The first thing you notice when you enter the new Van Cleef & Arpels store on Melbourne's Collins Street is that it smells like luxury.
The French house of high jewellery pipes a signature scent through the air conditioning so that every one of its 100-odd stores from Sao Paulo to Azerbaijan evokes the same dreamy emotion.
The two-level, Art Deco-inspired boutique is the first in Australia, and the result of more than three years spent scouring the country for the perfect location. The maison now sits shoulder to shoulder with Cartier, Georg Jensen and Paspaley near the base of 101 Collins Street, with a second flagship store to open in Sydney on Castlereagh Street in January.
"It's a long process and we wanted to make sure we did it right," says Catherine Reiner, Van Cleef's president of Asia Pacific. "[Australia] was empty space on the map where we were not yet present … and we heard there was a strong potential for developing a local clientele."
The new store is reminiscent of a European drawing room, with chandeliers, plush carpets, and handmade French wallpaper housing a series of polished glass boxes displaying dizzyingly precious jewels, including an iconic 'zip' necklace exclusive to the store. Even brand new, the pieces have the mystique and quality of an heirloom.
While most the key pieces of the store are designed for women, there are several big-ticket watches for men, as well as cufflinks and sleek wedding bands.
The world on your wrist
One of the most impressive pieces in store is the Midnight Planétarium Poetic Complication watch, which reduces the solar system to the wrist with a miniature representation of six planets revolving around the sun. Earth, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are set in motion thanks to a self-winding mechanical movement with 396 separate parts.
Such high quality naturally demands a price to match: Van Cleef insists its prices are available on application only, but expect to pay well into six figures for such a treasure.
"[Men] appreciate our craftsmanship, and they can very much relate to the attention to details, the hard work put behind a piece," explains Reiner. "It's very important that a man purchasing a piece of jewellery for his wife or girlfriend or mother or daughter appreciates the style and design and understands the values around that."
A dramatic central staircase sweeps upstairs to an intimate salon on the first floor, a luxe inner sanctum for Van Cleef's most VIP customers. On the walls, framed moments from the maison's storied history, which began in Paris in 1906.
"These purchases are very emotional, when they are done they are usually done at key moments of life: as a gift, as a couple, it's something very important," says Reiner.
"That's why this [private salon] is here, to give the best feeling for clients and the best memory when they look again at the piece."
Using centuries-old craftsmanship and the best precious stones and metals, Van Cleef & Arpels has a highly distinctive, almost whimsical style celebrating poetry and art.
"We are inspired by nature, by culture: couture, ballet, we have a lot of ballerinas in our collections. And all our creations translate a positive vision of life."
How safe an investment is this style of high jewellery? "It's true that in our world, nothing is certain," says Reiner, with a laugh. "The price of gold goes up and down, but mostly up, so definitely there is this aspect, but nothing is guaranteed … But let's put it this way, Van Cleef is a very sought after and very popular signature on the auction market."
Reimer celebrated the launch of the Australian first by welcoming 60 VIP guests to sip Billecart-Salmon in the store before being whisked in a fleet of black limousines to Prahran's heritage Woodland House for an intimate four course dinner.