A Quest for Beauty: The Art of Van Cleef & Arpels at The Bowers Museum

Dating back to 1895 in Paris when Estelle Arpels wed Alfred Van Cleef and created the internationally renowned jewelry boutique Van Cleef & Arpels, a lineage of elegant treasures was born. The Bowers Museum’s newest addition to its exhibit floor recognizes this history with “A Quest for Beauty: The Art of Van Cleef & Arpels.” The heritage exhibition spans over 100 years and features more than 200 pieces of jewelry, watches, and precious accessories to view. Archive drawing and documents of the Place Vendome High Jewelry Maison, where the first boutique was opened, are also displayed around the exhibits four themes including: Nature, Elegance, Exoticism and Femininity.

In 1955 the Zip necklace transformable into a bracelet was created with yellow gold, emeralds and diamonds. The V-shaped necklace is made with tassel fringe and is bordered by delicate gold hearts. This is one of Van Cleef & Arpels’ most famous pieces and can be seen in the exhibits ‘Elegance’ theme. A 1953 Wedding set in the ‘Femininity’ theme features platinum, pearls and diamonds and was a private collection of Princess Grace of Monaco. Representing the Nature theme, a rich source of inspiration for the Maison, is the 1951 Pastilles Clip. Beautifully created with platinum, yellow gold, rubies, and diamonds this signature piece is a part of their Mystery Setting technique. The technique uses delicate gold threads on which the stones are positioned one by one to fit where they will be placed on a garment. This technique can take hundreds of hours for one single piece making the Pastilles Clip an exquisitely unique accessory.

In the 20th Century the East and the Far East was a particular fascination for Europeans that brought exotic inspiration, which fueled the Parisian Jewelers imaginations. The Maison was inspired to create the Dragon Vanity Case in 1923 with yellow gold, platinum, enamels, jade and diamonds. This piece with contrasting red and black color scheme can be seen in the exotic theme portion of the exhibit.

Many other pieces are highlighted in the exhibition exemplifying the history and innovations of the boutique French Jewelry Maison. While many items are signatures of the brand, some have never been seen before. The Bowers Museum unveiled 70 items that were displayed for the first time at the exhibits opening.

Guests of the exhibit can also enjoy a meal at Tangata at The Bower’s Museum. Enclosed by glass walls featuring minimal yet modern décor. Tangata is a 160-seat restaurant with two large outdoor patio areas. Open Tuesdays through Sundays for lunch, the restaurant serves a menu of California cuisine with a French signature style. We recommend the Filet Mignon with confit fingerling potatoes, Swiss chard, herb, and roasted garlic butter and for a light start to the meal try the radish salad. Executive Chef Chris Brodeur will be sure to fulfill any craving you may have with a great selection of menu items that go well with the Mission-style courtyard.

The exhibit, “A Quest for Beauty: The Art of Van Cleef & Arpels,” debut coincides with the reopening of the Van Cleef & Arpels boutique at South Coast Plaza this past November. Local Southern Californians can purchase luxurious jewelry and watches at this location and be a part of the Van Cleef & Arpels legacy.  For those who just want to view the jewels, the exhibit will remain open to the public until February 15, 2014.