“The Art of Movement, Van Cleef & Arpels,” is on now at the Design Museum, and runs until Oct. 20. Some 100 creations designed by Van Cleef & Arpels are on show, as well as numerous archive documents.
This is the first time the jeweler is exhibiting its creations in a London museum, and follows on from last year’s “Dance Reflections” event, a festival of dance supported by Van Cleef & Arpels in partnership with Sadler’s Wells, the Royal Opera House and the Tate museum.
Van Cleef & Arpels’ global president and chief executive officer Nicolas Bos described the immersive show as “not an overwhelming experience where you have to spend two hours looking at 500 to 600 pieces,” adding that the brand wanted to create a world of inclusivity for those coming across Van Cleef & Arpels for the first time.
Bos said he wanted visitors to feel “something that was open to the city, but that wasn’t a secret or behind closed doors in the stores or workshops.”
The show, which debuted in a smaller format in Chengdu, China, earlier this year, is organized around four themes — Nature Alive, Dance, Elegance and Abstract Movements — and the jewels are a mix of archive pieces and loans from private collectors.
Flowers, a Van Cleef motif, are scattered throughout the exhibition.
Key pieces include the secret leaf watch with its hidden dial, and the Trois Clochettes clip, which is made from yellow gold, rubies and diamonds, and which resembles flowers swaying in the breeze. There is also the Minaudière, which was inspired by Florence Gould, the third wife of billionaire and philanthropist Frank Jay Gould, who would toss her jewelry into a Lucky Strike cigarette tin.
The standout pieces in the dance-themed part of the show include ballerina clips, first created in 1941 by Louis Arpels, who loved the Opéra Garnier. The brand has also created other pieces, such as the French Cancan, Fox-trot and Balinese, for the show.
One of Van Cleef & Arpels’ famous creations is the zip necklace, which doubles as a bracelet. It was made at the suggestion of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, and took 14 years to perfect. The duchess was a close friend of the house, and occasionally wore a Van Cleef & Arpels sapphire thistle clip in her hair. That clip is also on display.
The final room traces how Van Cleef & Arpels evolved throughout the 20th century and employed new materials such as coral, wood, mother-of-pearl and ornamental stones.
The exhibition comes amid a difficult time for hard luxury in London even as sales continue to boom in the U.S. and elsewhere. Just as lockdown lifted, the war in Ukraine began, and the U.K., U.S. and Europe imposed sanctions against Russia and wealthy Russians living outside the country.
Compagnie Financière Richemont, parent of Van Cleef & Arpels and other brands including Cartier and IWC, has terminated all activity in Russia. Last March, it was among several companies that stepped down from the Responsible Jewelry Council in protest over its failure to cut ties with Russia, one of the world’s leading producers of diamonds.
Bos said he is upbeat about the consumer trends that are evolving.
“From a business perspective, we were [already] beginning to see a much more stable market with the middle and upper class. It wasn’t just a handful of extremely wealthy oligarchs buying extraordinary pieces. We were seeing more returning customers who were buying daywear jewelry,” Bos said.
In step with Richemont policy, Van Cleef & Arpels has closed all of its stores in Russia, and no longer does any business with the country, which had long been a top supplier of diamonds.