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Van Cleef & Arpels - Time, Nature, Love

Van Cleef & Arpels Time, Nature, Love

Last week, Milan’s sumptuous Palazzo Reale set the scene for the opening of Van Cleef & Arpels’s first-ever high jewellery exhibition in Italy – replete with all the magic and enchantment that’s synonymous with the Parisian maison.

On until 23 February 2020, the free exhibition features some 500 exceptional creations – including archival documents, sketches and gouache designs – that date from the maison’s founding in 1906. Curated by Alba Cappellieri, professor of jewellery design at Milan Polytechnic University and director of the Vicenza Museum of Jewellery, the show features many never-seen-before pieces, including works loaned from private collections.

The exhibition is titled Time, Nature, Love, with Time the largest theme — encompassing 10 of the 14 rooms – and which, in true Van Cleef & Arpels fashion, is a notably poetic ode to time. Cappellieri, who calls jewellery “a balance between eternity and ephemeral”, has rooted the exhibition in Italo Calvino’s 1984 book, Six Memos for the Next Millennium. One of the memos was Quickness, which is represented by an entire room of historic watches, and is a showcase of Van Cleef & Arpels’s horological ingenuity – and diversity in playing with form and function. Cue a delectable 1961 purse watch, the face hidden inside a makeup compact-like case that recalls woven fabric, or a selection of chic 1960s yellow gold sliding watches. One of the house’s defining designs, the enviably engineered, lock-style Cadenas, comes in a gorgeous 1940s model with diamonds and rubies, while a stunning 1928 table clock is signature art deco with its pairing of bold lapis lazuli lines with flowers etched in rock crystal.  

Time, Nature, Love

Cadenas Watch © Van Cleef & Arpels

Timepieces are found throughout the entire exhibition, however, sprinkled among important gems – such as that other feat of engineering, the Zip necklace, which was first created for the Duchess of Windsor c1938, or funky art deco objects that few will associate with Van Cleef & Arpels, such as a super cool carved quartz night light or lacquer and nephrite hand mirrors. For watches, an unusual 1927 Chinese magician pocket watch in gold, osmium and enamel is found in a room highlighting the more exotic influences on the house. The watch features an early form of a retrograde dial, where a button activates the Chinese magician’s arms to tell the time.


Time, Nature, Love

Montre Renoncule © Van Cleef & Arpels

And, as to be expected, there are numerous bejewelled secret watches, from an exquisite 1912 natural pearl pendant necklace set with diamonds and enamel, to a delightfully geometric 1949 Ludo Hexagone watch – named after Louis “Ludo” Arpels – its bracelet fashioned from a ribbon of interlocking gold hexagons. Two spring-loaded flaps open to reveal a rectangular watch face, the flaps themselves engraved in the brick-link motif and framed by two splendid round arches that are Mystery Set with sapphires. The Ludo design debuted in 1934 and ceased production in 1950, making this one of many rare treats in a show that will certainly be a tough act to follow for any future exhibitions in Italy, let alone the world…

Time, Nature, Love

Ludo wristwatch with flaps © Van Cleef & Arpels


Time, Nature, Love

Clock with ducks © Van Cleef & Arpels


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