The Luxury Beat: Van Cleef & Arpels Americas CEO Alain Bernard

Alain Bernard, president and CEO of Van Cleef & Arpels Americas, talks about why his company looks for gems with soul, the new interest in custom engagement rings, and what he finds luxurious in New York.

Alain Bernard
Alain Bernard

What trends in gems for your high jewelry collections are you seeing with your customers?

As you know, high jewelry is not fashion. Timeless design doesn’t give way to trends, and colors don’t change every season. We’re not seeing any particular trends for stones, however, there is a greater demand for pieces of extraordinary quality and craftsmanship. Clients are looking for real value and pieces that have meaning for them—and ones that are versatile.

So more of an interest in multitasking pieces?

Yes—we are seeing an increased interest in them. Van Cleef & Arpels is known for its convertible pieces, like the Zip Necklace developed between 1938 and 1951. It can be worn as a necklace or a bracelet.

Eventails Noir et Blanc ring from the Emeraude en Majesté collection with a 3.55-carat emerald, spinels and diamonds set in 18K white gold

Van Cleef & Arpels is renowned for its expertise with emeralds. What are the challenges of working with and nding this stone today?

Our Emeraude en Majesté collection took us 10 years to source. We acquired around 1,400 carats of emeralds for it. We look not only for stones of perfect quality but also gems that have “soul” or a personality that is right for us. Our experts are stone specialists who have worked with us for decades, who have seen the most beautiful and fascinating rubies, emeralds, and sapphires. They know what is a Van Cleef & Arpels gem and what is not.

How are you introducing the next major gen- eration of customers, the millennials, to the Van Cleef & Arpels experience?

E-commerce has become important for us, but each digital engagement is undertaken with the same mind-set and expression of our identity as our initiatives in print. We want every post to have relevance and meaning and be informative and entertaining. For us it’s not about quantity and more about engagement. The human element is at the center of everything for on. Van Cleef & Arpels, regardless of which generation we are talking to. Our website is very complete, but when you want to know more, we have a team of ambassadors who can provide additional information. We find the more our clients engage with us digitally, the more they want the human connection.

Grand Opus transformable earrings from the Van Cleef & Arpels “Emeraude en Majesté” collection

Part of the reason the Alhambra collection was such a hit was that the jewelry could be worn with casual clothes. Which other Van Cleef & Arpels pieces are you marketing for today’s more relaxed clothing styles?

Every Van Cleef & Arpels piece is designed to be worn in many ways, from casual to formal. We just launched Frivole, a collection made with the same quality as high jewelry but that can be worn as bijoux du jour, or daytime jewelry.

What trends are you seeing for engagement rings?

Diamonds are still a girl’s best friend. I find it reassuring that classic taste endures. What we are seeing is an increased demand for bespoke rings. Several years ago we created Your Poetic Setting for our clients so they could design and build their own engagement rings.

What aspect of New York represents luxury to you?
In New York, there is the ability to meet so many artists, collectors, investors, and editors who in- form the luxury experience. In a way it is a small village. On a more personal level, luxury for me is a run through Central Park at sunrise. It gives me positive energy for the rest of the day.