Van Cleef and Arpels are currently holding in London a fantastic exhibition of heritage pieces from their archive and in hands of private collectors. It is not a huge exhibit, but it is a sumptuous one. The carefully curated pieces take the visitor on a brief yet informative journey of the brand’s history and are a tour de force of ingenuity and craftsmanship which reveal why Van Cleef and Arpels deserves top billing in the luxury industry.
Some of the pieces are monumental, the biggest of these being the diamond necklace commissioned by Queen Nazli of Egypt. It is an impressive jewel, set with 673 diamonds suspended in almost invisible platinum settings. The necklace in fact appeared for sale, intact, in 2015 at Sotheby’s, most experts believing it had been broken up. It fetched over $4.2 million. The piece had been part of a large parure which had also included a monumental tiara, bracelets and earrings. The necklace was also an ode to the fact that Van Cleef has long been the go to jeweller to many a royal dynasty- let’s not forget that it was them who created the Empress of Iran’s jewellery for her coronation in 1967.
The firm’s metier, invisible setting, is represented by two objects, the ruby and diamond peony brooch and a ravishing gold and ruby minaudière. The minaudière was the fashion object of the 1920s; it was a sleek and elegant alternative to the handbag made in precious metals, containing a small mirror, lipstick case, powder compact, pencil and sometimes a cigarette lighter. By necessity they were nearly always rectangular, a shape that lent itself beautifully to the clean lines of Art Deco. They were the perfect objects to show off the art of invisible setting as initially they only knew how to set the stones into flat surfaces. The technology quickly advanced and by the 1940s, stones were seemingly invisibly set into curved surfaces. The diamond and ruby peony brooch is a masterclass in this type of setting and one can only imagine the thousands of hours it must have taken to assemble it.
The jewel which for me strikes the perfect balance of using an important stone playfully yet elegantly is the stork brooch, which in its beak holds an important yellow briolette diamond weighing 95 carats. It was made in the 1970s as a special order to a client to celebrate the birth of a son. The piece also continues the Van Cleef tradition of transformable jewellery, as the wings can be detached to be worn as earrings and the diamond can be worn as a pendant.
There are numerous references to flower inspired jewellery, all executed with Van Cleef’s ususal boldness and panache. Old classics which continue to provide inspiration to their designers today, such as the fairy brooch and the Cadenas watches and bracelets are also given their due credit. The pieces are truly set off by the extravagant interiors of the showroom and it is doubtful whether one will be able to see such beautiful jewels in such surroundings for some time. I highly recommend a visit.
The Heritage Pieces of Van Cleef and Arpels is on until the 15th March 2017 at 9 New Bond Street, London, W1