Van Cleef & Arpels: a bewitching retrospective

A few days only are left to visit the “Van Cleef & Arpels – l’art de la Haute Joaillerie” exhibition at Les Arts Décoratifs, in Paris. 

Since September 20th 2012, a certain history of Van Cleef & Arpels: more than 500 jewels, but also archive documents like drawings or photographs have been on display in Les Arts Décoratifs.


After Bulgari

This exhibition cannot but remind the visitor of Bulgari’s  at the Grand Palais, in December 2010. But while Bulgari was treating all its codes in an ostentatious manner, Van Cleef & Arpels appears to have chosen a certain discretion and a highly elegant simplicity.

The Bulgari exhibition displayed its 600 items in the nave of Le Grand Palais. The Van Cleef & Arpels House exhibition displays its 500 items  in the nave of Les Arts Décoratifs. While Bulgari was swallowing us up in a gigantic black diamond from the entrance, Van Cleef & Arpels makes us stroll under a starry sky.


A chronological construction

Both  exhibitions were built on a chronological basis: geometry and exoticism in the 20’s, convertible jewels in the 30’s, the yellow gold of war in the 40’s, the explosion of style in the 60’s, freedom and wealth in the 70’s, the return to a certain classicism in the 80’s and the mix of techniques in the 2000’s.



But here end the similarities. While Bulgari was endlessly listing its links with famous people, Van Cleef & Arpels exhibits few pictures only and discreetly mentions celebrities. Van Cleef & Arpels prefers to find its legitimacy in its high tech, i.e. the Serti Mystérieux, patterned in 1933

Serti mystérieux

or in its prestigious references: Zip, Minaudière.

Minaudière 1935

Its way to treat history is global, worldwide, as if the House preferred to be the partner of great histories and legends rather than create them itself.


A day to day construction

One of the main differences between the two exhibitions is indeed the way the Houses show their recent and actual realizations. Van Cleef & Arpels is not sparing with recent jewels. The latest collections are indeed extremely beautiful, subtle and precise. With its great collections (L’Atlantide in 2007, Les Voyages Extraordinaires in 2012 and les Bals de Légende in 2011), Van Cleef & Arpels is confident in its style and does not need to dwell at length on its past.

Columbiad clip – Les Voyages extraordinaires – 2012

Highlighting its know-how

Apparently, the House does understand that its patrimony lies in the protection of its unique know-how. Though Bulgari was promising a journey behind the scenes and was only offering few drawings on the wall, Van Cleef & Arpels favors the visitor with drawings, order books and mostly a film.


This film is a succession of interviews of House employees: drawer-creator, jeweler, stones observer, specialist in diamond buying. For safety reasons, their faces are not shown, their names not told. However, these portraits allow us to enter the incredible intimacy of their work. Their hands are the major subject of the film. They make us discover crafts, old tools, “house tricks”, gestures, patience and light. This film is absolutely in line with the present revival of manual ability in crafts.

It is also about the passing on of experience and know-how, about tenacity as well, because all these people are professionals to their fingertips who see their craft through with passion.


Finally, with this elegance in its presentation, this open-mindedness about its know-how, the House dawns on the visitor’s mind as being simultaneously simple, rich, mysterious and above all as having a history that still lives in present, a history in constant evolution.


Van Cleef & Arpels – L’art de la haute joaillerie

Les Arts Décoratifs

Until February, 10th 2013


Photos: Les Arts Décoratifs / Van Cleef & Arpels

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