Let's talk diamonds with L'ECOLE's Élise Gonnet-Pon

Diamonds are an international love language, admired by the masses – yet, there’s an enigmatic aura that surrounds these miraculous beauties, where many of us only know diamonds by their final product, usually dressing our necks, ears, or hands. But what if you knew diamonds beyond the store purchase? When Remix founder Tim found himself in Thailand with luxury Maison, Van Cleef & Arpels and the L'ÉCOLE jewellery arts school he rubbed shoulders with long-term Van Cleef & Arpels artisan and Managing Director of L'ÉCOLE School of Jewelry Arts, Élise Gonnet-Pon

How does it feel to see the Legend of Diamonds collection come to life? 

I've been with the house for 21 years now - and in Paris, I was in charge of high-jewellery collections development, working together with the science department, the workshops, and the designers to bring the collections together, so it's always very emotional for me to see all of the collections come to life. Of course, I'm not involved in that path anymore - I'm in education now.

What was your favourite piece from the Legend of Diamonds collection? 

There’s a diamond necklace in the collection set on a combination of rose gold and white gold - I like the movement, the combination of gold used, the colours, and the fact that it combines different types of diamonds, which is very much a Van Cleef & Arpels signature. 

What was the reason for L’ECOLE’s creation? 

We started to think about creating L'ECOLE around 2010 when we had a lot of requests from editors and clients who wanted to know more about the sources of inspiration, the size and the quality of the gemstones. We also realised that at the time, no major museum had any jewellery department, and very few magazines had jewellery-dedicated editors - they were often part of accessories; we believe that jewellery is a form of decorative arts. In the very early years, Van Cleef & Arpels participated in the International Fair for Decorative Arts in Paris, and at the time,  there was no TV or these sorts of fairs for not only collectors and clients but jewellery houses to exhibit their masterpieces for the general public. In a way, it was a way to reconnect. So there is a tradition for jewellers to share their masterpieces with the general public and not only with their collectors. It's about the transmission of know-how and of fashion, and so the whole idea of L'ECOLE is about sharing and transmission, which is very much in the spirit of jewellery making. We did a study where we had feedback forms and the people who participated said that jewellery, in general, was something very intimidating, so with L’ECOLE we wanted to break that barrier and just like when you go to a museum to admire paintings of Picasso or Monet, you don't have to be a collector to appreciate and to admire. 

How has Van Cleef & Arpels supported L’ECOLE? 

We are fully supported by Van Cleef & Arpels when it comes to the means and the resources to organise what we do - from the research to the courses to the activities and exhibitions. However, the approach from the very beginning was to talk about jewellery at large from antiquity to contemporary artists, and not to focus on one campus. The Maison has contributed a lot here as well. We have two campuses, one in Paris which was the first to open in 2012, and one in Hong Kong since 2019. We’re also renovating a beautiful venue in Shanghai which will be ready towards the end of the year. 

How many people have you reached with L’ECOLE?

At L'ECOLE in Paris, we have in total 32 different topics of classes, and 23 (for now) in Hong Kong. We have welcomed in total 60,000 participants to our courses and talks, be it in Paris, Hong Kong, or our nomadic schools. Since the very early years, we have travelled the world, visited many cities and set up pop-ups in public schools for two to three weeks, offering the full programming each time. We've welcomed in total 140,000 visitors to our exhibition throughout the world because L'ECOLE also hosts jewellery exhibitions. 

What are some of the past exhibitions that you've had? 

We have a very broad series of topics for the exhibitions, and most of the time they come from an encounter with a collector. For example, in Hong Kong, there was a beautiful exhibition called the 'Art of Gold' which exhibited around 60 pieces from a private Hong Kong collection, collated of Chinese ornaments dating back 3000 years, all the way to the early 19th century. It was focused on gold as a material and its properties and all the craftsmanship involved, so we highlighted four different techniques of gold smithing by showcasing these beautiful, ancient Chinese ornaments. This exhibition is currently in Paris called 'Golden Treasures.'  It's not the same title because it's the same collection with a few additions and a different angle. In Hong Kong, we felt that these pieces with the Dragons and the Phoenixes are very much relatable for the Chinese in terms of symbolism - that's why we chose the angle of goldsmithing craftsmanship. In Paris, we chose to elaborate on the symbolisms and the motifs because for the Parisian audience that would be something that they would be very keen to learn more about.

That’s so exciting. We've also recently welcomed Van Cleef into New Zealand - finally! Do you think that L’ECOLE will look at coming down sometime?

We would love that - thank you for welcoming the Maison so warmly. What we would love to work with is Pounamu in New Zealand. It's a very important talisman so we would very much like to have a conversation with someone on this topic.

Are there any prerequisites when enrolling at L’ECOLE? 

We aim to welcome everyone, there is no prerequisite to join our programmes except for curiosity [laughs]. All content is based on research by our research department in Paris, conducting and supporting research of PhDs in various jewellery and gems-related topics, so all of our courses are rooted with very serious results, but we aim to convey this in a very engaging and relaxed way. Anyone can register on our website. We have a website for each of the permanent campuses around the world, as well as websites for pop-ups.