Van Cleef & Arpels exhibition: diamonds and masterworks galore

New York feasted its eyes on the precious stones and designs of Set in Style: The Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels. Hosted by the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, it was the most comprehensive exhibition ever organized for the brand created in 1896. I was thoroughly impressed by the beauty of the jewelry, the technical prowess and creativity of the designers and craftsmen. It was a rare occasion to view these masterworks up close and many items were added to my wish list upon my visit.

The first room was an introduction to the technical and stylistic innovations of Van Cleef & Arpels, the mystery setting being the most famous example: metallic claws are made invisible, allowing the precious stones to take center stage and dazzle at will.

This necklace can be worn either way as the motifs are different on each half. You can view it unworn here.

I love the way the ruby and diamond Foliage necklace turns on itself.

The next room showcased Van Cleef and Arpels’s creativity with jewelry that surprised me by its power of transformation. This brooch for example was deservedly the star of the exhibition. The bird of sapphires, white diamonds and yellow gold carrying a 95-carat yellow diamond can turn into a pair of earrings (the wings), a brooch (the tail) and a pendant (big fat diamond) as you can see on the book image below. This item belonged to opera singer Ganna Walska.

Ever seen such fancy zippers? The Duchess of Windsor once suggested to the artistic directors of Van Cleef & Arpels they create a zipper that would look like a jewel to embellish her clothes. It took them 15 years to find the right technique to design this collection. The necklace can be worn as a bracelet if you remove the back of the jewel and pull up the zipper.

This choker and brooch can be assembled to make a necklace, or the necklace can turn into two bracelets. This jewel was a gift from the Aga Khan to the Begum Aga Khan in the 1970s.

Further along, the exhibition paid tribute to the relationship between jewelry and fashion. I love these Art Deco brooches, especially the one with emeralds (you can see it better here). It would look perfect on a tuxedo jacket, no?

A gallery highlighted the Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry worn by famous women, royalty and socialites. It brought me back to a time when celebrities such as Liz Taylor bought the most dramatic diamonds and wore them unashamedly.

I had already shared with you my favorite necklace in the exhibit here. It was actually a special order for an Egyptian princess. The central part of the jewel can be unclipped.

Another magnificent diamond necklace. This one belonged to Eva Péron. (You know, the Argentinean First lady portrayed by Madonna in Evita?)

This cuff can be assembled with another similar one to form a necklace. It belonged to Daisy Fellowes, the American heiress of Isaac Singer (that’s right, the sewing machines). As the editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar Paris, she had a major influence on fashion in the 1920s.

The exhibition ended on a tribute to Grace Kelly with the jewels given by Prince Rainier for their engagement in 1956. The house has since been “Official Supplier to the Principality”.  The necklace below also belonged to Princess Grace. You may recognize it as part of Van Cleef & Arpels’s most famous and emblematic collection, Ahlambra.  (Between you and me, with her Hermès Kelly bag and Van Cleef jewelry, I think Grace had great taste!)

Do have a look at the Set in Style’s website to see more magnificent Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry.

What do you think of Van Cleef & Arpels? Do you have a favorite high-jewelry brand?

L’exposition Set in Style: The Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels a fait briller les yeux de New York par ses pierres précieuses. Installée au Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, c’était la plus grande rétrospective jamais dédiée à la maison fondée par les beaux-frères Arpels et Van Cleef en 1896. J’ai été impressionnée par les bijoux, le savoir-faire et la créativité des artisans-joailliers. C’était une occasion rare d’observer de près des pièces aussi magnifiques et j’espère transmettre mon émerveillement à travers ces photos !

La première salle de l’exposition était une introduction aux innovations techniques et stylistiques de Van Cleef & Arpels. Le serti mystérieux en est l’exemple le plus connu : cette exclusivité de la maison rend la monture métallique invisible, laissant les pierres jouer entièrement le jeu.

La salle suivante mettait en valeur la créativité de Van Cleef & Arpels avec une joaillerie surprenante par ses capacités de transformation.  Cette broche par exemple était l’une des pièces stars de l’exposition. L’oiseau de saphirs, diamants blancs et or jaune avec un diamant jaune de 95 carats au bec peut se métamorphoser de multiples façons. Comme le montre l’image du livre, ses ailes deviennent des boucles d’oreilles, sa queue une broche et le gros diamant jaune un pendentif. Ce bijou a appartenu à la cantatrice Ganna Walska. Voici une parure qui m’a surprise elle aussi. La Duchesse de Windsor a un jour suggéré aux directeurs artistiques de Van Cleef & Arpels de créer une fermeture éclair qui serait belle comme un bijou pour accessoiriser au mieux les vêtements. Ce n’est que 15 ans plus tard dans les années 1950 que la maison a trouvé la technique nécessaire pour lancer cette collection. Le collier peut se transformer en bracelet si on en détache l’arrière et qu’on remonte la glissière. Ce collier ras-du-cou et la broche peuvent être assemblés en un seul collier, ou le collier peut former deux bracelets. Il a été offert par l’Aga Khan à la Bégum Aga Khan dans les années 1970.

Plus loin, la relation entre la création joaillère et la mode était démontrée avec ces broches Art Déco. J’adore celle en diamants et émeraudes (on la voit mieux ici) alors que je ne porte jamais ce genre de bijou. Elle serait parfaite sur une veste de smoking, non ?

Enfin, l’exposition se terminait sur une galerie de bijoux ayant appartenu à des personnalités plus ou moins célèbres. Elle m’a ramenée à un temps révolu où les grandes de ce monde achetaient régulièrement sans complexe les plus belles pièces de joaillerie. C’est comme si le luxe était plus acceptable ou alors plus assumé qu’aujourd’hui ! Je vous avais déjà présenté mon bijou préféré de l’exposition ici. En fait ce collier de diamants avait été commandé pour une princesse d’Egypte. La partie centrale est détachable. Cet autre magnifique collier de diamants a appartenu à Eva Péron. (Vous savez, celle que Madonna a joué dans Evita? Elle était aussi la femme du dictateur argentin Juan Péron.) Voici un bijou étonnant. Il s’agit d’une manchette qui, assemblée à une pièce identique, forme un collier. Le bijou faisait partie de la collection de Daisy Fellowes, l’héritière américaine d’Isaac Singer (les machines à coudre). Rédactrice en chef du Harper’s Bazaar français, elle avait une influence majeure sur la mode des années 1920. Le bouquet final de l’exposition est la parure offerte par le Prince Rainier à Grace Kelly lors de leurs fiançailles en 1956. La maison est depuis le fournisseur officiel de la Principauté. Pas étonnant donc que le Prince Albert ait offert à Charlène un collier et une tiare Van Cleef & Arpels pour leur mariage. Le collier ci-dessous appartenait aussi à la Princesse Grace. Il fait partie de la collection la plus connue et emblématique de Van Cleef & Arpels, Ahlambra. (Entre nous, entre son sac Kelly et ses bijoux Van Cleef, elle avait du goût cette Grace !)

N’hésitez pas à jeter un coup d’œil au site de l’exposition pour voir plein d’autres merveilleux bijoux ! Que pensez-vous de Van Cleef & Arpels ? Avez-vous une marque de joaillerie préférée?

19 Comments

Filed under Fashion exhibitions

19 responses to “Van Cleef & Arpels exhibition: diamonds and masterworks galore

  1. VCA is definitely my favourite jewellery house ever – I had the privilege to interview its Asian Pacific MD, and heard so many great stories, like the one about the zipper necklace. I also love the Faerie fragrance – have you tried it? :)

  2. The jewels are stunning! The ones in the Van Cleef & Arpels store here in KL already costs as much as a house, so I’m pretty sure that the ones in the exhibition will cost even more!

    I had no idea that their pieces could be taken apart, and that zipper is the most innovative piece of jewellery I have ever heard of!

    Ah, to dream. And did you secretly take these photos again like what you did at the McQueen exhibition? ;)

    • Of course I took pictures on the sly ;-) I wish I had taken more but a guard was literally following me at the end.
      I wonder how much these jewels cost, and yes, it’s impressive to think that some of them are worth an apartment or a house.

  3. Woah, the jewels are gor-geous!!! Looks like heaven!

  4. You’ve transported your viewers to a land of dreams with these pics. I’m dazzled and extremely envious!

  5. Kai Lillia

    I love the necklace that can be worn either way! looks like something that Elizabeth Taylor would have worn back in the day…….Cleopatra comes to mind …… My favorite pic was the brooch of the bird of sapphires, white diamonds and yellow gold ….can u imagine wearing that!….I’m always fascinated with jewelry that I consider “statement pieces” (not gaudy) they say very quietly “look at me, look at me.”

  6. The Duchess of Windsor set a tough challenge there! Despite not being a fan of accessories, there is something so spectacular about these jewels on display that I can’t help but like and admire them. In NYC I visited Miriam Haskell as part of my internship, and I got to see some fabulous jewellery there (http://www.miriamhaskell.com/) and am now a big fan of their work. I need to take you to see the crown jewels back in London, Anne :-)

    • But I have seen the crown jewels in the dreadful Tower of London, my dear! Very impressive, yet quite not as fashionable as Van Cleef ;-)
      Thanks for the link! I was lucky to do an internship a few years ago where I would spend my days among jewelry next to the designers. I have been fascinated since then by this art and always like to discover new brands.

  7. Everything is very beautiful!

  8. Meingast

    Jewelry are one of my passions and Van Cleef & Arpels is the state-of-the-art brand in this field. You took very beautiful pictures and I am particularly happy to see the one that depicts the jewels of Grace Kelly (I admire her very much!) BTW, in 2007 the Grimaldi Forum Monaco organized an exhibition about the life of Grace Kelly and fine jewelry such as these could be appreciated among counteless other personal items.
    Ah, one of my favorite high-jewelry brand is Cartier, since always. And don´t forget the beautiful and delicate Tiffany´s yellow diamonds :-)
    F.

  9. Five years ago, I took my father along to the Tiffany exhibit at Somerset House. To my amusement, he gave every appearance of enjoying it, and the diamonds, even more than I.

    The Van Cleef Art Deco pieces are astounding.

    Sarah x

  10. very very beautifully . I like this jewellery designs.!

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