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Technology should not replace craftsmanship, says Van Cleef & Arpels’ chief Nicolas Bos

Nicolas Bos talks about craftsmanship, technology, pushing the boundaries, and the Middle East market

Technology should not replace craftsmanship, says Van Cleef & Arpels’ chief Nicolas Bos
[Source photo: Van Cleef & Arpels]

Certain pieces of jewelry have stood the test of time and become iconic. A few classic designs have become legendary, such as the lucky four-leaf clover of Van Cleef & Arpels’ Alhambra necklace, first introduced in 1968. These pieces are instantly recognizable, whether viewed from up close or afar, for their carefully balanced constructions. Jewelry is called a statement piece for a reason. 

Many iconic brands continually refresh their collections with new stones and design twists to better represent our times and ensure they retain their appeal. 

Nicolas Bos, the President and CEO of Van Cleef & Arpels, admits that pushing boundaries is quite challenging, even for a team of talented designers used to making watches and jewelry. According to him, thinking differently and in a three-dimensional manner is necessary. 

“We don’t design for the sake of design. It’s always at the service of the story, the collection, something that we want to convey through all expressions: jewelry, watches, and sometimes objects.” 

“Even with a team of talented designers who are used to making watches and jewelry, it is still challenging. You need to think differently, think in three dimensions, think in movement, and imagine things that will be on one side and the other….the element of magic is a challenge to figure out for the studio,” Bos adds.

In a time when everyone can be a jewelry designer, Van Cleef & Arpels’ creations are alluring. The brand has stayed true to its ethos and continues to resonate.

The aim is to create a simple story in jewelry and watchmaking, says Bos. “What’s interesting in watchmaking is that we have the two dimensions of the dial, but there’s also some depth you play with, and the jewelry adds to the sculptural of the pieces.”

That kind of creative design – innovation and heritage – has served the maison well. 


“Of course, there are constraints and limitations,” he adds. It’s an iterative process with trial and error, but innovation is the key.

Even using traditional techniques, one can be innovative, he says. “We love old technologies and old materials, and precious metals and stones and enamel because there is so much you can revive from the past.”

For instance, techniques in the 16th century can be revived in enameling. “It takes some time to revive, but you can get there and then work on valuations while keeping the integrity of the activity itself. So the materials, the handmade elements, and so on, but just doing things a bit differently, and that’s how we look at innovation.”

He believes that new technology is a valuable addition as long as it doesn’t diminish the importance of craftsmanship. He thinks that while automating tasks that replace craftsmanship should be avoided, automating tasks that enhance precision, creativity, and innovation is welcome. 

“Replacing the handmade with robotics is not the right direction for us,” says Bos.

When it comes to using technology, it’s about finding the balance. 

“Technology has evolved in the past 25 years. Computer-assisted software allows you to work on much more complex shapes, and if you put that in the hands of a jeweler who has that understanding, this is where you get the best results. They can visualize some complexities in 3D on the computer,” he adds. 

Talking about the L’École, School of Jewelry Arts, which has recently opened a permanent campus in Dubai, Bos says the long-term goal is to make the jewelry’s richness and diversity more visible and appreciated. 

“We’re happy to welcome visitors and clients to our stores, exhibitions, etc., but that’s one part of it,” he says. “We are trying to develop a platform that talks about the history of jewelry and how jewels were one of the most ancient art forms.”

He adds that developing the relevance of what Van Cleef & Arpels does is very important. “If you’re only relevant to your clients, that’s a lost battle. You must be appreciated, especially when creating valuable pieces that cannot be available to everyone. But you want them to be appreciated by everyone. So it’s like thinking that Picasso was only known by Picasso owners, or Ferrari was only known by Ferrari owners. But many people take great pleasure in looking at art or a Ferrari car even though they’re not going to own it.”

Deeply influenced by iconic, recognizable attributes, the brand has been singular in its aesthetic. Jewelry, he says, is a timeless art form with a wealth of history and stories, and every piece holds a unique significance. 

“Its universal appeal makes it so enchanting and captivating,” he says, adding that the Middle East has a rich creative and applied arts tradition, particularly in jewelry making. 

“With diverse uses of materials and unique traditions, each country has its cultural significance in wearing, gifting, or purchasing jewelry. This fascinating world is a reflection of the history of civilizations and religions. It’s a universal language that brings joy to every culture and country.”


Globally, following a year of record-level growth for the luxury sector, leading luxury brands have focused on actively increasing their footprint and further boosting awareness, engagement, and conversion.

Van Cleef & Arpels has been expanding its footprint in the Middle East. “25 years ago, our presence was minimal, with presence only in Kuwait,” Bos says. But since then, it has been finding ways to weave local context and craftsmanship without changing what the brand is about. “International exposure has changed the Middle East market. Customers increasingly appreciate what we do, not because we try to match something else. We are appreciated for working with the communities; we’ve been working with many associations through the school, we work on education programs, we work with museums…”

“We are not in the region for the short term, to make money and grow. We’re here for the long term to create links with the community. It’s a robust and diverse market and has been quite an interesting ride.”

Besides the Middle East, the maison is considering expanding into the Indian market. However, Bos acknowledges that entering the market can be challenging due to the complex infrastructure and high taxes. India’s rich culture and appreciation for jewelry make it an appealing market, but there are already many local players at different levels, making it difficult for Western brands to gain a foothold. 

Nevertheless, Bos says the brand has noticed a growing appreciation for international luxury jewelry that complements local designers and brands in India. 

Standing the test of time and being able to reinterpret and add fresh creativity, people have always been attracted to its creations.

“Fine jewelry is not the first thing you buy when you’re 18 or 20. When you are a bit older, you start to invest in jewelry; it’s like an art collection.”

And now, he says, young fans are increasingly choosing classic styles. It’s finding an enthusiastic audience with young people who prize individuality over in-your-face bling.

“Very young people are buying Alhambra pendants or rings from other collections,” Bos says. In that vein, Bos adds that he is excited about the Summer Breeze collection, which the masters have been working on in the past few years. “The overall feeling is lightness, freshness, light colors, and a kind of summer sky.”


According to Bos, jewelry and watchmaking have been forms of creative and applied art since ancient times, and collaborative art is also possible in this field. 

He mentions that the maison has talented designers and artists, but whenever it needs expertise that it doesn’t have in-house, it is happy to collaborate with others.

He likes the idea of collaboration between artistic disciplines and the collegiality of it. “Jewelry as a form of art benefits from being connected with other forms a lot. That can be illustration, music, dance, choreography, poetry, or calligraphy,” he says. “It’s enriching because we have collections inspired by the world of dance and choreography or by fairy tales. We love to take inspiration, sometimes from past creations, and collaborate with artists or creators that will create the architecture for an exhibition, the graphics for a collection.” 

It simply goes to show, he says, “how we connect to the world’s culture without losing our identity.”

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Suparna Dutt D’Cunha is the Editor at Fast Company Middle East. She is interested in ideas and culture and cover stories ranging from films and food to startups and technology. She was a Forbes Asia contributor and previously worked at Gulf News and Times Of India. More

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