A Conversation With Managing Director of L’École Asia Pacific, School of Jewellery Arts Olivier Segura

A lesson in luxury, courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels.

One might think that Van Cleef & Arpels—a storied house who has devised some of the most groundbreaking jewellery creations the world has ever seen—would prefer to keep its cards close to the chest. But that couldn’t be further from the truth, if its unwavering support for L’École, School of Jewellery Arts, where secrets of jewellery making are made public, is anything to go by.

Since the school’s establishment in 2012, no less than 50,000 jewellery enthusiasts from all over the world have been taken under the wings of experts from different fields of the industry. Through a comprehensive program revolving around savoir-faire, the history of jewellery, and the universe of gemstones, L’École spurs a greater appreciation for each meticulous creation.

One of the key figures responsible for the endeavour is Olivier Segura, the Managing Director of L’École Asia Pacific, School of Jewellery Arts. When we met him at the recent launch of Les Jardins Secrets by Van Cleef & Arpels in Singapore, Segura offered his insights on the institute, which has put down roots in Paris, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Dubai—aside from its travelling events in other parts of the globe.

How and when did you discover your interest in jewellery?

I have always been interested in natural stones. I used to collect gravel and colourful, shiny pebbles from my promenade when I was a kid. I always had them in my pocket—some looked like insects, others stars. Naturally, I pursued my studies in Geology because it didn’t feel like work, it was just me discovering my interests and understanding the world around me.

Was that—shared appreciation of nature with Van Cleef & Arpels—the reason you joined L’École School of Jewellery Arts?

It was part of it. I am a gemmologist, so my primary interest is in the science of it all. I love learning about gemstones, what causes their colour formation, and things like that. All the steps in the process interest me; from when the gems are extracted from earth to the moment it is set in jewellery pieces. Of course, it’s even better when they’re used in a poetic floral setting.

Do you think you’re taking away some of the mysteries of fine jewellery, much like a magician revealing his tricks?

I agree that preserving the magic of jewellery is important. That being said, if you are passionate about something, you would want to know more about it and you would want to share it with your family, friends—everyone. That was the idea behind L’École. It was created because our chief executive officer Nicolas Bos and the team around him are passionate about jewellery.

Given that History of Jewellery is a part of the syllabus at L’École, discussions about some of Van Cleef & Arpels’ competitors are inevitable. Can you comment on that?

We at L’École are lucky because we are not part of the “business”. We are in the knowledge-sharing line of work and it’s thanks to the generosity of Van Cleef & Arpels that we are able to do it. We believe that it is very important for the students to know what jewellery was like and what it stood for in different periods to truly understand it. So, of course, we’re going to need to talk about other brands because they too have contributed to the jewellery culture.

Can you tell us if the educational interests among students from different countries vary?

We do receive students from different backgrounds and I have found that some are more interested in craftsmanship while others are in the science behind jewellery making. But they all have the same goal: to learn. They want to know more about gemstones, craftsmanship, and the history of jewellery. I think this is something human as we are always amazed by novelty and beauty.

Can you share with us your plans for L’École?

We are currently developing new courses dedicated to gemstones. We just started a class on ruby and we’re working on ones that focus on emerald and jade. There is a great interest for the latter, especially, from our students in Hong Kong and Shanghai. In the meantime, we will also continue with our other paths of knowledge transmission like the exhibitions and talks.

Is there a plan to make it more accessible to jewellery fans in other regions like Malaysia?

It is definitely in our plans to bring L’École to more countries, especially in Asia because we notice a strong interest in knowledge and craftsmanship. I had a discussion with someone yesterday about Peranakan jewellery and I found that it is a very interesting topic to research on. But it all depends on our resources because we have a limited number of teachers and experts.

What about online courses?

Unfortunately, we do not wish to go in that route because we believe that jewellery making is a hands-on experience—it’s a very important aspect of our pedagogy. We need our sense of touch and we need to be guided by a professional, which is impossible to have virtually. We do, however, have online talks that everyone from any part of the world may participate in.

How do you cultivate interest in jewellery making among the younger generation, especially in the age of fast fashion and influencer culture, which is something Van Cleef & Arpels does not seem to participate in?

That’s a very interesting question. I think there is no temporality when it comes to jewellery. Whenever we start talking about craftsmanship, for instance, everyone would give us their undivided attention, even those in the younger age bracket. They would even ask questions. This is very interesting because we can lose our time once we start talking about jewellery.

Mastering the necessary skills to work for a brand such as Van Cleef & Arpels could take years, decades even. Do you think the younger ones have the kind of endurance to receive the baton?

I feel that more and more young people are getting into craftwork. With the world moving faster each day, taking the time to create something on your own, which requires concentration and a long perspective, can be refreshing. That’s the interesting part about high luxury: We have time because we want to achieve the best.

Is there a recent jewellery trend that caught your eye?

I would say the growing interest in coloured stones in the last 20 years. We’re seeing more and more jewellery collections featuring underrated gemstones such as tourmaline, spinel, aquamarine, and garnet. I think this is made possible by the production of high jewellery because it brings new colours, designs, and exceptionality to the public’s consciousness.

What about the buzz on lab-created diamonds?

I am a gemmologist, so synthetic diamonds are interesting to me from the scientific point of view but much less so on the jewellery front. We abstain from using lab-created stones because what we are looking for—and what I personally think is interesting—is the rarity, the exceptionality, and the emotion. Synthetic stones offer none of those things.