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Van Cleef & Arpels touring exhibition brings sparkles to Seoul

Nov. 27, 2023 - 15:10 By Park Yuna
"Dancer clip" created with yellow gold, white gold, rubies, diamonds (Van Cleef & Arpels Collection)

The 118-year history of Van Cleef & Arpels, a French luxury jewelry brand, is showcased at a world-touring exhibition titled “Van Cleef & Arpels: Time, Nature, Love" which opened in Seoul on Nov. 18.

More than 300 jewelry creations, watches and precious objects and more than 90 original archives are brought together at the exhibition, which arrived in Seoul after touring Italy in 2019, China in 2022 and Saudi Arabia earlier this year.

The delicate beauty of the gems is breathtaking. Sketches that were inspired by nature, couture and imaginary worlds are placed next to the jewelry created based on the sketches.

Product cards of dancer clips from the 1940s to 1950s are shown at “Van Cleef & Arpels: Time, Nature, Love" in Seoul (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

“Mystery setting," the brand’s innovative technique that the company patented in 1933, creates ornate shapes free of prongs or visible settings. Requiring a laborious process, the technique is employed in watches, brooches and practical objects.

A brooch created with rubies in 1936 marks a highlight in the history of the company. It is one of the first figurative creations with volume crafted using the mystery setting technique, originally limited to flat surfaces for abstract motifs.

"Brooch" created with mystery set rubies (Van Cleef & Arpels Collection)

Curated by Alba Cappellieri, an Italian scholar, author and the director of the International Master in Jewelry & Fashion Accessories program at the Polytechnic University of Milan, the exhibition revolves around three sections: Time, Nature and Love.

“Van Cleef & Arpels has demonstrated over more than a century of history the unique ability to filter beauty from diverse sources in terms of materials, forms and disciplines. Intersections with disciplines such as dance, fashion and architecture provided inspiration for seminal masterpieces, like the ballerina clips, the Zip necklace or modernist bracelets,” said Cappellieri.

Inspiration from ballet and opera has been interpreted in a stunning array of jewelry and precious objects ranging from bracelets, earrings and necklaces to cufflinks, blouse buttons and pillboxes. Meticulously rendered gold attires suggest different fabrics and are set with precious stones.

"Bird of Paradise clip" from Van Cleef & Arpels Archives is on display at “Van Cleef & Arpels: Time, Nature, Love" in Seoul. Created in 1942, the clip consists of yellow gold, platinum, rubies, sapphires and diamonds. (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)(Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

The brand’s naturalistic masterpieces cemented 20th-century changes in tastes following the post-war economic boom with designs of flowers, leaves of tropical plants, birds and butterflies in the iconic Alhambra collection that has appealed to women since the late 1960s.

In the last section, the exhibition shows the brand’s history based on the theme of love. The brand was founded following the wedding of Alfred Van Cleef, the son of a gem cutter, and Estelle Arpels, the daughter of a dealer in precious stones, in Paris in 1895. Alfred, together with Estelle’s brothers, founded the jewelry house in 1906 and opened the first boutique in the city.

"Workshop card of a Bird of Paradise brooch" from Van Cleef & Arpels Archives is on display at “Van Cleef & Arpels: Time, Nature, Love" in Seoul (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

Among the jewels, Cappellieri chose the Zip necklace as the central piece at the exhibition as it reflects the utmost delicacy in craftsmanship and functionalism. The Zip necklace was created in 1950.

"With the Zip necklace, it was love at first sight. I also selected it for its ability to mix the highest goldsmith craftsmanship with the functionalism of the industrial zipper initially used for US (uniforms)," she said.

A tiara created in 1976 with diamonds and gold worn by Princess Grace of Monaco at the occasion of her daughter Princess Carolina’s wedding in 1978 glows at the love section. The exhibition runs through April 14, 2024 at D Museum in Seongsu-dong of Seoul's Seongdong district.

An installation view of the exhibition “Van Cleef & Arpels: Time, Nature, Love" in Seoul (Van Cleef & Arpels)