Photos & Text: Jessica Ye
“The Art and Science of Gems” by Van Cleef & Arpels is anything but ordinary. For starters, art and science by themselves are disciplines that people often view as polar opposites. To create a perfect blend of the two within a singular exhibition would seem to be an impossible feat, but the 110-year-old French high jewellery maison managed to pull it off without a hitch. Its dramatic outcome indeed speaks for itself.
Heralded as its biggest exhibition in the world, “Van Cleef & Arpels: The Art and Science of Gems,” which runs from 23 April to 14 August 2016 at the ArtScience Museum Singapore, presents a series of over 450 pieces of jewellery and treasures, which are carefully selected from the Van Cleef & Arpels Collection and those of private collectors.
They reflect the seven themes that illustrate the poetry and ingenious craftsmanship of the maison.
The exhibition begins with one of Van Cleef & Arpels’ most striking orders, a flying bird carrying a striking briolette-cut yellow diamond of 96.62 carats (pictured above), a fitting piece of jewel that sets the tone for the rest which ensued, with its transformable nature, remarkable workmanship and history. The piece was first worn as a pendant by opera singer and socialite Ganna Walska in the 1930s, and subsequently as a brooch and earring by its later owner in 1972 , who asked the maison to combine the stone with a bird of yellow gold, emerald, and sapphires, in celebration of the birth of her son.
In homage to the maison’s city of origins as well, “COUTURE,” which is the pinnacle of Paris – the centre of elegance and fashion – is being put on the stage as the first theme of the exhibition.
Some of the standout – and avant-garde – pieces of this section include the Zip necklace (above) with a sophisticated and functional twist on the zip fastener, where it can be opened and closed like a real zipper, and be worn as a necklace and bracelet.
As with the main aim of the exhibition, which is to merge art and science, each themed section places a high focus on the entire process of jewellery-making, from its rare, geological forms of fossils, minerals, rocks as well as raw, uncut diamonds – on loan from the renowned French National Museum of Natural History Collection – to the formation of gems aided by principles such as temperature, water, pressure and transport, to name a few, and to the end products; breathtaking and highly valuable jewellery pieces.
Other themes of the exhibition include:
“ABSTRACTIONS” – Unknown to many, Van Cleef does not only produce nature-inspired styles, but styles that reflect the art of its times. These include the minimalist art movement, the modernist, the abstract, the op art as well as the art deco movements (as seen below; a bracelet from 1925, set in platinum with square, round and marquise-cut diamonds) – all of which were popular during certain periods within the decade.
“INFLUENCES” – Global cultures and traditions were also cornerstones for Van Cleef & Arpels’ imaginative take on jewellery. Fuelled by the lure of exoticism, the maison took inspiration from elements within Asia and Europe, such as the conical hat worn in rice paddies, the dazzling jewels of the Indian Maharajas, the fascination with the Egyptian Pharoah Tutankhamen’s tomb and all things Egyptian (below), as well as a dose of pre-Columbian aesthetic, and produced beautiful creations around them.
“PRECIOUS OBJECTS” – One of my favourite themes, this section moves beyond the realm of luxurious jewellery and gems, and shines the spotlight on the maison’s skill in raising utilitarian objects to the ranks of precious works of art. These include bejewelled “nécessaires” handbags (as seen in the photo below), that looked faintly like those within the Peranakan culture, as well as vanity cases, watches, cigarette holders, lipsticks and pill boxes, to mention a few – all of which add up to an incremental amount of sentimental value.
Above: Model of the Varuna Yacht in gold, silver, jasper, wood and enamel, Circa 1907
“NATURE” – Delicate flowers, blossoms, real and imaginary animals play crucial roles as rich sources of inspiration for the maison, instigating the creation of a compelling, never-ending universe filled with flora (below) and fauna – akin to a garden – flanked by birds of paradise, dragonflies and lovebirds amongst poppies, camellias and orchids, set with diamonds, gold, rubies and other precious stones.
“BALLERINAS & FAIRIES” – A result of Louis Arpels’ passion for dance and ballet, this section revolves around the maison’s attempt to revitalise the post-war 1940s with the joy and reminders of better days by creating ballerina clips, the most striking being the Spanish Dancer clip in 1941 (below), which has a pear-shaped diamond face, ruby and emerald hair ornament and fan, and diamonds for flounces on the dress. Indeed, I can imagine the amount of positivity and optimism one can bring just by wearing one of these.
“ICONS” – Saving the best for the last, this section is testament of Van Cleef & Arpels’ devotion to dressing the most beautiful women on legendary occasions in their lives; from dazzling crowns for coronations of Queens and Princesses to engagements and weddings within the royal families. These figures include HSH Princess Grace of Monaco, the Duchess of Winsor and HSH Princess Faiza of Egypt, as well as adornment of celebrated figures and Hollywood stars such as Elizabeth Taylor.
Above: Bagatelle Minaudiere in gold, platinum, silver, rubies, lacquer and silk, in the former collection of His Majesty King Farouk I of Egypt, 1949
Check out our LIVE Instagram posts at the Grand Opening on 22 April 2016, where we managed to meet special guest Cate Blanchett:
The Art & Science of Gems is now showing in Singapore at the ArtScience Museum, running from April 23rd until the 14th of August 2016.
Tickets start from SGD $10. Click HERE for more information.