PHOTOGRAPHY: COURTESY OF PATRICK GRIES
Making a whirlwind pit stop in Singapore for Van Cleef & Arpels’ “The Art and Science of Gems,” Cate Blanchett talks to Gerald Tan and delves into a rarefied world filled with glitter and gold.
I’m having a chat with Cate Blanchett in her suite inside The Fullerton Bay Hotel. It’s a sunny April afternoon, and the living area in Blanchett’s suite opens up to a fantastic view of Singapore’s scenic Marina Bay area. Rising from a corner of this man-made reservoir is the ArtScience Museum, a peculiar piece of architecture that—depending on where your imagination takes you—resembles a man’s outstretched palm or a blooming lotus. And till August, it plays host to “The Art and Science of Gems,” a highly anticipated exhibition held by Van Cleef & Arpels.
Put together with “the participation of the French National Museum of Natural History,” it is a beautifully curated exposition that not only showcases Van Cleef & Arpels’ precious creations, but also Mother Nature’s various works of art. Spread over nine galleries, more than 400 archival jewellery pieces are displayed alongside 250 mineral artefacts in what is touted as the “largest heritage exhibition” ever organised by the Maison. “It’s really unlike any exhibition I’ve seen because it’s such an extraordinary blend of craftsmanship and human achievement,” Blanchett says excitedly, her eyes lighting up as she talks about having witnessed the beautiful union between nature, science and design. “To see a piece of Tiger’s eye in its raw form, and then see it polished [into something], it’s such a testament to the human eye and skill.”
Blanchett flew in from Tokyo to inaugurate the exhibition, and having her open the event in Singapore is a natural choice for the brand. After all, the 47-year-old star has appeared on the red carpet dripping in the exquisite shine of jewellery ranging from subtle to extravagant. “I love dressing up,” she admits. “Often, if I’m going somewhere, it’ll start with a piece of jewellery, and then we work the dress around it.” From the moment Blanchett caught the world’s attention with her riveting portrayal of Queen Elizabeth I in Elizabeth, to the time she brought movie-goers into Middle Earth as Lady Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings series, jewellery has played more than a supporting role in Blanchett’s oeuvre.
Most recently, she incorporated Van Cleef & Arpels’ archival pieces into the wardrobe of Carol Aird, the titular character in the critically acclaimed movie, Carol. And according to Blanchett, those she wore in the Todd Haynes-helmed film were especially significant and memorable for her. “I’d actually borrowed those for a previous event in Cannes, so I already knew of their existence. [Costume designer] Sandy Powell worked on the outfits for the film, but we had no budget. So we called Van Cleef & Arpels up, hoping against hope that they’d let us borrow them. And they did, so it was just wonderful,” she recalls. “It was great that I wore them as me, and as the character.”
Just like how her highly lauded acting chops flesh out characters with incredible intuition and depth, Blanchett understands that hidden within an inanimate ring, pendant or necklace lies the power to tell compelling stories, too. She cites the example of her grandmother’s wedding ring—“a very, very thin gold band because she married during the Great Depression”— which Blanchett inherited. “I love it because it’s worn down and it has her imprint on it,” she says fondly, “I think that’s why jewellery resonates so much with women. They hold memories.”
Like fashion, jewellery also reflect the times they are in. “They show the cultural focus [at that point in history],” she adds. “I don’t like to be too superstitious, particularly in my line of work and in the theatre… but what’s remarkable—and I hadn’t thought about it until I saw the Van Cleef exhibition—was this period of time when people wore polished wood and gold. And it was about the whole notion of “touching wood.”
Whether functioning as a good luck charm, or simply as a decorative feature that empowers women, Blanchett regards the most beautiful jewellery pieces as those born out of a creative process that takes time and longformed thoughts—qualities that are missing in a fast-paced digital world. “If you always rush to an end result, it really kills creativity,” she states matter-of-factly. As for those “avant-garde, maybe even gauche” jewellery that made it into the final line-up at the exhibition? They embody creativity in its purest sense because they pushed the envelope of design. Blanchett adds coolly: “And that’s what makes them timeless.”
Clockwise from top: The exhibition’s grand set-up. Blanchett studies the exhibits. The exhibition brings together science and design. The Fleurettes earrings that Blanchett wore in Carol