Thursday, March 3, 2011

Van Cleef & Arpels: Set In Style

Yesterday I found myself between appointments deep in the heart of New York's museum mile and opted to kill time at the Van Cleef & Arpels "Set in Style" exhibition at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. I am very glad that I did for a variety of reasons. The show runs until June 5, 2011 and comprises some 350 objects, drawings and archival materials.

Carved emerald and diamond necklace, formerly in the collection of the Begum Aga Khan. Photo: Patrick Gries

The jewels were naturally a big draw. Who doesn't like to while away an hour gazing at treasures that inhabit quite a different world than the average person. The emerald necklace above was a particular favorite. I have always adored emeralds that are carved in the Indian taste rather than faceted in the Western sense. Cartier is quite well known for this and I was happy to see that Van Cleef was also in on the trend.
Jarretiere diamond and ruby bracelet formerly in the collection of Marlene Dietrich. Photo: Patrick Gries

This Art Deco stunner formerly in the collection of Marlene Dietrich was also a stand-out. Its scale and asymmetrical composition were quite unusual.

Installation at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. Photo: Matt Flynn, © Smithsonian Institution

While the jewels were the focus, I was impressed with the avant garde displays executed by Jouin Manku Studio. The organic shapes of their individual glass domes and cases allowed very close proximity with the objects which I have yet to see in any previous jewelry exhibition. The studio was definitely thinking outside of the box and it showed.

Installation at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum designed by Jouin Manku Studio. Photo: Matt Flynn, © Smithsonian Institution

Installation at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum designed by Jouin Manku Studio. Photo: Faith Bowman

Manchette bracelets/necklace formerly in the collection of Daisy Fellowes. Photo: Patrick Gries

This amazing collar necklace is comprised of two bracelets that can be connected, talk about versatility. It was owned by the Singer Sewing Machine heiress Daisy Fellowes. Her taste for jewels was voracious and her Cartier "Collier Hindou" is an object of devastating beauty... but I digress.

Diamond and ruby bouquet brooch utilizing the patented "Mystery Setting". Photo: Patrick Gries

Last but not least, there was a fascinating presentation regarding the firm's patented "Mystery Setting" seen in the brooch above. For years in the auction biz I had seen a number of these sculptural pave set jewels and figured there was a configuration of small prongs to the verso. Ever the innovator, Van Cleef & Arpels devised their own uncanny solution. Essentially the stones are carved with grooves and slide into the setting much like a drawer into a chest. Truly ingenious. The video can be found here. If you find yourself with some free time I advise that you see the exhibition in person.


  1. Although I was initially a bit taken aback by the severity of the exhibition design, thinking it might compete with the jewels, the opportunity for closer examination is a huge plus. __ The Devoted Classicist

  2. Agreed, I had read nothing about the design of the exhibition so I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It was refreshing being able to get the close to the objects.

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