Published: April 5, 2011
“Set in Style: The Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels,” on view at Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, examines the renowned jewelry firm’s significant historical contributions to jewelry design and design innovation, particularly during the Twentieth Century. Organized by Sarah Coffin, curator and head of the product design and decorative arts department, the exhibition will run through June 5.
Since its 1906 opening on the Place Vendôme in Paris, Van Cleef & Arpels has played a leading role in style and design innovation. The exhibition features more than 300 works, including jewels, timepieces, fashion accessories and objets d’art, by Van Cleef & Arpels, many of which were created exclusively for American clientele, along with design drawings, commission books, fabrication cards and imagery from the jeweler’s archives.
“Set in Style” is organized by six principal themes: Innovation, Transformation, Nature, Exoticism, Fashion and Personalities.
Innovation looks at special commissions that have made up an important part of Van Cleef & Arpels’ design history from its earliest days. The most notable technical innovation created by Van Cleef & Arpels is the “Mystery Setting” technique in which the setting does not show between the stones, creating a solid field of color. Examples include the 1937 “Peony” brooch with mystery-set rubies and the 1959 “Boule” ring with mystery-set sapphires.
A highlight of the transformative works on view is a bird brooch wherein the bird’s wings can become earrings and its tail becomes a brooch., Commissioned to celebrate the owner’s first child, it features the “Walska” 95-carat yellow diamond suspended from the beak of the bird.
Works on view in the Nature section include the 1940 “Bouquet” brooch, which shows the color combinations of stones to their best advantage without worry about botany, as well as the 1948 “Snowflake” brooch, which captures in gold and diamonds what is a fleeting moment of bright sparkle in the natural world and exemplifies Van Cleef & Arpels’ fanciful style.
Exoticism looks at how the lure of exotic travel and an ever-widening international base of clients inspired Van Cleef & Arpels to produce objects inspired from all parts of the globe. The Egyptomania of the 1920s, caused by the excavation of King Tut’s tomb in 1922, was put to use immediately at Van Cleef & Arpels, and again in the 1970s when the traveling King Tut show came to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Among the works on view will be the 1924 “Egyptian” bracelet, with a soaring bird rendered in emeralds, rubies and sapphires, and the “Egyptian” pendant with hieroglyphic symbols.
The museum is at 2 East 91st Street at Fifth Avenue. For information, 212-849-8400 or www.cooperhewitt.org .
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