The thing about Van Cleef & Arpels creations is that they aren’t only beautiful to look at, but are pretty intelligent concept-wise too. For instance, a blooming peony is reimagined as a clip that is clothed in 640 square Burmese rubies using Mystery Set, a clever and patented stone-setting technique which leaves no metal prongs visible. Meanwhile, Minaudiere, a gold vanity case, is fitted with a detachable rose clasp that can be worn as a pin. The box opens up to reveal everything an elegant woman might need on her night out, such as a powder compact, a lipstick that tells the time, a lighter and comb. And then there is the Passe-Partout necklace, a slender and flexible chain that transforms into a choker, a bracelet and even a belt.
The Peony clip, Minaudiere and Passe-Partout necklace are just three of the 400 emblematic precious objects arriving in Singapore this month for Van Cleef & Arpels’ first major exhibition in South-east Asia. Entitled The Art & Science of Gems, the show will highlight the Parisian label’s 120 years of unrivalled artistic knowledge in designing and making jewellery. At the same time, the exhibition will explore the organic formation of the earth’s most decadent gemstones: Complementing the treasured Van Cleef & Arpels pieces will be 250 minerals from the prestigious French National Museum of Natural History, some of which – including a 330-carat black stone and an 800 kg quartz crystal found in the Alps – have never been presented in Asia.
“This exhibition blends art, craft, history and geoscience in a highly distinctive manner,” says Honor Harger, executive director of the hosting Singapore Art Science Museum. “Visitors are taken on a dramatic journey through the origin of minerals, which continues from deep within the earth to its surface. At the same time, they explore the extraordinary craftsmanship that transfigures these rare minerals into works of art,” she adds.
That, exactly, is how Patrick Jouin and Sanjit Mankin, founders of Paris-based spatial design studio Jouin Mankin (the two long-time Van Cleef & Arpels collaborators are also the people behind the interior of classy restaurant 58 Eiffel Tower), have constructed the exhibition’s immersive spaces and showcases. Jewellery is suspended within elongated tubes next to gemstones and minerals housed in crystal-like hexagonal columns – a recurring pattern designed to reflect the intimate bonds between million-year-old gemstones and modern pieces crafted by man.