Robb Report Australia

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The poetry and elegance of Van Cleef & Arpels' creations goes on display in Beijing

When French fine jewellery house Van Cleef & Arpels debuted its patrimonial exhibition 'When Elegance Meets Art' at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris in 2012, the show featured only a sketch of a stunning collaret made for Her Royal Highness Princess Faiza of Egypt, as the piece itself was in the hands of a private collector.

But in the years since, having searched vintage jewellery auctions and private collections, Van Cleef heritage director Catherine Cariou was able to buy back the necklace for the maison's own collection of significant pieces. The piece now takes pride of place in the latest staging of 'When Elegance Meets Art' at the Today Art Museum in Beijing, giving visitors the opportunity to see this extraordinary piece for the first time.

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Created in 1929, the necklace, once valued at more than US$4.2 million, features 10 columbine emeralds and provides a perfect example of the white jewellery aesthetic – combining platinum and diamonds – which was emblematic of the Art Deco period. It was one of the many products of an innovative collaboration between artistic director Renée Puissant, the daughter of Estelle Arpels and Alfred Van Cleef and designer René-Sim Lacaze, who were instrumental in establishing the maison’s definitive style.

The exhibition displays almost 400 pieces in chronological order to illustrate the development of the Van Cleef & Arpels maison, from its establishment in 1906 at 22 Place Vendome, Paris, through to the emergence of many of its signature styles and innovations, such as its patented 'Mystery Set' technique, its 'Zip' necklace and recurring floral and animal motifs.

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It also charts the influence of changing fashions, social conventions and even political developments – such as the advent of World War II, which prompted a shift from platinum (then required for military applications) to yellow gold jewellery – and showcases some of the pieces owned by Van Cleef's celebrity clientele, such as Elizabeth Taylor and Maria Callas. With a dramatic, moody exhibition design by the Jouin Manku Agency, it is a visual treat for high jewellery devotees.

When Elegance Meets Art is on display at the Today Art Museum in Beijing until 5 August 2018 [https://whenelegancemeetsart.vancleefarpels.com].

Read more about the exhibition and the heritage of Van Cleef & Arpels in the July/August edition of Robb Report Australia and New Zealand, on sale Monday 25 June 2018.

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