New York—Van Cleef & Arpels is synonymous with elegant jewels, and an upcoming exhibition features the glamour and craftsmanship behind the Parisian house.
“Set in Style: The Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels,” running today through June 5 at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, New York, examines the renowned jewelry firm’s significant historical contributions to jewelry design and design innovation, particularly during the 20th century. The museum devotes itself to historic and contemporary design.
Van Cleef & Arpels opened its first store in 1906 on the Place Vendôme in Paris and quickly built a name for itself in jewelry and small precious objects.
The exhibition features more than 350 works, including jewels, timepieces, fashion accessories and objets d’art, many of which were created exclusively for American clientele. To show the craftsmanship behind the items, design drawings, commission books, fabrication cards and imagery from the firm’s archives will also be displayed.
Behind the Mystery Setting
“Set in Style” will be organized by six principal themes: Innovation, Transformation, Nature, Exoticism, Fashion and Personalities.
In innovations, Van Cleef & Arpels perfect the “Mystery Setting” technique, where the stone settings are hidden to show just a solid field of color. Extraordinary examples include the 1937 “Peony” brooch with mystery-set rubies and the 1959 “Boule” ring with mystery-set sapphires.
The jeweler is also known for objects that transform from one item to another, such as a necklace with pendant that can become a brooch. A bird brooch on display has wings that become earrings and its tail becomes a brooch.
Nature themes figure in strongly, and butterflies are a recurring design motif with insects wings rendered in a host of materials from mother-of-pearl to enamel. The museum’s conservatory will be home to a flutter of butterflies made of Japanese lacquer, applied in Japan by traditional techniques.
As Van Cleef & Arpel’s clients embarked on more exotic travel, so did the jewelry themes. One example is the 1924 “Egyptian” bracelet, with a soaring bird rendered in emeralds, sapphires and rubies, that captured the mania surrounding the excavation of King Tut’s tomb in 1922.
Celebrating the jeweler’s famous clientele, the exhibit will feature a host of items worn by such women as Princess Grace of Monaco, Elizabeth Taylor, Jacqueline Kennedy and more.