Van Cleef & Arpels explore the history of gems

Van Cleef & Arpels connect mineralogy, gemmology and jewellery in a Paris exhibition

A close-up of seven connected gold / diamond stones adjacent to a large gold-coloured leaf object.
The exhibition includes more than 500 minerals, gems and objets d’arts from the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle collection and more than 200 jewellery creations by Van Cleef & Arpels, including this 1968 ‘Eucalyptus’ necklace, in yellow gold, platinum, white gold, rose gold and diamonds
(Image credit: Jean-Marie Binet)

Precious minerals in their rough state have always beguiled and, sometimes, repulsed. Yet, when cut, polished and turned into rings, bracelets and necklaces, their power to seduce is universal. ‘Pierres Précieuses’, a collaborative exhibition from Van Cleef & Arpels and Paris’ Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle connects the dots, exploring the link between mineralogy, gemmology and jewellery.

The exhibition, three years in the making, has been designed with an educational bent. The collaborator-in- chief is François Farges, professor of mineralogy at the Muséum. ‘Mixing gemstones and objects is a French tradition, pairing beautiful things and placing them close to the natural minerals. People are intrigued by the wonder of nature, its different shapes and beauty. The duality of our approach helps people learn in a different way.’

The dialogue between the philosopher Roger Caillois and the Surrealist poet André Breton also informs the story. ‘Breton placed crystals above everything as the perfect expression of art,’ says Farges. Caillois, who viewed natural stones as ‘the shore of dreaming’, left a significant collection of them to the Muséum.

‘This exhibition tells a story of the creation of earth and stones, and how minerals come to life in a cut gem,’ says Nicolas Bos, CEO and president of Van Cleef & Arpels. Adding to this magical journey is the exhibition design, created by long-term house collaborators, architects Jouin Manku. ‘They have played with ancient materials and textures so it feels as if you are inside the earth, like a child going into a forest,’ says Bos.


‘Pierres Précieuses’, 16 September – 14 June

This article originally appeared in the October 2020 issue of Wallpaper* (W*258)

Caragh McKay is a contributing editor at Wallpaper* and was watches & jewellery director at the magazine between 2011 and 2019. Caragh’s current remit is cross-cultural and her recent stories include the curious tale of how Muhammad Ali met his poetic match in Robert Burns and how a Martin Scorsese Martin film revived a forgotten Osage art.

With contributions from