May 10, 2016
Prepare to be dazzled by The Art & Science of Gems exhibition at Singapore’s ArtScience Museum.
Fashion. Design. History. Celebrity. Art. Nature. Brilliance. The Art & Science of Gems exhibition is all of the above and more.
Featuring more than 600 treasures from elite jewellery house Van Cleef & Arpels and the French National Museum of Natural History, it is, as museum executive director Honor Harger commented at the opening (attended by actress Cate Blanchett on a flying visit), “an enchanting and illuminating universe”.
The show combines the art of making jewellery with the science of mineralogy, to show us how these precious stones, so coveted by humans, come into being.
Inside the lotus-shaped museum, designers Sanjit Manku and Patrick Jouin have created spaces almost as artful as the jewellery. Necklaces hover in mid-air inside cleverly lit transparent tubes so the jewels can be viewed from every angle. Tasselled curtains have been trimmed to precise lengths by a troop of hairdressers to create elegant, intimate circular galleries. Lighting and carpeting morph from midnight blue to deep emerald to alter moods and stoke fantasies.
“I hope you will discover something that pleases you, and makes you dream,” Van Cleef & Arpels CEO Nicolas Bos says. It would be impossible not to.
Swirl of fire
The 250 gems and treasures on loan from the National Museum of Natural History have been collected over four centuries, since the museum’s inception in 1626. But many are far, far older than that. A slice of jasper in fiery reds and golds, simultaneously a work of art and ancient history, hails from the Pilbara in Western Australia and is 2.6 billion years old.
Flight of fancy
The Bird Clip & Pendant is the face of the exhibition, seen on banners across Singapore, and the triumphant first piece that visitors encounter on entering the gallery. The striking design is of a flying bird with a plump, 96.62 carat yellow diamond dripping from its beak. The bird itself is adorned with emeralds, sapphires and yellow gold, and is fabulously versatile. The wings detach to become earrings, the body transforms into a brooch and the diamond doubles as an extraordinary pendant. How much is that birdy in the window? Van Cleef & Arpels paid US$12 million for it at auction in 2013.
Something for grandma
Most new grandmothers might get a card on the birth of their first grandchild. The actress Elizabeth Taylor got a gold necklace from Richard Burton when she became a grandparent aged 39. Colloquially called ‘the granny necklace’, it’s a showy choker in rice-grain gold and diamonds with a detachable lion’s face at the front. It sold at auction in 2011 for $900,000.
The ultimate evening bag
Patented by Van Cleef & Arpels in the 1930s, the Minaudière is an evening bag inspired by a cigarette tin. Inside the glamorous golden box is everything an elegant woman could desire: a vanity mirror, lighter, lipstick, notepad and pen, dance card, pill box, cigarette case, watch, opera glasses and more – all of it wrought, or cased, in gold.
Zip it up
The Duchess of Windsor, the American socialite who stole the heart of Britain’s King Edward (and for whom he gave up the crown), was a woman who knew what she wanted. She suggested and inspired two emblematic Van Cleef & Arpels designs; the Cadenas watch, and the zip necklace – an ingenious piece of jewellery that uses a zip to transform a necklace into a bracelet.
Fit for a Princess
Any princess worth her palace needs a vast array of jewels. Two of VC&A’s most voracious clients were Her Imperial Highness Princess Soraya of Iran (some her jewels were worn by Cate Blanchett in the film Carol) and Princess Faiza of Egypt. Many of their former crown jewels are on display, including the latter’s peony clip comprising 640 square-cut Burmese rubies surrounded by ‘foliage’ of 239 diamonds.