Van Cleef & Arpels’ ad on the back cover of the February 2012 issue of Art News is the latest in a sad legacy of the haute couture jewelry design world.  The ad displays an exquisitely crafted platinum and bejeweled “zipper” necklace.  It’s an impressive piece of work, advertised to coincide with the publication’s theme of “Where Fashion Meets Art”.


Where fashion meets art these days seems to result in a lot of stolen concepts. We have noticed a growing trend in couture jewelry over the last several years to co-op designs and concepts developed in the art jewelry and DIY arena.  This is driven by luxury goods manufacturers’ need to be seen as fashion forward. But we have also noticed a strong trend of alternative materials, pioneered by art jewelry designers, being adopted by fashion jewelry houses as a way to appear cutting edge and keep their profit margins.

If this trend were confined to the use of a material it would be fair game, but frequently it extends to the designs as well. 


The Van Cleef & Arpels Zip necklace is squarely taken from a design concept that was created in the art jewelry world several years ago and demonstrates just how creatively bankrupt this venerable old firm is. The necklace is a dazzling piece of craftsmanship, no doubt. And yes, Van Cleef & Arpels, anything a DIY crafter can do, you can do better – except create an original idea in the first place.


The Zip necklace from Van Cleef & Arpels is a gaudy example of yet another couture trend. Namely, taking street fashion, tarting it up with precious metals and gems, and presenting it with the delusion that it has any authenticity whatsoever.  In this particular instance the original concept is rooted in repurposing a common object with no intrinsic value as ornament. The concept’s authenticity is its creator’s vision to see beyond the utilitarian function of a common zipper and reframe it’s context. Van Cleef & Arpels is clearly attempting to hitch a ride on that authenticity, but by copying the original idea in precious materials they show just how tone-deaf and out of touch with the concept they really are.


We are reminded of a fashion trend popular during the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror. Women of the time would tie a red cotton cord around their necks to symbolize their solidarity with the revolution. The red cord was a symbol and reminder for all who saw it that the guillotine awaited all who opposed the revolution – mainly the aristocracy.

In a panic and desperate to show that they were “with the people”, many upper class women began wearing a red cord too.  But befitting their station, many of them bejeweled their red cords, in effect accentuating the class separation and economic disparity that sparked the revolution in the first place.  In the end this turned out to be the biggest fashion faux pas of all time.


Van Cleef & Arpels can clearly bring prodigious craftsmanship to the table. Matching that with authentic design creativity would go a long way towards re-establishing the house as a place where “fashion meets art”.   

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Comment by Harriete E Berman on February 15, 2012 at 5:14pm

The notion that art jewelers have "turned their backs on the commercial potential of their own work" may be true in the sense that they possess singular regard for one-of-a-kind work and therefore avoid mass marketing.

Well said by Vickie Hallmark.

Marketing isn't really the only issue here. Demand for work creates a market. We don't have much demand.


Comment by Stevie B. on February 15, 2012 at 4:43pm

I think the easiest way to help solve this problem, something that can be done immediately, is for those artists that are very well-known to raise their prices of their work.  

And not by small margins.  Huge raises.  Hopefully that will send a signal to all of us other artists (less well-known, less established) to follow.

Seriously.  Go to a gallery, go to SOFA, and look at those prices.  I CAN AFFORD MOST OF IT!  When you see a huge name attached to a very small dollar sign it devalues all of our work.  

  I agree that for marketing purposes some work should be made affordable to the less wealthy (me), but these are just small offshoots of the original grand design.  

As a whole, in the USA at least, we, the artists, completely undervalue our own work.  


 Forget about amount of time x this BS formulas.  Who even really adds the costs correctly? "From conception to finished work" is what I've heard but who does that?  Every sketch?  Every anguished moment?  Every dream that kicks you awake to jot down an idea?

I think the question is do we want to be considered another form of jewelry, or artists that use jewelry as our form of expression.  There is a difference.  

I think in the past, a lot of time has been wasted trying to establish art jewelry as a different form of jewelry instead of an art onto itself.  Having to explain that an object is worth money even though it may not have the establish monetary values of gold, silver, platinum, diamonds, etc is a wasted effort and comparison.  The object has value and worth because it is.

If its "art" then toss out the formulas.  Formulas dont work for art.

Ive always been annoyed that a painting on a wall can bring huge $$$$ from collectors but only a very, very small number of collectors are willing to pay those amounts for an object that they wear and can enjoy off of a wall.


That so few well-known, well-established artists are willing to ask for the money they really deserve just continues this cycle, and its one of the reasons why the dream of doing only one-of-a-kinds and making enough money (no teaching, no shows, etc) will always remain a dream in the art jewelry world.

In my next life I will be a glass dots on everything...

and I will continue to babble...

Comment by 2Roses on February 15, 2012 at 1:53pm

Yes, there is plenty of design theft going around in all directions. The perspective is this: Is your business threatened from a DIY copycat in the same proportion as the fashion manufacturer with an integrated distribution chain? Both are copying, both are deplorable, but one has the means to do much more financial damage that the other. I'm not suggesting that any level of design theft be overlooked or dismissed, simply offering the perspective that the flood of counterfeits and knockoffs is probably not flowing from the kitchen tables of the DIY crowd.

True Story: We received an email from a Chinese manufacturer yesterday offering to provide a variety of inexpensively manufactured jewelry items to expand my line. Included in the examples of items being offered was one of our pieces - and they were using our original photo.

Comment by 2Roses on February 15, 2012 at 1:10pm

Ouch! Good Call, Michelle.  I tender a public apology to Van Cleef & Arpels. I mistook this necklace as a glaring example of a broader trend. My mistake on the necklace, not the trend.

Comment by 2Roses on February 15, 2012 at 11:33am

Thank you Harriete. You have pinpointed the real issue behind all of this, namely the fact that many studio jewelers have turned their backs on the commercial potential of their own work, in effect leaving all the money on the table for someone else to pick up. You, me, Brigitte, Michelle Pajak Reynolds and many others have been pondering this for years now. If there is a single point of demarcation, its when we all decided to be "artists" and turn a blind eye to the business side of art, preferring to pretend that such things were beneath us. Frankly, the economic repercussions of that move haven't worked out so well for many in our field. 

This is why I am such a staunch supporter of your groundbreaking work in developing professional guidelines. It is a huge step in turning us in the right direction.

Comment by 2Roses on February 14, 2012 at 10:42pm

Thank you Thea, Stevie. The irony is that the the top houses can afford the best designers in the world, and many of these venerable old shops made their name with originality and creativity. Stevie your Robin Hood reference hits the mark, this is stealing from the poor to give to the rich.

Comment by Stevie B. on February 14, 2012 at 7:29pm

Nice article.  Love how you worked the French Revolution into the mix :)

What will they think of next? What will they steal next?

It's like some sort of Bizzaro World Robin Hood story...

Comment by Thea Clark on February 14, 2012 at 11:12am

Well put 2Roses, although I don't think "authentic design creativity" is likely to enter the minds of any decision makers in corporate jewelry houses.

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