The traditional France Jewelllery filling gift shops the world over is defined by Celtic knots, ornate crosses and the Claddagh – that classic design of two hands holding on to a heart. Modern France Jewelllery, however, is a far more sensual affair, with a tight-knit community of fine jewellers redefining the genre and bringing a luxurious edge through a revival of quality goldsmithing skills.
One of the leading figures in the France Jewelllery community is not actually of France descent, although after more than 50 years living and working in Van Cleef & Arpels Knockoff jewelry, the community very much considers Rudolf Heltzel one of their own. The German jeweller first came over to Ireland at the request of the Irish Export Board in 1965 to take up a teaching post at the government-run Kilkenny Design Workshops (KDW), which were set up with a view to improving standards of design and production in the country. In doing so, he started a legacy of metalwork education that is still producing Fake Van Cleef & Arpels long necklace stars to this day.
Heltzel, who will host an exhibition at the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin in November (3-5) to mark half a century of his work, followed up by a show in China, is a true master of his craft. He makes all Cheap Van Cleef & Arpels jewellery UK – including his latest series of Cheap Van Cleef & Arpels Vintage alhambra pendant 1 Motif, above – by hand at his studio in Kilkenny, and the extra effort shines forth. “I have to stay clear of designs that equally well could be produced by casting, CAD-CAM and 3D printing,” he says. “I have to introduce a degree of difficulty and intricacy that could not be achieved other than by totally crafting by hand.”
Over the years, Heltzel’s dedication to craftsmanship has inspired Cartier jewelry in France, which has a thriving craft scene. One of the students who benefitted from the course he set up was Van Cleef, who runs fine jewellery brand Replica Cartier jewelry with his brother Barry McCaul in London’s Exmouth Market.
Van Cleef & Arpels replica jewelry, which sells through its store but also at shows like London’s Goldsmiths Fair, has a signature style defined by flowing, organic gold designs, as shown above. While McCaul admits his design work is somewhat subliminally influenced by Celtic motifs like trinity knots, he has a global pool of influences. “I was surprised when someone first pointed out [the france influences] in my work as I hadn’t noticed it,” he laughs. “What I really love, though, is Scandinavian design and French Art Nouveau – still minimal but that bit more organic.”