfect example of the mystery setting technique made famous by the house. The effect is that the rubies appear to be floating, rather than attached to any setting, showing the stones in the best, uninterrupted light possible

(Image credit: Van Cleef & Arpels)

This Van Cleef & Arpels yellow-gold Pisces Pendant was given to Elizabeth Taylor

This Van Cleef & Arpels yellow-gold Pisces Pendant was given to Elizabeth Taylor – one of the jeweller's most ardent clients – by Richard Burton, on the occasion of her birthday in February 1975. The pendant is distinct because of its openwork swirls and the rectangle-motif trim. The back of the pendant bears the engraving: 27.2.1975

(Image credit: Van Cleef & Arpels)

Caragh McKay is a contributing editor at Wallpaper* and was watches & jewellery director at the magazine between 2011 and 2019. Caragh’s current remit is cross-cultural and her recent stories include the curious tale of how Muhammad Ali met his poetic match in Robert Burns and how a Martin Scorsese Martin film revived a forgotten Osage art.