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In September, Helen King celebrated 15 years at Van Cleef & Arpels by becoming president and CEO of the brand across America. She first joined the high jewelry brand as a store director in the South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, California, was soon afterward named regional director of the West Coast, and then appointed as vice president of high jewelry development. She moved to vice president of retail in 2014 and was promoted to senior vice president of retail, America, last year.
Needless to say, through her experience at Van Cleef & Arpels King has built an expert rapport with the brand and the world of luxury jewelry. Whitewall spoke with her about her history with high jewelry, how she feels the retail experience is changing, and why the consumer is always at the forefront.
WHITEWALL: You have a passion for high jewelry, and previously held management positions at Chanel and Dior before joining Van Cleef & Arpels. Tell us a bit about what you find most interesting in the world of high jewelry, and the future of its industry.
HELEN KING: What I love the most about the world of high jewelry is its exquisite savoir faire and beauty, both of exceptional rarity. At Van Cleef & Arpels, the high jewelry collections are truly extraordinary—from their harmonious form, outstanding stones, technical prowess, and inspiration, they are unexpected and unique. For example, our distinctive transformable pieces, the very first of which was introduced in 1939 as the Passe-Partout, allows our creations to be worn in a variety of ways. Through innovative techniques and whimsical designs, the maison will continue to set itself apart with its refined world of fantasy and enchantment.
WW: How do you feel the retail experience is changing?
HK: I think the luxury retail sphere has evolved significantly in that consumers are increasingly discerning, worldly, and seek unique pieces that hold not just value, but also meaning. Our clients lead extremely busy lives and travel a great deal; therefore, we are committed to setting the bar higher at every opportunity in order to provide them with a truly luxurious and exclusive retail experience. We strive to set our maison apart, without compromise, by tailoring each experience to our clients’ needs, while maintaining a consistent standard of excellence that Van Cleef & Arpels has always been known for.
WW: Today, the consumer is driving how things are going for businesses. How is this happening in the jewelry world?
HK: As in any business, of course, the consumer is of utmost importance. Specifically, at Van Cleef & Arpels, our clients are always, always top of mind. We are very passionate about building their trust. We invest heavily in our internal teams and their respective talents—from the Mains d’Or in the workshops to each boutique director and sales team, the maison is fully committed to providing exceptional service for our clients through the development of a best-in-class team.
WW: Van Cleef & Arpels is known as a brand that is dedicated to the artisanry and craftsmanship behind its handmade pieces. How is the brand changing the way it creates fine jewelry today?
HK: With each new collection we create, we aim to achieve new heights in imagination, craftsmanship, quality, and beauty, all while staying true to the identity and standards of excellence of Van Cleef & Arpels. The maison has an incredible archive of information on creative and technical inventions that date back over a century, and this continues to be a marvelous source of inspiration.
The Mystery Setting, which the maison patented in 1933, is a very emblematic example of our savoir faire. This technique, which allows gems to be set without any visible mounting, is so intricate that only the very finest craftsmen are capable of creating it. The Mystery Setting technique is still used in our high jewelry creations, and we are proud to say that our heritage continues to be very present in each and every piece we create today.
WW: The brand also hosts L’École, a school of jewelry arts, which we’ve attended in the past. It allowed for those taking the classes to understand firsthand how pieces are made. Tell us a bit about this program and how it is changing the experience of purchasing new jewelry for consumers.
HK: Throughout our history, supporting art, cultural, and educational projects has always been a mission that is profoundly important to Van Cleef & Arpels. L’École, School of Jewelry Arts, is a hands-on, experiential educational platform on the métier of haute joaillerie, where the ultimate goal is not commercial gain. It is for all novices and connoisseurs to experience the rich spectrum of the world of jewelry, which includes designs and creative contributions from other creators and maisons.