The Story of Van Cleef & Arpels Through the 20th Century

A mystifying, meditative space awaits at Van Cleef & Arpels’ exhibition, ‘When Elegance Meets Art’, taking you through the maison’s rich heritage.

Jun 14, 2018 | By LUXUO

The poetry and elegance of Van Cleef & Arpels’ creations will be on display at Beijing’s Today Art Museum from Apr 21 to Aug 5, 2018.

Van Cleef & Arpels’ exhibition — ‘When Elegance Meets Art’ — at Beijing’s Today Art Museum celebrates the brand’s heritage and the role of jewellery in women through pivotal moments in the early 20th century.

First presented in 2012 at Paris’ musée des Arts Décoratifs, including a collaboration in 2016 with Singapore’s ArtScience Museum, this exhibition has traveled to China for for the first time. The maison is partnering with China’s first non-profit museum, making a half year stopover in Beijing’s up-and-coming art and foodie hood, Shuangjing. Made up of over 360 creations from both the Van Cleef & Arpels Collection and private collections, the exhibition showcases some of the most emblematic creations.

The history of the Maison is studded with technical inventions, passed down by generations the Mains d’Or. This exceptional savior faire of these master craftsmen, combined with a rich imagination – visitors can anticipate an astonishing outpouring of creativity.

Beginning at 1906, visitors will journey through decades of movements and trends curated in chronological order, ending your time travel by marvelling at contemporary pieces. The mood of discovery and mystique if reflected by the exhibition’s new home that is inspired by the misty effects and landscapes winding in Chinese ink.

Below is a brief walkthrough of the significant eras that the exhibition celebrates.

Indian inspired clip Paris, 1924 Platinum, enamel, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, diamonds

The Roaring Twenties, a carefree inter-war period, was immortalised by the iconic flapper girl that embodied the most independence and wantonness that women have ever experienced. Paris was the undisputed capital of the arts, luxury, and entertainment. The geometric lines of Art Deco overshadowed Art Nouveau, although naturalistic subjects continued to play an important part in the Maison’s history.

Minaudière evening bag, Paris, 1935

Despite the depressive Wall Street crash, the 1930s observed great innovations that helped to keep the spirits up. The minaudière in 1934 was a stunning technological advancement of the simple vanity case. The hard-case evening bag allowed the modern woman to include all the glamorous essentials, her lipstick, powder case, lighter and cigarettes into one compact, beautiful box.

Some designs were more figurative, with birds and stylized plant motifs to invoke a sense of hope and joy. The Mystery Set, inspired by 19th-century Roman micro-mosaics, was known for it’s revolutionary technique of setting precious stones.

Dancer clip, New York, 1947

The workshop pace was slowed down by the onset of war, but emerged one of Van Cleef & Arpels’ most recognisable motifs of hope, the dancer. First debuted after Claude Arpels befriended George Balanchine, co-founder of the New York City Ballet, the maison’s relationship with dance continues till today. Last year, ‘Hearts & Arrows’ — a collaboration with Benjamin Millepied’s (also known as Natalie Portman’s husband) L.A. Dance Project — was staged in Singapore.

Margot Robbie wearing the iconic ‘Zip’ necklace at the 2015 Oscars

A time of reconstruction, creativity spurred on with technical innovation and new materials. Many major couturiers came up with ready-to-wear collections, including Van Cleef & Arpels’ “La Boutique” collection. One of the pieces, the Zip necklace, remains to be one the most remarkable innovation within the field of High Jewelry today.

The hedonistic 1960s saw an explosion of forms, colors, and materials, marked by the maison’s emblematic long Alhambra necklaces in gold and set with a colourful spectrum of gemstones. The influence of hippy counterculture also extended to Van Cleef & Arpels’ repertoire, with Indian jewelry inspired designs such turquoise, and a number of birds and flowers clips.

In the 1970s, while precious stone jewelry (joaillerie) remained the more popular design, precious metal jewelry (bijouterie) gradually broke free of traditional references to make its own mark. The approaching decades saw the emergence of more contemporary designs, simplicity and sobriety predominating.

Automate Fée Ondine, Paris, 2016

In 2016, the Maison combined telling the time with its own dreamlike universe to create its first table automation. The result of several years’ work and close collaboration between some twenty different workshops, the Automate Fée Ondine brings this exhibition to a close in a truly enchanting way.

For more information on the exhibition, visit


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