Style Setters | Van Cleef & Arpels at the Cooper-Hewitt
In the late 1930s, the Duchess of Windsor proposed a fashionably novel and, for the time, technologically complex idea to Van Cleef & Arpels: make her a piece of jewelry that zips. More than a decade later, the duchess got her wish. "The necklace that resulted was really a kind of partnership," says Sarah Coffin, the curator of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. "This wasn't just a little brooch," she says, noting the necklace's intricacy and the intervening war, which brought French jewelry production to a near standstill. This piece and many other diamond-encrusted feats of ingenuity will be on display at the Cooper-Hewitt from Feb. 18 to June 5 as part of "Set in Style: The Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels."
In addition to the American-born duchess, Van Cleef's clients included Jackie Kennedy and Grace Kelly, whose tiara, and diamond, platinum and cultured pearl engagement set are included in the show. More recent Van Cleef converts, like Lisa Maria Falcone and Iris Cantor, loaned the museum Mystery-set pieces from their own private collections. (See Cantor's ruby, sapphire, and diamond American Bicentennial brooch, in which matched gemstones are grooved and set in channels, rendering the setting invisible.) That said, Coffin says she hopes the glittering gems don't outshine Van Cleef's technical prowess. The objects are "glamorous, of course," she says, "but you can also appreciate the fact that somebody's actually asked, 'What can this do?' "
"Set in Style: The Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels" is at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum from Feb. 18 to June 5; cooperhewitt.org.