The Van Cleef & Arpels exhibition at Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris, curated by design duo Jouin Manku, is an extraordinary, truly awe-inspiring statement on the art of fine jewellery. It showcases a century’s worth of the brand’s creations, alongside original documents and drawings that highlight the skill of its craftspeople and its strong design aesthetic.
Of my favourite pieces on show, a few in particular stand out. I was most drawn to the collections that hail from the 1930s, during which time developed the fruitful collaboration between Renée Puissant, who took charge of the company’s artistic direction, and designer René Sim Lacaze. Puissant was the daughter of Esther Arpels (known as Estelle) and Alfred van Cleef, and under her co-leadership the famous Serti Mystérieux technique was patented. This new approach to stone setting – putting gems side by side without claws or bezels, resulting in an invisible mount – was revolutionary. The chrysanthemum pieces (such as the clip from 1937 in first picture) best illustrate how “invisible settings” opened up a plethora of possibilities within the realms of fine-jewellery design.
In 1934 the first Ludo bracelets were created, breaking new ground with their flexible construction. The exquisite ruby-set flexible-gold-fabric band went on to become a firm favourite among collectors and investors alike, and the technical innovation was to impact wristwear forever (1939 Ludo Hexagone bracelet in third picture).
The standout piece for me, though, is the famous zip necklace. First conceptualised and patented in the 1930s, it was only perfected to wearable standards in the early 1950s (1951 example in second picture). Together with the Ludo, the zip necklace has become one of Van Cleef & Arpels’ most iconic creations. Both capture the intrinsic qualities of the brand – the creation of timeless pieces with an edge of daring and a playful twist.
To my mind, this exhibition celebrates the essence, art and craftsmanship of true luxury, and places it, quite literally, on a pedestal. It’s heading into its final week (the last day is Sunday February 10), so there’s just time to sneak in a last-minute trip.
For those who’d rather bypass browsing and are inspired to simply snap up a few pieces for their personal collection, I’ve spotted some rather lovely French retro Ludo Hexagone earrings with 36 rough-cut diamonds (c1936), a pair of Ludo Hexagone double clips with 84 round-cut diamonds in a honeycomb-and-etched-star pattern (c1938) and a matching 18-carat gold and diamond bracelet from 1937 (all price on request), available from New York’s Macklowe Gallery.