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5 spectacular jewellery pieces you need to see at the Van Cleef & Arpels exhibition

The French luxury maison will display at London's Design Museum

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Natalie Salmon
Natalie SalmonFashion Digital Editor
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Starting this month Van Cleef & Arpels will be presenting an exhibition at the Design Museum. From 23 September to 20 October 2022, "The Art of Movement, Van Cleef & Arpels" will be showcased by the French luxury jewellers.

Featuring almost a hundred creations from its archive, as well as numerous historical documents and lender masterpieces, this collection, "illustrates the Maison’s constant quest to impart movement into precious materials," according to a statement from the brand. "Like a panorama of Van Cleef & Arpels' creativity, the exhibition displays emblematic pieces, new acquisitions as well as creations reflecting lifestyle evolutions over the decades," they explain.

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Margot Robbie wearing a vintage Van Cleef & Arpels Zip Necklace

The exhibition, which is free to attend, is divided into four themes: Nature Alive, Dance, Elegance and Abstract Movements. Each highlights a 'facet of movement' which has been explored by the Maison during its long history. Van Cleef & Arpels was established back in 1906 by the Dutch diamond-cutter Alfred Van Cleef and his father-in-law Salomon Arpels in Paris at 22 Place Vendôme. Over the decades the excellence and creativity of the brand's 'High Jewellery' collections established its reputation across the world.

The brand is bringing its 'Celebration of Movement' theme to the Kensington based museum, which was initiated in 2022 in London with the Dance Reflections by Van Cleef & Arpels Festival in March and the brand’s participation in the Masterpiece Fair earlier this summer. 

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Of course we recommend you go visit in person but to whet your appetite her are the five most spectacular pieces from the exhibition:

The Zip Necklace


Zip necklace transformable into a bracelet, 1952

The Zip necklace is one of the most avant-garde creations in the history of Van  Cleef & Arpels, a masterpiece of ingenuity blended with spectacular modern design. First used for aviator jackets and sailor uniforms, the zipper appeared in haute  couture in the 1930s, thanks to designers such as Elsa Schiaparelli. Thus inspired, Renée Puissant, the Maison’s Artistic Director and daughter of co-founder Alfred Van Cleef, imagined turning this functional accessory into a piece of jewellery. Patented in 1938, but eventually produced in 1950, the Zip necklace has the remarkable ability to transform into a bracelet simply by sliding its tassel, as one would a real zipper. Illustrating the influence of couture on Van Cleef & Arpels' creative universe, this innovation also exemplifies the Maison's penchant for transformable and multifunctional jewellery.

The Ballerina Brooch


Dancer clip, 1941

Over the decades, Van Cleef & Arpels has drawn boundless inspiration from the world of dance, an art whose medium of expression is movement. The very specific bond between the Maison and this universe dates back to the 1920s. Louis Arpels, a fervent lover of ballet, often took his nephew Claude to the Opéra Garnier, located a short walk from the Place Vendôme boutique in Paris. Inspired by the ballerina’s liveliness and elegance, the Maison’s first Dancer clips, created in 1941, celebrated this true passion. Delicate and captured in motion, these swirling feminine figures, with their silhouettes and precious tutus, enchant in an endless ballet. Ever since, dance has constantly imparted an aura of poetry and a graceful flair into the Maison’s creations. One of the first Van Cleef & Arpels pieces inspired by the world of dance is this clip from 1941. Capturing a dance pose, it is an illustration of the beauty of line and movement. The sculpted dancer has a pear-shaped diamond face, crowned by a ruby and emerald hair ornament. 

The Secret Watch


Leaf secret watch, 1956

Launched in 1929, the secret watch became a signature Van Cleef & Arpels timepiece. Blending the recognizable design of the Maison with its technical savoir-faire, this Leaf secret watch is primarily a bracelet with a hidden dial. Its opening with a simple gesture allows the wearer to discreetly check the time without offending her companions, who merely admire her beautiful jewelry. The 1950s saw the renewed development of creations inspired by nature. Surrounding the hidden dial, three sapphire-set leaves instill a notion of movement, thanks to their organically curving shapes. The diamond veins add a further touch of elegant realism. This design is elevated by a wristband made of double snake chains, punctuated with diamonds.

The Clutch Bag


Minaudière, 1939 

According to legend, the Minaudière, named after the family château near Paris, resulted from a charming encounter. Surprised to see one of his refined clients toss her accessories into a Lucky Strike cigarette tin, co-founder Charles Arpels was convinced an elegant woman deserves better than that. The idea for the Minaudière was thus born. Patented in 1933, it has become one of Van  Cleef  &  Arpels’ signature pieces and a household name in the world of fashion and the decorative arts. 

The Abstract Masterpiece


Necklace, 1958

This necklace, made of offset concentric ovals of twisted gold, set with diamonds, invites the eye in with its hypnotic irregularity. The kinetic effect thus produced precedes the Op Art movement, a form of abstract art which relies on optical illusions in order to confuse the eye of the viewer that will emerge in the 1960s. The differing sizes of the motifs, made of spun gold, play on the volume of the piece, while the goldwork of the design itself is inspired by yet goes beyond the classic couture inspiration. Pairing gold with diamonds, this piece is typical of Van Cleef & Arpels' creations of the period.

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