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Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum Presents Set in Style The Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels

“Set in Style: The Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels” examines the renowned jewelry firm’s significant historical contributions to jewelry design and design innovation, particularly during the 20th century. Organized by Sarah Coffin, curator and head of the Product Design and Decorative Arts department, the exhibition opens Feb. 18 and will run through June 5, 2011.

Since its 1906 opening on the Place Vendôme in Paris, Van Cleef & Arpels has played a leading role in style and design innovation. Pioneering techniques and designs, combined with an attention to craftsmanship, are at the core of Van Cleef & Arpels’ jewelry and small precious objects.
The exhibition features more than 350 works, including jewels, timepieces, fashion accessories and objets d’art by Van Cleef & Arpels, drawn from numerous private collections and institutions, as well as the Van Cleef & Arpels’ museum collection. These objects, many of which were created exclusively for American clientele, will be supplemented with design drawings, commission books, fabrication cards and imagery from the firm’s archives.

“As the nation’s design museum, Cooper-Hewitt is delighted to present the work of Van Cleef & Arpels,” said Bill Moggridge, director of the museum. “This is the first exhibition to approach the work of Van Cleef & Arpels from the perspective of a design museum and focus on the establishment of the design house in New York and the role of American style and taste in the market.”

“Set in Style” will be organized by six principal themes: Innovation, Transformation, Nature, Exoticism, Fashion and Personalities.

Special commissions have made up an important part of Van Cleef & Arpels’ design history from its earliest days, often combining the imagination (and sometimes gemstones) of the client with that of the designer.

The most notable technical innovation perfected and advanced for curved surfaces by Van Cleef & Arpels is the “Mystery Setting” technique in which the setting does not show between the stones, creating a solid field of color. This technique requires a highly skilled craftsman and a specialist in stones, as the stones need to be cut exactly to fit the designs and their channel settings and need to be matched to exactly the right color. Extraordinary examples include the 1937 “Peony” brooch with mystery-set rubies and the 1959 “Boulle” ring with mystery-set sapphires.

The earliest known existing Van Cleef & Arpels object, circa 1908, is the “Varuna” bell push for the butler, a minutely detailed model of a yacht on a sea of choppy-waved jasper, which is thought to be commissioned by the yacht’s owner, the American Eugene Higgins. The work required the skills of artisans acquainted with the age-old techniques of enameling and stone carving.

Another stylistic innovation was the bracelet with a buckle closure known as the “Ludo,” a nickname for the firm’s founder Louis Arpels, who inspired its design.

About the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
Cooper-Hewitt is the only museum in the nation devoted exclusively to historic and contemporary design. Founded in 1897, the museum has been a branch of the Smithsonian since 1967. The museum presents compelling perspectives on the impact of design on daily life through active educational programs, exhibitions and publications.
The museum is located at 2 East 91st Street at Fifth Avenue in New York City. Hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The museum is closed on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. Public transit routes include the 4, 5 and 6 subways (86th or 96th Street stations) and the Fifth and Madison Avenue buses. General admission, $15; senior citizens and students ages 12 and older, $10. Cooper-Hewitt and Smithsonian members and children younger than age 12 are admitted free.

Image: Watercolor drawing: Passe-partout chain necklace/belt with floral clips. Designed by Van Cleef & Arpels. Paris, France, ca. 1947. Van Cleef & Arpels’ Archives. Courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels

For further information, please call (212) 849-8400 or visit

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