Experiencing the World of Jewelry and Watchmaking as a student at L’ÉCOLE Van Cleef & Arpels in NYC

lecoleL’ÉCOLE Van Cleef & Arpels has finished its two week program held in New York at the Cooper Hewitt Museum. I attended a two part class on Saturday June 6th entitled, Discover the Gemstones and Recognize the Gemstones. I have never taken any of the courses offered in Paris and was thrilled for the opportunity to experience this world, closer to my own. I’ll look at the people, the gems and the education on how to better understand gemstones.

The staff that greeted me, got me signed in quickly and directed to a room where I could get some early refreshments and start to talk with other students. These students were not all in fashion or jewelry design, I meet several that were hoping to break into these industries but the room have a variety of professions, from a lawyer practicing in New York to a Psychiatrist from Chicago, people were enrolled for the love of jewelry and desire to be a part of the world created by Van Cleef & Arpels. As you can imagine going to an event sponsored by this great jewelry house many of the students had some type of jewelry from this house whether it was the clover motif or a higher end piece both female students and teachers were representing Van Cleef & Arpels.

The class started out with the class giving an introduction about themselves and what they hoped to get out of the class. For many it was recognizing a quality stone and how to identify a fake gem. For the first part the class got to experience quality gemstones against a more flawed version of a similar stone. For example:

 examining_garnetclose_up_gems

These are a type of garnet (hessonite, I believe was the name, the labels were in French so some names were easier to figure out than others), one is more flawed than the other. In this case it is the top gem, looking at it in the light you can see it is cloudy and lacks a brilliance that the more perfect garnet below possesses. Also by looking at it you can see the cut of the first is more inferior to the second, aiding to the lack of brilliance. Having the skills to tell some of the major points of quality stone are important if you are buying or trading in gems and are not in a position to magnify the gems for further inspection. The class did magnify the gems later but first we appreciated just looking at these gems. We were given sapphires, tourmaline, and amethysts among other equally beautiful gems to inspect.

We were also exposed to the rough in which the gems are mined from. Some examples are below:

 

left to right: (l)Columbine emerald in black lip shell, (m) malachite rough, (r) Ethiopian Opal Geo
left to right: (l)Columbine emerald in black lip shell, (m) malachite rough, (r) Ethiopian Opal Geo
Other pieces of opal geo
other pieces of Ethiopian Opal Geo

I think looking at the rough was my favorite part of the morning. The second half had us looking at how to differentiate between a synthetic and natural stone.

fairy

Certain flaws are necessary for the whole. It would seem strange if old friends lacked certain quirks.  ~Goethe (German Author)

 

Substitute ‘old friends’ for gemstones and you will get an idea of how the second class of Recognize the Gemstones was conducted. Not all flaws are bad, in the case of gemstones some cannot be avoided if you want to use a particular stone. Emeralds have inclusions/fractures that in many cases can be seen as a way to show they are indeed genuine and can be used as a unique way to identify your stone, these flaws can be almost like fingerprints to the owner. For this class we were in groups of four to identify four gemstones in a similar color group, red, blue, or green were the classification for your stones. I looked at the red stones, which could range from a garnet to a ruby. The only hints were of the 4 stones: 1 was a precious stone, 2 were fine (semi-precious stones) and 1 was synthetic.

There are 3 terms used in the class for stones. The first, Precious, the traditional meaning is used for this term it refers to the hardest stones, Diamond, Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald. The second, Fine, the instructor insisted on using this term as it is called in the jewelry industry, semi-precious is not an accurate term. These stones are softer and consist of stones such as amethyst and tourmaline. While many might see stones in this category as cheaper with the prices for quality stones increasing the prices for a good quality tourmaline or spinel (another stone in this category) is by no means inexpensive therefore labeling these stones as semi-precious is not accurate of their value. Third term is Ornamental, these are the softest stones like Amber.

So the 4 of us started with a packet outlining steps to take in making our decision, look at the color, cut, visible flaws and internal flaws. We did light tests and density measurements to help get us closer to identifying the stones. The class provided charts to narrow our results. All of the groups correctly identified the stones. The synthetic stone in our group was a ruby which had no flaws but did not measure up to the other tests to see if it had the properties of a real ruby. You need to do your research when you get ‘flawless’ stones.

The instructors were helpful and with it being a small class of 12 students everyone had an opportunity to ask questions and get extra tips on working with the gemstones and tools. At the end of each class each was given a certificate commemorating our completion of the course. The instructors had taught in Paris as well as Hong Kong when Van Cleef & Arpels went there last year. It was a great experience that I hope to do again. I asked several instructors about returning to New York, there was no definite answer but with classes being held in Hong Kong again it looks like the odds of the school return to New York our leaning in that direction. If you’d like to learn more about different events involved with jewelry or see more photos from this event please like the Data in the Rough Facebook page and follow for updates!

16 thoughts on “Experiencing the World of Jewelry and Watchmaking as a student at L’ÉCOLE Van Cleef & Arpels in NYC

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  • June 14, 2016 at 5:32 pm
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    Great post Michelle! I had read over at the Purse Forum one of the member’s experiences taking this same class last year. She had a great time and learned a lot. I think she got a loupe too, with VCA stamped on it (so jealous over that, really!). I would love to take one of their classes at some point but may have to stick with the evening conversations for the near future. I hope they bring that series back to the Cooper Hewitt! xx

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    • June 21, 2016 at 10:08 pm
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      Thanks Jill! In your comment on your site, I was having the same debate with myself, pay for the classes or buy jewelry? I decided that the classes would help me be better able to choose a quality piece. We’ll see once I get enough money one day!

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