L’ÉCOLE School of Jewelry Arts celebrated its first anniversary in Hong Kong in November 2020 amid a pandemic. Elise Gonnet-Pon, managing director of L’ÉCOLE Asia Pacific, sits down with JNA to talk about lessons from the past year, new courses and programmes in 2021 and the future of jewellery education.
Elise Gonnet-Pon, managing director of L’ÉCOLE Asia Pacific
L’ÉCOLE Asia Pacific campus at K11 Musea in Tsim Sha Tsui
From the Wax Project to the Setting Techniques course at L'ÉCOLE
Trying Out the Jeweler's Techniques course
Recognize the Gemstones course
L'ÉCOLE Asia Pacific
This article first appeared in the JNA January/ February 2021 issue.
More than a year after opening a permanent campus in Hong Kong, L’ÉCOLE School of Jewelry Arts, supported by Van Cleef & Arpels, is gearing up for 2021. With new courses and activities in the offing, the institute is on track to making an even stronger impact on the jewellery sector during its second year.
According to Elise Gonnet-Pon, managing director of L’ÉCOLE Asia Pacific, the enduring legacy of gems and jewellery making, and the market’s inherent thirst for knowledge will outlast challenging times.
This was evident when L’ÉCOLE held two exhibitions – Precious Art Deco Objects from February 9 to November 11 and Discover the Gemstones, Ruby & Sapphire from June 10 to October 26 – at the height of pandemic-induced lockdowns and social distancing measures last year. Both events garnered positive response from audiences.
As of this interview in late 2020, the school was closed for a total of 100 days in a period of 12 months due to Covid-19. Still, the two exhibitions attracted plenty of people. Gonnet-Pon said the number of visitors to its ruby and sapphire event almost doubled compared to the first exhibition.
“This shows that there is genuine interest from the general public,” she commented. “We’re lucky to be located at K11 Musea because apart from the jewellery lovers and connoisseurs who come to see us, families and other mall visitors visit us to discover and learn about gems and jewellery.”
L’ÉCOLE offers around 15 topics from different courses such as Art History of Jewelry, Savoir-Faire, The World of Gemstones as well as introductory options for adults. Younger audiences may avail themselves of five course topics aimed at honing their creativity. All courses are taught by various experts in the gemstone and jewellery fields.
The institute also holds monthly evening conversations on certain topics where two experts engage in dialogue with the audience to bring about different perspectives.
The exhibitions meanwhile are open to the public, with the aim of reaching out to more people and giving them access to the world of jewellery art, gemstones and jewellery making.
L’ÉCOLE operates on the tenets of educating with passion using a non-formal, more conversational approach, revealed Gonnet-Pon. It especially caters to those who are fascinated by jewellery or gemmology and would like to test their level of interest before committing to a professional curriculum.
“They would come to discover the topic with us because we are a school of introduction. We give certificates and not diplomas. We know it takes years to train in gemmology,” she continued. “Similar to a cooking class or a wine-tasting event, our audience does a bit of ‘gem-tasting’.”
Faced with challenges posed by Covid-19 restrictions, L’ÉCOLE worked to enhance offline experiences through online tools and technology.
In summer last year, it launched the L’ÉCOLE Kids Rock campaign where families were asked to join a learning and creative contest. Applicants – usually parents and their children – were given a learning kit about rubies and sapphires, which includes an activity booklet for the children and an exhibition catalogue for the parents. One aspect of the contest involved children creating a jewellery piece with rubies and sapphires, which yielded quite impressive proposals.
The institute is aiming to have a family campaign for every exhibition. “They couldn’t come to us, so we brought the activities to them,” she noted. “When we were able to reopen, we invited the winners to come to our school to redeem their prizes and have the opportunity to meet with them.”
It also held live online conversations on different topics including, among others, “Flora in Jewelry Arts”; “New York Architecture and Art Deco Jewelry”; and “Talismans, Gems and Marvels.”
These activities further enrich the school’s curriculum.
L’ÉCOLE’s unconventional learning methodologies set it apart from traditional educational and gemmological institutions. Gonnet-Pon calls it a “cross-disciplinary approach” that melds the art histories of jewellery, craftsmanship and gemmology.
“Our content is based on in-depth research by our experts but in a very non-academic way. What’s important for us is the accuracy of the content,” she remarked. “Listeners would capture the content easily. We always offer to go further by providing a list of museums and websites for further research.”
Craftsmanship courses, particularly those on design and jewellery workshops, are highly sought after by participants, she added.
L’ÉCOLE has been preparing for a new exhibition, The Art of Gold: 3,000 Years of Chinese Treasures, which will showcase around 55 pieces from a private collection of gold ornaments and illustrate over 3,000 years of goldsmithing in China through four major techniques, namely hammering and chasing, casting, granulation, wire and filigree.
The exhibit would take visitors on a journey across central China, the Steppes, Mongolia and the Himalaya through exceptional gold jewellery pieces.
As of press time, the event, which was supposed to open in early December, has been postponed until further notice after the government reinstated social distancing restrictions due to a fourth wave of Covid-19 infections in Hong Kong.
On top of this, L’ÉCOLE is adding new topics to its portfolio. It also introduced a new course, Around the World in Jewellery, which focuses on the evolution of jewellery through various civilisations.
It is also developing a two-hour programme, Beyond Exhibition, which involves an hour of an expert-guided tour followed by a one-hour class.
Education that is practical, engaging and hands-on remains relevant even in the era of digitalisation as a way to acknowledge the expertise of those involved in the jewellery making process and to celebrate this legacy, according to Gonnet-Pon.
“In a way, L’ÉCOLE contributes to that legacy by acknowledging the intricacy and the level of expertise required to make jewellery. When you wear a jewellery piece, you don’t always realise the amount of work behind it,” she noted. “This is a tribute to all these artisans. In every stage of jewellery making, there is the expertise acquired by the gemmologist, jeweller, stone setter, art historian or designer. In two or four hours during our courses, you get to understand this better and build your appreciation for jewellery.”