A new exhibition at the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, examines the significant historical contributions to jewelry design and design innovation made by Van Cleef & Arpels. Since its opening in 1906 on the Place Vendôme in Paris, the famous firm has played a leading role in style and innovation, pioneering techniques and designs, with an attention to craftsmanship. 

Set in Style: The Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels features more than 300 dazzling works, including jewels, timepieces, fashion accessories and objets d’art, many of which were created exclusively for American clientele. It also features design drawings, commission books, fabrication cards and imagery from the firm’s archives. 

The exhibition is organized into six principal themes, outlined here with pertinent examples: Innovation (the Varuna bell push for the butler, a minutely detailed model of a yacht on a sea of choppy-waved jasper – thought to be the earliest-known existing Van Cleef & Arpels object; and the 1937 Peony brooch, in gold, platinum, diamonds and rubies – a perfect example of the Mystery Setting technique, pioneered by the firm, in which the setting does now show between the stones, creating a solid field of colour); Transformation (a brooch of a bird, whose wings can become earrings and whose tail becomes a brooch – featuring the stunning Walaska 95-carart yellow diamond suspended from the beak of the bird); Nature (the 1937 Bouquet brooch, which shows the colour combination of stones to their best advantage without worry about botany; and the 1948 Snowflake brooch in gold and diamonds); Exoticism (the 1924 Egyptian bracelet, with a soaring bird rendered in emeralds, sapphires and rubies); Fashion (a fitted-out ‘30s clutch, called the Minaudière, containing compartments for such items as a compact, lipstick, comb, mirror, calling- or dance-card holder, pill box, space for money or a handkerchief, cigarette case, with a lighter hidden on the side and a hidden clock);  and Personalities (a tiara worn by H.S.H. Princess Grace of Monaco; along with items from the likes of Marlene Dietrich, Eva Peron, Elizabeth Taylor and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis).  

French designer Patrick Jouin has created a site-specific installation for the exhibition. Set in Style: The Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels runs at Cooper-Hewitt through June 5.