Van Cleef & Arpels: ’L’Art de la Haute Joaillerie’ exhibition, Paris

Van Cleef & Arpels: ’L’Art de la Haute Joaillerie’ exhibition, Paris

Van Cleef & Arpels started working with Paris design agency Jouin Manku six years ago. It was a bold and visionary move for both. The current Van Cleef & Arpels retrospective at Les Arts Decoratifs in Paris clearly shows why.

The thing is, jewellery is notoriously hard to showcase - light shimmying all over the place; intimate scale; intricate forms. And, because the space the museum has dedicated to the exhibition, defined by a high, glass barrel-vaulted roof, is as majestic as one would expect of Paris, Patrick Jouin and Sanjit Manku had their work cut out.

Yet, in making the simple move of suspending a huge, mobile-like sculpture in their signature organic form from the ceiling, the designers have transformed the museum into a new and intimate space, relaxed to the point where you feel naturally inclined to linger longer.

Also, the duo’s decision to ’plunge the nave of the museum into the dark’ highlights the jewels beautifully, steering the viewer to look at them as mini sculptures from the off. The installation’s midnight-blue tones, accented by some seriously clever lighting in varying inky shades, creates a sumptuous, dreamlike feeling.

The showcases - light-filled tubes, wall-mounted glass ’pebbles’ - are another beautifully played out visual trick and are so adept at displaying jewellery that you can’t but look at it differently.

Then, of course, there are the 400 jewels themselves - ranging from 1906, there are one hundred years’ worth of brilliant ideas, realised in super-sophisticated forms and materials by the best craftsmen a century had to offer. The accompanying archive documents, films and drawings also shine a new light on an eon of great change.

So, not only have they succeeded in paying homage to the intensely creative nature of Van Cleef & Arpels, Jouin and Manku have also raised high jewellery to its rightful place as art, a design genre worthy of extensive exhibitions in the world’s finest museums. Do not miss it.

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