Natural motifs and exquisite craftsmanship take centre stage in the historic French jewellery house's Poetry of Time exhibition.
Attend the Van Cleef & Arpels jewellery and watches exhibition in Dubai
Turquoise and mother-of-pearl gemstones carved into quaint clover shapes are a popular sight in the UAE, decorating the pendants, rings and dainty bracelets worn by women across the country. But while the iconic clover charms from Van Cleef & Arpels’s Alhambra collection may be the maison’s most recognisable fashion staples, there is so much more to this historic French jewellery house, as its upcoming Poetry of Time exhibition at The Dubai Mall shows.
Taking place from February 9 to February 20 at The Dubai Mall Atrium, Poetry of Time presents a glittering showcase of the brand’s finesse when it comes to fine watchmaking, and offers a glimpse of some of its most iconic and innovative designs. Expect intricately set diamonds, miniature artworks, sculpted gold and state-of-the-art mechanical movements – coming together to create timepieces that are much more than mere watches. These are treasured collectors’ items, the result of countless hours of craftsmanship.
“Each creation by Van Cleef & Arpels tells a story, whether it is about love, happiness, nature or luck: cherished sources of inspiration for the maison,” says Alessandro Maffi, regional managing director, Van Cleef & Arpels.
The theme of nature is a recurring one in Poetry of Time, with motifs such as birds, ladybirds and greenery adorning diamond-studded watch dials. The contradictory elements of force and fragility are juxtaposed in the designs, working together to exude a special kind of opulence. Nature is a theme used by many jewellers, but rarely is it reflected so literally in a high-jewellery design or timepiece without looking overly garish. Van Cleef & Arpels manages to strike a beautiful balance between bold, striking aesthetics and delicate, feminine grace.
Take a closer look at the pieces in the Lady Arpels Oiseaux Enchantés collection, and you’ll get a clearer understanding of the complex composition of these timepieces. Gold 38mm cases and bezel-set diamonds frame the enchanting artworks, crafted from miniature feathers in rich tones, hard stone marquetry and gold and onyx sculpting. The designs come complete with alligator strap bands that have gold pin buckles set with diamonds, and feature Swiss manual-winding mechanical movements. There are only 22 pieces in existence.
“Our vision for this collection was about bringing life to colourful yet graceful birds, and the maison deployed an unbounded creativity to delve into these new dimensions of nature, using delicate techniques of miniature feather art for the first time,” says Maffi.
The birds, a turquoise kingfisher, stark red cardinal and indigo hummingbird, are not to be mistaken for simple illustrations. Van Cleef & Arpels recruited Nelly Saunier, artiste plumassière, or feather artist, to construct the bird imagery. Saunier searched the coats of each bird for feathers that had the colours, density and texture required for the task at hand. After being flattened and smoothed out, the feathers were carefully trimmed to the desired size, and then painstakingly layered to create a naturally thick, three-dimensional effect.
The bird motif is also to be found in designs that were shown at last year’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH). In the Lady Arpels Jour Nuit Oiseaux de Paradis design, a bird of paradise is pictured perching on a bird of paradise flower, in a dial crafted from engraved gold and diamonds. Come nightfall, however, and the scene changes: the bright orange petals of the flower disappear, to be replaced by a diamond moon. In a similar style, the Lady Arpels Jour Nuit Coccinelles watch shows ladybirds – symbols of luck – fluttering across four-leaf clovers during the day, while at night, a bouquet of diamond-set flowers is revealed. The self-winding mechanical movement, with a 24-hour module and complex shifting scenery mechanisms, is exclusive to Van Cleef & Arpels, and offers a playful touch to the high-end timepieces.
These particular watches, which combine luxury with artful storytelling, belong to the Poetic Complications collection, which was launched in 2006 when Van Cleef & Arpels celebrated its 100th anniversary. Prior designs include the Midnight Planétarium Poetic Complication timepiece, which was presented at SIHH in 2014. In addition to telling the time, the watch portrays an accurate representation of the positions and movements of the first five planets in our solar system. The Sun is created from pink gold, while the planets are made from a range of semi-precious stones including serpentine, chloromelanite, turquoise, sugilite and blue agate.
Innovation, passion and craftsmanship are qualities that Van Cleef & Arpels prides itself on. How could one expect anything less from a jewellery house that has its roots in a 19th-century marriage between lovers with fine-jewellery-making in their blood? In 1895, Alfred Van Cleef, the son of a stonecutter, married Estelle Arpels, the daughter of a precious-stones dealer. In 1906, their marriage bore an eternal offspring when the first Van Cleef & Arpels boutique was established at 22 Place Vendôme in Paris. In 1918, the high-jewellery maison ventured into the realm of timepieces with its first chatelaine models.
The French high-jewellery house quickly became a coveted name among royalty around the world. In 1956, Van Cleef & Arpels became the official supplier to the Principality of Monaco, after Grace Kelly wore a Van Cleef & Arpels pearl and diamond set for her wedding to Prince Rainier III. For her coronation ceremony in 1967, Empress Farah Pahlavi of Iran wore a crown that was designed by Van Cleef & Arpels, using jewels from Iran’s Imperial Treasury, marking not only a huge honour for the brand, but also a historical moment since it was the first time in Iranian history that a ruler’s wife was crowned, and titled shahbanu, or empress. It took six months to construct the crown, which is now on display in Tehran at the Central Bank of Iran.
Also on show at the upcoming Poetry of Time exhibition are celebrated Van Cleef & Arpels high-jewellery watches, such as the À Cheval and Cadenas models. The À Cheval design was first created in 1981, and features white round diamonds bezel-set in platinum on both the 20mm dial and bracelet. The ever-present theme of luck also makes an appearance in the form of horseshoe-shaped charms that connect the bracelet with the clasp.
The unique design of the Cadenas watch, meanwhile, has made it something of a Van Cleef & Arpels icon. “During the 1930s, we began playing with new and avant-garde ideas, as an effect of the new industrial age and technology, and the Cadenas is the perfect example of modern art,” says Maffi. “Today, we still give honour to the design and all of the heritage that it carries. A symbol of sentimental attachment is its clasp, which is said to have been inspired by the Duchess of Windsor,” he says. There are now nine different variations of the Cadenas watch, some featuring diamond-set cases and others with double snake chain or leather bracelets.
A timepiece exclusive to the Middle East will also be on display. The Van Cleef & Arpels Charms collection was designed in 2008, and the limited-edition Charms Malachite model was created especially for this region. The 32mm yellow gold case is decorated with a malachite dial that symbolises hope and nature. The dial is bordered with two rows of round diamonds, and has a diamond-paved Alhambra cut-out charm. The alligator strap is interchangeable, and available in shiny green or matte white colours. It’s safe to assume that this will be a highly coveted piece for the region’s luxury connoisseurs, who will always have space in their jewellery box for one more piece of Van Cleef.
For more information, visit www.vancleefarpels.com