won­ders of Cre­ation

The lat­est ex­hi­bi­tion by Van Cleef & Ar­pels ex­plores the very ori­gins of min­er­als and their trans­for­ma­tion into ex­quis­ite adorn­ments. Char­lene Co dis­cov­ers some fas­ci­nat­ing tales

Hong Kong Tatler - - Style -

Ex­plor­ing the trans­for­ma­tion from min­eral to gem

As well as its strik­ing size and beauty, the fancy vivid yel­low bri­o­lette di­a­mond hang­ing from the beak of a gem-en­crusted bird brooch at Sin­ga­pore’s Artscience Mu­seum has a fas­ci­nat­ing prove­nance. The spec­tac­u­lar 96-carat stone once be­longed to the flam­boy­ant Pol­ish opera singer Ganna Wal­ska, who was ar­guably more fa­mous for her ex­ten­sive jew­ellery col­lec­tion and fond­ness for men—she mar­ried six times—than her voice.

The diva sold the gem and other jew­els in 1971 at a Sotheby’s auc­tion to fund ren­o­va­tions at her Cal­i­for­nian es­tate. Van Cleef & Ar­pels out­bid all ri­vals, which in­cluded Cartier, Boucheron and Chaumet, and named the stone the Wal­ska Bri­o­lette Di­a­mond, later in­cor­po­rat­ing it into the ex­quis­ite brooch. Whether by virtue of its prove­nance or its rarely seen qual­ity and size, this gem­stone tells a fas­ci­nat­ing story and sets the tone for Van Cleef & Ar­pels’ largest and most elab­o­rate her­itage ex­hi­bi­tion to date.

Van Cleef & Ar­pels: The Art and Sci­ence of Gems brings to­gether a care­fully cu­rated col­lec­tion of jew­ellery from the mai­son’s ar­chives, a few pieces on loan from pri­vate col­lec­tors and more than 200 min­eral arte­facts from the French Na­tional Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral His­tory. The main ob­jec­tive of the ex­ten­sive dis­play, says Artscience Mu­seum ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Honor Harger, is to take vis­i­tors on a “dra­matic jour­ney” of min­er­als, from their evo­lu­tion in the depths of the earth to their trans­for­ma­tion into works of art.

Harger and ex­perts from Van Cleef & Ar­pels and the Paris mu­seum spent two years con­cep­tu­al­is­ing and de­vel­op­ing the ex­hi­bi­tion sto­ry­board. “Through­out the en­tire process, we were en­gaged in an open di­a­logue—propos­ing ideas and an­gles that would chal­lenge a tra­di­tional dis­play,” Harger re­calls. “The en­tire process re­quired a very open-minded ap­proach from all three in­sti­tu­tions, and the re­sult speaks for it­self. We have an ex­hi­bi­tion that has the author­ity and au­then­tic­ity that will trans­port vis­i­tors in the depth of time and of cre­ation.”

It was an am­bi­tious project, to say the least, and its great­est chal­lenge, Harger says, was to de­liver twin nar­ra­tives in a com­ple­men­tary man­ner—one fo­cus­ing on the dra­matic story of the for­ma­tion of the earth 4.2 bil­lion years ago, and the other show­ing how its an­cient min­er­als are trans­formed through crafts­man­ship into ex­quis­ite jew­ellery. “This was not an easy task from a cu­ra­to­rial and scenog­ra­phy per­spec­tive, to bring two com­pletely dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines and ideas into a di­a­logue with one an­other, but we suc­ceeded,” Harger says.

The ex­hi­bi­tion is di­vided into seven the­matic chap­ters—ab­strac­tions, Cou­ture, In­flu­ences, Pre­cious Ob­jects, Na­ture, Bal­leri­nas and Fairies, and Icons—each with a ded­i­cated gallery. Cou­ture show­cases the mai­son’s most au­da­cious and in­no­va­tive pieces, such as its iconic Zip neck­laces. Ab­strac­tions fea­tures avant-garde Van Cleef & Ar­pels pieces in­spired by the modernist and op art move­ments, while In­flu­ences presents jew­ellery rep­re­sent­ing the ex­oti­cism of farflung cor­ners of the world.

Pre­cious Ob­jects of­fers an in­trigu­ing dis­play of jew­elled and enam­elled van­ity cases, such as pill­boxes, make-up con­tain­ers and cig­a­rette hold­ers, while Na­ture fea­tures jew­ellery in­spired by flora and fauna. Bal­leri­nas and Fairies show­cases jew­els in del­i­cate, fem­i­nine fig­ures in grace­ful poses. Icons is a dis­play of grand pieces the mai­son cre­ated for such Hol­ly­wood leg­ends as El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor and Mar­lene Di­et­rich, as well as royals like Princess Grace of Monaco and Princess Faiza of Egypt.

Also dis­played in all the gal­leries are as­ton­ish­ing gem and min­eral spec­i­mens, in­clud­ing a me­te­orite four bil­lion years old and an 800-kilo­gram crys­tal found in the Swiss Alps and pre­sented to Napoleon Bon­a­parte in 1797.

A metic­u­lously or­gan­ised and ex­hil­a­rat­ing ex­po­si­tion, Van Cleef & Ar­pels: The Art and Sci­ence of Gems is em­i­nently suc­cess­ful in mak­ing a dis­play of rough min­er­als among mag­nif­i­cent vin­tage jew­ellery look el­e­gant. Whether you’re into the sci­ence of min­er­als, the jew­ellery, or are sim­ply in­trigued by the prove­nance of iconic pieces, a visit to the ex­hi­bi­tion is def­i­nitely worth your while.

Van Cleef & Ar­pels: The Art and Sci­ence of Gems con­tin­ues at the Artscience Mu­seum at the Ma­rina Bay Sands, Sin­ga­pore, un­til Au­gust 14.

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