Pomellato CEO Sabina Belli (left) at a Galdus school graduation © Getty Images for Pomellato

Jewellery has long been an art form passed down the generations but, now, some brands are looking to broaden that transmission of skills — ensuring that it is as wide as it is deep.

Many brands incorporate organisational-level, practical training for the next generation, often alongside local institutions and labour departments.

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The Virtuosi academy, for example, is a partnership between the Milan-based Pomellato and the city’s Galdus vocational school. Established in 2018, the programme offers apprenticeships, with courses taught by Pomellato master goldsmiths.

The programmes run from three to seven years and, for the first four years, students need only contribute €300 in fees per year. For the remaining three years, the fees are a total of €4,400, with grants available to lower-income applicants. Other recent initiatives include a special apprenticeship targeted at students under 25 years old.

Meanwhile, the LVMH Métiers d’Excellence Institute was founded in 2014 as a vocational training program with a work-study format. One of its initial partners, Dior jewellery, now regularly welcomes apprentices in its Paris and Lyon workshops. And, last October, the institute and LVMH-owned jeweller Tiffany & Co announced plans to offer education in design and fabrication. Tiffany also embarked on a two-year programme with the Rhode Island School of Design and the Rhode Island Department of Labor to provide advanced apprenticeships in high jewellery.

But not all corporate training programmes are targeted recruitment drives. Now in its third year, Van Cleef & Arpels de Mains en mains (“from Hands to hands”) initiative works with young students aged 13 to 16, immersing them in the world of jewellery savoir-faire and hand craftsmanship. Conceived after the first lockdown in France, when young people notably dropped out of school, the programme partners with the French Ministry of National Education and works with junior high schools in Lyon — a city with its own jewellery schools and also where Van Cleef & Arpels has a workshop.

Students examine designs and stones
Students examine designs and stones at the Van Cleef & Arpels de Mains en mains event © Van Cleef & Arpels

De Mains en mains is designed as a free year-long programme, centred around a dedicated week of workshops and educational seminars in late November, which are open to the public. Van Cleef & Arpels co-constructs courses with junior high schools, starting in October, linked to subjects such as maths, physics, art and English. Following the main event in November, the programme culminates in May with a presentation by the students in front of their teachers, peers, and families. 

De Mains en mains has grown from working with one school in 2021 to six last year, while the latest public event in November received about 7,500 visitors. The event also offers sessions for adults looking to change careers. 

However, Marie-Aude Stocker, Van Cleef & Arpels people, development and prospective director, emphasises that the main intentions of de Mains en mains are accessibility and awareness. “It’s not at all the idea to make these students into future jewellers,” she says. “The idea is to show them that these métiers jobs exist, that they are accessible. And, if not [jewellery], it can be another craftsmanship job . . . The majority will do something else, but at least they will have discovered [jewellery].”

There is also a spirit of inclusion and outreach. The programme notably partners with Télémaque, a social mobility organisation for students from underprivileged areas, and Bleu Network, which promotes professional inclusion for those suffering from autism. De Mains en mains, adds Stocker, “can give them the confidence, to open doors and to see broader jobs than the ones they’re perhaps used to hearing about”.

Diversity and inclusion feature heavily at De Beers’ jewellery educational programmes. For example, since 1995, the company’s Shining Light Awards have highlighted up-and-coming jewellery designers from De Beers diamond producing countries. It has run for 26 years in South Africa, 15 years in Botswana and Namibia, and five years in Canada. Winners of the award receive a one-year postgraduate scholarship to Italy’s Politecnico di Milano, with many recipients going on to establish their own brands or retail outlets.

This year’s finalist, Laone Kaelo Rahele, was awarded a one-year internship in De Beers’ London office. Céline Assimon, chief executive of De Beers Jewellers and De Beers Forevermark, says that it is crucial to give people from these countries business and design placements. “The communities where diamonds are recovered are typically not part of the design and cultural discussion around jewellery — which is a miss for everybody,” she says. “If we don’t foster that diversity, we won’t be relevant in the cultural discussion.” 

Elsewhere, the company’s #BlackisBrilliant campaign has to date supported five black designers by providing them with De Beers diamonds from Botswana. The jewels are distinctively created for red carpet events, which have included the Met Gala. In addition to supplying each designer with about 25 diamonds and supporting them with production budgets, De Beers pairs the designers with a celebrity stylist to further brand awareness.

© Van Cleef & Arpels

Assimon’s aim is ultimately to create specific training programmes that will pair MBA students with designers. “It’s great to learn how to collaborate with creative people early on, when you’re learning your business skills,” she says. “Likewise, it’s important for designers to understand that, while you don’t want to clip your wings creatively, you need to be pretty savvy and understand that there are business requirements to abide by in order to thrive and grow.”

Such educational programmes are not limited to large, deep-pocketed houses. Last September, the Taiwanese jeweller Cindy Chao became the first Asian guest lecturer invited to Paris’s Haute École de Joaillerie (HEJ), one of the world’s oldest jewellery establishments. Chao, who has a background in sculpture and architecture, taught a week-long workshop of 28 students on wax sculpting, which Chao says is typically learnt on the job, or through short-term training in jewellery schools, rather than through the “professional and precise instruction” at HEJ.

On February 2, the students will present their work at the Louvre in Paris. Chao says she was very moved by the students’ “enthusiasm and spirit of learning”, and hopes that Asia will see more “specialised jewellery schools aligned with the industry”.

Jewellers expect the schemes will expand. Van Cleef & Arpel’s Stocker sees the jewellery industry growing, with more brands opening workshops to meet demand.

For example, Van Cleef & Arpels, itself, is currently recruiting for two upcoming workshops in France’s Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, each with a capacity for 250 craftsmen. And, despite an ever-digitised world, says Stocker, “there is a longing for craftsmanship and a genuine interest for hand craftsmanship jobs.”

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