Diane Kruger, Emmanuelle Alt, and Catherine Deneuve exude Je nais se quois French style. Today’s French It Girls, Sabina Socol, Alexandra Golovanoff, Monica de La Villardière, aka Ainley, and Ivanka Smilenko, reimagine the coveted look for a new generation on their Instagram feeds daily. They all have one style move in common—a love of Dinh Van jewelry, France’s best-kept bijoux secret. The groundbreaking Parisian jewelry is gaining momentum once again for its forward-thinking, genderless, and ageless designs which feature natural diamonds, pearls, and new easy to wear colorful semi-precious stones. Only Natural Diamonds looks at this innovative French brand founded by Jean Dinh Van, the French-Vietnamese jeweler who started at Cartier.
These French style makers who earned their monikers by birthright or adopting the City of Lights as home are often seen sporting the late designer’s signature graphic designs, which first gained renown over five decades ago. The 40th anniversary of the Menottes dinh van collection—handcuffs in French— in 2016 helped renew interest in the discreet jewelry house. Ainley sports a Menottes dinh van bracelet engraved with her children’s names.
The design highlights an interlocking clasp—something other jewelers strove to disguise at the time—and proved to be the most recognizable house creation. Just in time for summer 2023, the Maison rejiggers the Menottes dinh van motif combining them with semi-precious stones. Lapis lazuli, mother of pearl, onyx, and malachite, are featured in oversized XXL pendant styles. In contrast, the delicate smaller versions feature lapis lazuli, malachite, and chrysoprase, perfect for a subtle pop of summer color. The latter has been spotted on Golovanoff.
Others, such as Le Cube Diamant, Pulse, Seventies, Pi, and Serrure—often spotted on Alt— similarly exemplify modern unisex designs that drew inspiration from everyday objects such as a lock, a razor blade, or a pen. Or even a utilitarian doorknob, as Dinh Van was quoted describing his creations this way. “My jewelry is never a fantasy. I want it to be as essential as a doorknob, with the added emotion of discovering something completely new.”
Le Cube Diamant features a suspended natural diamond, which allows the stone to be visible to the point and worn in a necklace form on Pujka founder Sabina Socol. Taking a cue from the social unrest of 1968, the design was inspired by the pavement bricks Parisian protesters threw at the police. (Originally, it was an empty square, and Dinh Van added the floating diamond during the 70s.) The designer also pioneered concepts such as using a satin cord versus a chain to hold fine metal and gemstone trinkets.
His most famous work, which cemented the launch of the Maison, was the “Deux Perles” ring made in collaboration with Pierre Cardin sold at the designer’s boutique. First sold at the Publicis Drugstore on the Champs Elysees, along with more pieces from Dinh Van’s collection, the square ring with suspended, rotating pearls in white and black upended the notion of le bague in 1967. It has a permanent home at Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris after being included in a Dinh Van exhibit in 2003 there.
The brand was founded two years earlier, in 1965. The jeweler, born in 1927, attended the École des Arts Décoratifs before following in his father’s career footsteps to Cartier. For eight years, the designer worked under Jeanne Toussaint, crafting high jewelry for the clients such as the Duchess of Windsor.
As the creative winds of the 1960s swept through the Left Bank, Dinh Van, who was part of this exclusive enclave of intellectuals and design aficionados, grew restless with jewelry’s classicism (think floral motifs) but also with its occasion-driven focus. The designer wanted pieces to reflect the changing times that could be worn anytime, anywhere.
Informed by Bauhaus’s theories of form following function and universality, his designs would revolutionize the jewelry industry. He secured collaborations with the most influential fashion designers of the era, such as Pierre Cardin, with whom he created the “Bague Perle” ring.
Recognized by the industry as a disruptor and artisan creator, he was chosen as one of the four most talented French jewelers to participate in Expo67 in Montreal the same year. His work caught the attention of Cartier New York, which was also forging ahead with modernizing its image just before the infamous “Juste un Clou” and “Love” bracelets were launched beginning in 1970. Thus began a 10-year partnership with Cartier where Dinh Van continued to explore the notion of the square motif and other geometric shapes on a ring, along with different innovative industrial-centric designs for the fine jewelry house where he had once worked.
His brand flourished as well, with the opening of the first Dinh Van boutique on Rue de la Paix in 1976, followed by stores in New York and Geneva. His pioneering vision includes being the first boutique to sell the groundbreaking Swatch watches in 1980. The designer died in 2022 but is under the ownership of the Laporte family, who purchased the brand in 1998.
The French Maison has launched an exclusive product for the US market, such as the Maillon necklace in yellow gold with pavè diamonds or the Menottes Dinh Van R12 with semi-pavè diamonds in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami, and San Francisco. Retailers include Neiman Marcus Bloomingdales, Saks, Hamilton Jewelers, and Place Vendome Jewelers, with plans to expand here and at other points globally. Currently, there is a store in the Dubaï Mall with additional market pushes in Asia on the way.