Universally admired for its revolutionary approach to jewelry design, Dinh Van continues to intrigue and delight with innovative and timeless jewels.
It Began in Boulogne
Jean Dinh Van was born in 1927 in Boulogne-Sur-Mer, a French fishing port, to a French mother and Vietnamese father who worked as a lacquer artisan. He abandoned his childhood wish of becoming a sailor, choosing instead to study at the École des Beaux-Arts. Following his training, Dinh Van went to work for Cartier, where he spent a decade learning and perfecting his trade. First as a trainee studying traditional jewelry arts under Jeanne Toussaint, then creating jewels for an elite clientele, which included the Duchess of Windsor.
A Revolution Begins
Over time, Dinh Van began to weary of the traditional jewelry designs he was obliged to create for others and decided to open his workshop in 1965. It was located in Place Gaillon in Paris. His timing was perfect, aligning with the many social revolutions that were taking place across the world. He envisioned bold, sleek designs that would reflect the changes that were already occurring in clothing, furniture, and art. Dinh Van had a desire to create luxury jewelry that would be appropriate from day to night, in all settings, not just for special occasions.
Dinh Van collaborated with other designers to create his jewelry. Among them was Pierre Cardin, for whom, in 1967, he designed the Two Pearl Ring. Now considered an iconic piece, the ring was revolutionary for its square shank, a trait that quickly became a signature style for Dinh Van. The ring featured a pair of pearls, each a different color that were able to move freely within their setting.
Other partners included Paco Rabanne and De Beers, as well as his former employer, Cartier. Extraordinarily collectible are pieces that have the signature of both Cartier and Dinh Van.
A New Address
In 1976, Dinh Van opened his boutique in Paris, at number 7, Rue de la Paix. New York and Geneva were quick to follow with salons of their own, as his styles quickly began to resonate with women who desired unique, contemporary fashion.
Dinh Van never disappointed in providing original jewelry designs. Always unexpected and, at times, controversial, his motifs drew inspiration from everyday articles; pins, razor blades, and locks among them. Handcuffs were also a recurring theme. He took these functional items and, through his creative techniques, transformed them into high-quality jewels.
The 1980s saw a continued push for original jewelry designs. In 1980, he collaborated with César, a French sculptor and a member of the Nouveau Réalisme movement, who used recycled metals in his creations. He and Dinh Van produced a gold pendant in the shape of a woman’s breast. Dinh Van displayed this in his Parisian boutique, along with his jewelry. A fan of the Swatch watches that appeared in the early 1980s, Dinh Van displayed the timepieces in his own window, to the disdain of the high-end jewelers who occupied shops near his own.
The following decade, Dinh Van’s business continued to flourish. In 1993, France passed a law reversing the ban on importing and manufacturing 9K gold. This compelled Dinh Van, in protest, to create a collection of pure gold jewelry, Pi Chinois, which he handcrafted in 24K gold. Each piece was hammered to increase the strength and give a unique textured finish.
In 1998, given his age and his desire to slow down, Dinh Van sold his company, along with the rights to his name.
Dinh Van Style
The designer was the first brand to use minimalism in jewelry design, shedding traditional jewelry motifs that mostly featured fauna and flora.
According to the company, Dinh Van designs have been created “for the modern, independent woman, full of self-confidence and unconcerned by frivolous trends. The Dinh Van woman wants a discreet touch of luxury in her everyday wear as she wears it for herself, not for those who are watching.”
Typically, jewelry clasps are hidden. Dinh Van bucked this trend, opting to display the clasps as a focal point. This technique was featured in this collection. French for “handcuffs,” the Menottes collection was aptly named, as these clasps were especially challenging to open.
Le Cube Diamant
This collection married the circle, a symbol of spirituality and sky, with the square, symbolizing Earth’s stability.
A springed keyring was the inspiration for this unique assortment. Blending round shapes and straight lines, Dinh Van created styles that meshed beautifully with his signature style.
Simple bangles that wrapped around the wrist, flexible yet durable, comprised the Serrure collection. French for “lock,” the pieces featured a flattened clasp with a diamond accent.
- The square ring is part of the permanent collection at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.
- 1984: Dinh Van was selected as one of the first artisans to exhibit his work in the Parisian department store Galeries Lafayette, then a newly opened jewelry gallery.