A few months ago, we travelled to Van Cleef & Arpels’ dazzling world at the Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York City where the outstanding setting had guests yearn for more. Fast-forwarding a few months later, the famous high-end jewellery name brand lands in Paris, the city where their unforgettable journey began over a century ago, in 1906.
Surrounded by a fabulous ambiance and an attractive display, Van Cleef & Arpels: the Art of Fine Jewellery presents a number of the house’s phenomenal pieces. The futuristic exhibition highlights a number of sketches, drawings, archives, documents and, of course, invigorating pieces appropriately taking the spotlight. The exhibition, organized by the Jouin-Manku Agency, opened its doors on September 20, 2012, at the central hall of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, and will draw the curtains on February 10, 2013.
Entering the venue is an escape into a new universe, emphasized by its incredible décor, accentuated by the objects on display. As guests are welcomed into the inevitable world of priceless gems, diamonds and a number of various precious stones, the full story is revealed. The experience is a celestial discovery for the eye.
As guests ascend the velvet steps, they arrive at the centre of the exhibition in a dark and mysterious atmosphere bringing to light the house’s fabulous creations. The ambiance emphasizes theglistening pieces on display, allowing guests to indulge in such pleasures. Visitors impatiently unravel the mystery hidden behind each room’s walls.
Van Cleef & Arpels is the envy of all, recognized for enticing pieces that scream flirtatiousness and glamour out loud. One of the first pieces that welcome guests is the 1924 Egyptian-style platinum bracelet set with emerald, rubies, diamonds, onyx, and shimmering sapphires. Being one of many heart-throbbing pieces, it signifies Van Cleef & Arpels’ representation as a brand symbolizing true works of art literally fit for a princess. Princess Grace of Monaco wore a Van Cleef & Arpels tiara for her wedding designed with gold, platinum and diamonds. Royalty continues to indulge in such spectacular creations, including Prince Albert II of Monaco who gifted his bride, Princess Charlène, with a Van Cleef & Arpels diamond and sapphire Ocean’s necklace that may also be transformed and worn as a tiara. Such a fabulous piece, embedded with 88 round diamonds, 10 pear-shaped diamonds and 359 sapphires in three different shades of blue, symbolized the princess’s adoration of the water as a former Olympic swimmer.
The 500 pieces on display, including timepieces, fashion accessories and jewels, evoke stunning haute couture quality stimulated by sensuality and elegance. The 11 separate rooms are divided according to their date of production and theme. Another highly original idea in the exhibition is a simple, dark and empty room with a large screen, permitting guests to personally take a virtual tour of the Van Cleef & Arpels workshop.
For the past century, the house employed people with such amazing skill and talent. The brand is recognized for its ability to carefully and artistically add dazzling detail and dramatic aspects with care into every piece. Van Cleef & Arpels create fabulous shapes, styles and designs exclusively for onlookers to yearn for and appreciate.
But of course, its larger pieces are just as spectacular to look at: the Minaudière case, a 1935 creation (above), is a more elegant development of the vanity case, designed with gold, lacquer, diamonds, and platinum. It was thanks to Florence Jay Gould, the American railroad magnate’s wife, that such a piece was made possible. Charles Arpels noticed Gould filling all her necessities into a Lucky Strike cigarette box; suddenly this luxury innovation was born, becoming the envy of all women desiring such a convenient and handy piece.
Other stunning pieces included the Zip necklace–bracelet. The creation was requested in 1938 by the Duchess of Windsor; it wasn’t until 1951 that the design was brought to life. It includes numerous complex precious stones with easily detachable pieces, forming multiple creations. Such a magnificent concept was recently revived with fresh, more modern designs. From sophistication and complexity to chic simplicity, the jewellery brand brings simple pieces to a whole new light, particularly with its iconic Alhambra collection launched in 1968, which soon became representative of the house of Van Cleef & Arpels.
The experience at the exhibition is an absolute treat, with learning turned into an event.
We spoke to the exhibition’s curator and the head curator of the Art Nouveau–Art Déco, Ancient and Modern Jewellery Department of the Musée des Arts décoratifs, Evelyne Possémmé. In order to introduce the exhibition, Possémmé shared with us her perspective of Van Cleef & Arpels’ secret: ‘I know very well the ’30s and the ’40s decades … quality is very important. With the work in the exhibition, I discovered that volume is very important for them.’
Unlike the exhibition that was previously held in New York, the collections are presented in a chronological order, revolving around the desire to provide an educational background of a world-renowned jewellery company, ‘[It is a] chronological presentation because, for me, they have a theme,’ Possémmé explained, ‘For me, it was difficult to see pieces of different times … I think chronology is the best way to present them.’
There are two different types of jewellery collections categorized under two separate genres: the first is ‘bijouterie’, casual and dynamic pieces mainly worn during the day; on the other hand, ‘joaillerie’ is made of precious stones expressing absolute elegance, worn primarily in the evening for more formal events. As time goes by, one’s taste in fashion also slightly alters according to one’s desired trends.
Before we concluded our visit, we spoke to Catherine Cairou, the Heritage Director at Van Cleef & Arpels, who explained, ‘We wanted to do something very educational.’ As one travels from the beginning of time and concludes their journey in a more recent era, one has already comprehended the needs and desires that the high-end jewellery house has been trying to fulfil over the century—as it continues to do so for the century to come. •
Top Voyage extraordinaire. Above Clip Pivoine, 1937. Below French singer Françoise Hardy wears a Van Cleef & Arpels necklace from the Alhambra collection.
The experience at the exhibition is an absolute treat, with learning turned into an event
Lola Saab is Paris editor of Lucire.
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