arc des Bastions is one of Geneva’s largest and oldest parks. It’s where we met Corinne Le Foll, managing director of Dinh Van since January 2022. Prior to taking the reins of a company that revolutionised jewellery in the 1960s, she built a solid career of more than 20 years at Cartier, leaving as managing director France: a position that set her in good stead to helm a brand. But why this one?
Cartier and Dinh Van may seem worlds apart, but let’s not forget that Jean Dinh Van (1927-2022) spent ten years at the Parisian jewellery house, crafting high jewellery pieces. Having set up his own studio, he continued to produce jewellery for Cartier which, unusually, bore the double signature of Cartier and Dinh Van. The move from one to the other isn’t as unlikely as it may seem, as a closer look at their history reveals.
- Corinne Le Foll, Managing Director, Dinh Van
After a decade creating elaborate high jewellery pieces, Jean Dinh Van was ready to invent a different style of jewellery, inspired by the revolutionary ideals of the 1960s and 70s. In a country transformed after French youth had bombarded the establishment with cobblestones prised from Paris streets, Jean Dinh Van created a ring for Pierre Cardin, in 1967, mounted with one black and one white pearl, launched his Menottes (handcuffs) bracelet in 1976, his Lame de Rasoir (razor blade) pendant (inspired by his father’s shaving tools) in 1978, as well as his gold Punaise (thumb tack) design and his Pi necklace, a hammered gold circle with a hole in its centre.
- Ring made by Jean Dinh Van for Pierre Cardin in 1970
“New names were emerging in fashion, furniture and architecture, but nothing was happening in jewellery! I wanted to bring jewellery out onto the streets. This was a time of women’s liberation and I wanted women to be able to go out and buy their own rings,” Jean Dinh Van told us in a 2006 interview. Seventeen years later, a woman, Corinne Le Foll, is steering the fortunes of a vessel that continues to charm customers with its distinctive, groundbreaking style.
Europa Star: You left Cartier, a storied brand, to join a company that was instrumental in inventing contemporary jewellery. That’s quite a leap. What motivated you?
Corinne Le Foll: There is a strong connection between Dinh Van and Cartier, in that Jean Dinh Van spent ten years as a jeweller at Cartier. He worked on the most exclusive high jewellery pieces, under Jeanne Toussaint, but already in the back of his mind he had ideas for avant-garde creations. The thing that interested me was his ability, in the 1960s, to offer something new and his desire to take jewellery out of the safe and onto the street. His was a singular vision. This fabulous history and legacy meant it was really a natural step for me to take. We know Dinh Van without really knowing it. It’s a treasure I want to share.
- Serrure bracelet, 1980
What was the first thing you did after your appointment, in January 2022?
I went through the archives. We have quite a legacy, from the designs we still produce and continue to enrich, to a vast photographic archive. What we don’t have are sketches by Jean Dinh Van because he never actually put his ideas on paper, preferring to sculpt the metal directly. It’s what makes the Dinh Van style. He was a prolific jeweller who created countless design objects, sculptures. When you look at everything he did, you realise he had a unique way of working. Delving into this culture and history was an inspiration.
- Maillon ring in white gold and diamonds
Was there one creation in particular that you found surprising or hadn’t seen before?
There are some very sculptural, quite tubular, architectural rings that caught my eye. They are typical of Jean Dinh Van’s sense of geometry, of positive and negative space. Some have the dual Cartier Dinh Van signature.
- Ring with the Cartier and Dinh Van signatures, 1968
How did that happen?
Jean Dinh Van was taking part in a World’s Fair in the US when he was spotted by people from Cartier New York, who went on to distribute his jewellery through Cartier’s Fifth Avenue store. This was in the 1970s when he had already parted company with Cartier and was producing jewellery under his own name. For the next decade or so, Jean Dinh Van had jewellery made at the Cartier New York workshops that was engraved with both names. This was highly unusual for Cartier. The only other designer who was allowed to sign his work was Aldo Cipullo [creator of the Love bracelet and Juste un Clou]. It was the beginning of Jean Dinh Van’s American adventure.
- The famous Menottes Dinh Van
Jean Dinh Van revolutionised jewellery by modelling his designs on ordinary objects such as razor blades, handcuffs, military ID tags and thumb tacks. Creatively speaking, how easy is it to continue in this vein today?
The hardest part is really the singularity and impact of his work. There is definitely a Jean Dinh Van style and we must respect that. While this may seem restrictive at first, it is actually one of our greatest strengths. The brand has a strong aesthetic vocabulary in the circle and square shapes that Jean Dinh Van explored, and the harmony he instilled between full and empty space. When we see the sketches and start working the metal, we know almost instantly what’s Dinh Van and what isn’t. Not many people are aware that Jean Dinh Van worked with coloured hardstones. Launching the Menottes Dinh Van with coloured gems is a reminder of how extensive his legacy is.
Will you collaborate with designers or architects who aren’t part of the jewellery world?
That’s an excellent question but I’m afraid I can’t give you a full answer right now. Let’s say it’s one of the avenues we’re exploring. Currently we’re working with jewellery designers from outside the company who bring their point of view on contemporary creation. This doesn’t mean we’ve ruled out other ventures, such as the collaboration with Lapo Elkann who put his stamp on the Pi in 2010.
- Pulse collection
The most recent collection is Pulse, introduced in 2017. Collections aren’t launched every year. What’s next?
Pulse is a revisit of our classic geometric shapes. It’s our latest line and we continue to add to it. We’re planning what will come next, looking at various possibilities. It could be a new collection, new wearing styles, a collaboration with someone from outside the jewellery world, reissues, we’re ruling nothing out. The brand’s 60th anniversary in 2025 will be an important milestone. A new collection would be a way to celebrate both the past and contemporary creation.
- Lame de Rasoir necklace in yellow gold
Men’s jewellery is hot right now. Jean Dinh Van was ahead of his time, with his Lame de Rasoir and genderless designs. Has there been an upsurge in interest for Dinh Van among men?
It’s something we’re seeing, yes, although Jean Dinh Van’s jewellery has such a universal quality the question of being for men or for women never arose. His aim was to make jewellery to wear every day, with geometric forms for all genders, without distinction. The idea for the Menottes came from a keyring. Soon men and women were wearing them as a symbol of love and attachment. Men have been buying Dinh Van jewellery ever since the brand was established in 1965. They like its minimalist style. Last September we launched the rectangular-linked Maillon bracelet I’m wearing today and it’s proving as popular with men as it is with women. The notch system, which is specific to us, means they can be fastened together. Some couples buy one each, then she borrows his and wears the two together as a necklace or a double bracelet.
- Maillon bracelet in yellow gold
Dinh Van was a revolutionary brand when it launched. How does it fit into today’s jewellery scene, bearing in mind the growing number of independent brands?
We have the Dinh Van aesthetic on our side: creations that have stood the test of time and are perfectly at home in today’s world. Dinh Van customers form a kind of clan. They are fully familiar with the brand’s history, its codes and its design language. Our job is to build on that and reach out to customers who expect a brand to offer a different, more distinctive vision. People who appreciate design. There is nothing dated about the brand’s jewellery. The archives are full of objects that are just as desirable today. The great designers of the late Sixties are still remarkably up-to-date!
The golden ratio is considered the ideal aesthetic. Is this something Jean Dinh Van pursued?
I think he followed his instinct more than anything. You only need look at his creative process. He never sketched his ideas first, which proves he had a picture of what he wanted in his head. He was a sculptor making instinctive jewellery.
There are 18 Dinh Van stores. Have you opened in China, as planned?
It’s in progress. The project is slightly behind schedule because of the health crisis in China, but we should be opening in Shanghai this September.
- Menottes necklace in malachite
Turnover for 2021 was just over €43 million. Do you publish sales figures?
We don’t, but that is the order of magnitude. The brand is doing well and taking advantage of a strong jewellery market, despite the uncertain economic and social climate, especially in Europe and the United States. Our offering is spread fairly evenly between gold and diamonds. The Menottes Dinh Van collection is selling particularly well and has grown 40% in two years.
You joined the brand just over a year ago. What does your experience tell you so far?
That Dinh Van is a jeweller with enormous potential for growth. Its singular, universal aesthetic has the capacity to please a lot of people in every market.
What are your projects for the medium term?
A year ago, I focused on growing business internationally. The brand has a strong presence and is well-known in France and in Europe. We’re also present in the US with some 30 resellers. I hope the opening in China will be the first of many. We’re currently looking into the Korean market, which is a great market for our designs. Switzerland is also an important area for development.
What about marketing? Do you have anyone in mind who could become the face of the brand?
We care about making the right choice of a celebrity in line with what the brand stands for. Jean Dinh Van took jewellery out into the street. We’re not a red-carpet brand although this doesn’t mean we can’t explore potential collaborations with celebrities who are makers, creators, and choose partners who align with the brand and with the market.
Do you plan to introduce high jewellery?
No. It wouldn’t be Dinh Van. Although we do offer full-pavéd diamond jewellery. We’re in a position where we can push the needle in terms of price and create more items set with diamonds and coloured stones, but it’s not high jewellery.
What are your ambitions for the brand?
To continue to promote its fabulous history and heritage, stimulate creation and introduce a new clientele to the brand. Dinh Van is a well-known name that deserves to be even better-known to audiences all over the world.