Starting small in 1906 from the joined families of Van Cleef & Arpels in marriage and then in business, the resulting precious pieces wink softly amid grey and celadon green tones. Among the lot showcased at Beijing’s Today Art Museum, totalling nearly 400 rare pieces, a gold vanity case covered in enamel and bordered in jade sits prettily clothed in gemstone roses. Another star of the timeline from 1910 to 1930 is the glorious Art Deco-style collaret made of platinum and hung heavy with diamonds and emeralds.
On the Van Cleef & Arpels journey continues, highlighted by a play of shadow and light, forward to the next decades stretching from 1940 until today. Here, the emerald green to deep violet lights shine upon the high jewellery behind traditional cases embedded in the walls and inside specially made transparent picture-rail displays. Thanks to a special and enduring relationship with the Jouin Manku Agency, its duo founders’ ingenuity has elevated the Maison’s stores and exhibitions to another level—as seen previously in “The Art and Science of Gems” held at the ArtScience Museum in Singapore in 2016.
Exemplifying the exhibition’s theme of “When Elegance Meets Art”, the 1940s at the Maison started strong following its patent in 1933of the mystery set technique. This revolutionary technique ingeniously hides the prong settings—the gemstones have a velvety texture and appear to be freestanding. Another milestone, in the form of a new branch, opened in New York in 1942, which became the birthplace for the beloved Fairy and Ballerina clips. This decade also saw the succession of leadership into the second generation of Van Cleef & Arpels.
Past coloured cotton partitions deeper into the dreamlike setting, the Maison’s perfected and iconic Zip Necklace of the 1950s is revealed in its many festive and versatile versions. First made upon suggestion by the Duchess of Windsor in 1938, the Zip is a necklace when opened and a bracelet when closed. Not too far off, the hip 1960s and 1970s put forth Van Cleef and Arpels’ first forms of today’s long Alhambra necklace that combine hard stone beads and beaded gold.
Today’s haute couture collections starting from the 2000s up to the latest Le Secret in 2017 are also displayed in the second gallery, or visible from the last gallery. The “Le Nuage” room, meaning “the cloud”, is a vantage point from which Van Cleef & Arpels’ journey is revealed through selected pieces, including those made especially for royalty and high-society personalities such as HRH Princess Faiza of Egypt, Empress Farah Pahlavi of Iran, Elizabeth Taylor, and Maria Callas.
Beijing’s Today Art Museum (TAM) is the first stop for this roving exhibition after its first presentation at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris in 2012. In China, TAM is the first non-profit and non-governmental art museum that commits to both encouraging the development of Chinese contemporary art and to promote its place globally. With exhibitions and events as a means for meaningful cultural exchange between Chinese and non-Chinese artists and organisations, TAM establishes an international dialogue that challenges and redefines traditional concepts of art museums.