Van Cleef & Arpel’s Heritage Director Catherine Cariou brings us behind the scenes of the brand’s “The Art & Science of Gems” exhibition, which opens at ArtScience Museum this month.
Tell us more about this exhibition.
“The Art and Science of Gems” exhibition is very innovative. I think it is the first time that Van Cleef & Arpels, or any jewellery maison, has paired mineral and gems with jewellery. We collaborated closely with The French National Museum of Natural History in order to pair them in the most beautiful, and scientific, way.
This is a huge exhibition, though.
What were some of the challenges in putting this exhibition together?
The coordination of the minerals and gems with our jewelley display in the same showcase was very challenging for us. It really took a lot of conversation and collaboration. This exhibition took about a year to plan; but the choosing of the gems and jewellery took, I think, six months.
How did you decide what pieces made it into the exhibition?
The Van Cleef & Arpels archive is composed of 850 pieces; so of course we couldn’t display everything. It was a discussion between me, Nicolas Bos, our President and CEO, and the Museum; and we gathered the most interesting pieces in terms of aesthetics, technique, storytelling and, of course, also size. We will showcase 420 pieces and 230 minerals and gems.
As you said, it is a huge exhibition.
And how was the theme of art and science decided upon?
When you look at a jewel, it is already cut, polished and set. But the stones, they don’t come like that as if by magic. So we wanted to show the origin of the jewel in its raw form as minerals. I think people who visit the exhibition will learn a lot regarding each gem; and they’ll get to go behind the beginnings of the jewel.
What else do you hope visitors will take from the exhibition?
That would be for visitors to be able to recognise the Van Cleef & Arpels style. Van Cleef & Arpels is very distinctive. The very foundation of the maison is based on the love between founders Alfred Van Cleef and Estelle Arpel. Love is really the main word that symbolises the house. Love of the most beautiful design, love of beautiful craftsmanship, love of beautiful stones...
We would like visitors to understand that behind each jewellery, there is the amazing work of a designer; the craftsmanship of a stone cutter; a jeweller... For us, jewellery [lies] in the realm of decorative arts and we hold beautiful jewelley at the same level as a beautiful painting or sculpture.
What are you most excited about the exhibition?
I’m very excited about showcasing our Mystery Setting. It is a really great innovation that we patented in 1933 that [lets us] set the gemstones without any visible claws or prongs.
Another highlight for me is our zip necklaces. We created only 50 zippers and four of them are being displayed. We will showcase also for the first time a necklace we purchased a year ago: An Art Deco emerald and diamond necklace belonging to Princess Faiza of Egypt. To me, it epitomises Art Deco style, and is one of the most beautiful pieces from this collection.
The Art and Science of Gems,” 23 April to 14 August, 2016, will be at the ArtScience Museum.