On June 2, Van Cleef & Arpels will unveil “A New Art: Metamorphoses of Jewelry, 1880-1914,” a Paris exhibition that focuses on nearly 100 items from a period that spanned the Art Nouveau era, many designed by the most leading craftsmen of the age such as René Lalique, Georges Fouquet and Henri Vever.
“Art Nouveau is a subject that we have not covered in our exhibitions in the past, and we always try to look at it from different angles, different time periods and different cultures when programming our shows,” said Lise Macdonald, the president of L’ École, School of Jewelry Arts of the brand. The most recent show featured gold ornaments from China over several centuries.
Reservations can be made on the school’s website for the free exhibition, which will be held through September 30 in the 18th-century building of L’École near Place Vendôme (with a break from August 5-21). Most of the objects on display, on loan from brands and institutions such as the Musée d’Orsay, have distinctive Art Nouveau details: curved lines, a combination of precious materials and everyday materials such as glass and tin, and images inspired by nature or fantasy.
But the movement, which had its heyday from about 1890 to 1910, was not limited to jewelry. “The vision of Art Nouveau was that it affects all the arts,” says Paul Paradis, a teacher at L’École who worked on the exhibition. “It was a total design concept, from the ceiling to the floor to the door handles.”
None of the jewelry — including a Lalique necklace in gold, enamel, glass, and platinum with dangling pendants resembling women with vivid green and cobalt blue butterfly wings around their legs — was made by Van Cleef, which opened its first shop on Place in 1906 Vendome .
“The school’s mandate is not to focus on Van Cleef & Arpels,” Ms Macdonald said; it is intended “to speak to the wider public about the history of jewelry, about the know-how and about gemology.” In the period represented in the exhibition, Van Cleef focused more “on abstractions and symmetry and the trend of Art Deco.”
Joanna Hardy, a fine jewelery specialist in London who is not affiliated with the school, said L’École is more concerned with education than marketing. “Just because they didn’t make it doesn’t mean they wouldn’t show it,” she said.
Still, the show’s theme seems to reinforce the brand’s positioning.
Van Cleef “is trying to use Nouveau to say, ‘We’re about craftsmanship — it’s not just about the gold you buy or the diamonds you buy,'” says Akshay Madane, a partner at the management consulting firm Kearney.
Other luxury brands have used museum sponsorships and exhibitions to sell similar stories, he said. “They try to educate and inspire, and they do it slowly in a subtle way so as not to come across as salesy, because that’s not what these brands are about.”