The Making of Set In Style

Amethyst, diamond, emerald, jade, onyx, ruby and sapphire—the very words conjure up an exotic world of beauty, fashion, mystery, and intrigue. Set in Style: The Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels provides ample evidence that the celebrated jeweler does indeed exemplify that world. Marriage brought the Arpels and Van Cleef families together in 1896, leading to the formal foundation of the jewelry business ten years later. They developed a name for quality in fine traditional pieces in the next years, adding dramatic new designs for long necklaces and dangling earrings to suit the flapper styles of the 1920s. Dresses in the 1930s returned to more flowing, feminine lines, accompanied by wavy hairstyles, cigarettes in long holders, and miniature boxes for accessories. Headquartered in Paris at the Place Vendome, the company expanded its reach by adding a New York location for the 1939 World’s Fair, later starting a design and development team to create designs specifically for the burgeoning leaders, aristocrats, heiresses, and industrialists of North America. Renowned for its wonderfully stylized renditions of themes from nature, the firm also created mosaics of gemstones that became known as “Mystery Settings.” Their clips of birds on a branch, flaming torches, and dancing ballerinas were inspired statements of love and hope amidst the perturbation of World War II. Then, in the 1950s, Van Cleef’s popular jewelry, especially its designs for the American market, mirrored the optimism of the postwar era. As the nation’s only design museum driven by our mission to advance the public understanding of design, Cooper-Hewitt is proud to present the remarkable innovation and design trends launched by Van Cleef & Arpels and enjoyed by such style icons as the Duchess of Windsor, Princess Grace of Monaco, Elizabeth Taylor, Maria Callas, and First Lady Jackie Kennedy. Set in Style includes more than 350 works of jewels, timepieces, fashion accessories and specialty objects, and explores the historical significance of the firm’s contributions to jewelry design in the 20th century. Renowned French designer Patrick Jouin designed the site-specific installation, based on the curatorial themes of the exhibition and the domestic environment of the Carnegie Mansion. Become a member today, and join us for the opening celebration this week, and numerous programs throughout the course of the exhibition (runs through June 5, 2011). Meanwhile, here’s a sneak peek of the Museum’s galleries during the making of Set in Style.