Blooming Marvelous

In a flamboyant expression of the themes most dear to its heart, storied Parisian jeweller Van Cleef & Arpels has brought a message of love and beauty to the heart of Saudi Arabia — and the Kingdom has never been more ready to receive it.

The best kind of growth happens when all the necessary factors are present for it to last: a strong and nourishing foundation, care and loving attention, and — most importantly — the patience to let it all come together.
This was the principle behind Van Cleef & Arpels’s landmark Time, Nature, Love exhibition at the National Museum of Saudi Arabia, a celebration not just of the Parisian haute joailler’s achievements but also, in parallel, of how very far the Kingdom’s dedication to artistry has come.
With doors flinging wide open to the public in Riyadh last January, this immersive experience takes visitors on a journey to the unique beauty of Van Cleef & Arpels’s whimsical world, continuing to wow crowds until 15 April — at least. A demonstration of the Kingdom’s support for fine arts, the prestigious museum venue plays host to a dynamic exhibition of more than 280 of Van Cleef & Arpels’s most distinctive creations, dating from the founding of the Maison in 1906 right up to the present day, as well as a whole host of seminars, or ‘conversations’, guided by L’ECOLE School of Jewellery Arts. These talks surround themes pertinent to the historic jeweller’s oeuvre, from appreciation of flora in artistic jewellery to the secrets of sentimental jewels. A truly interactive experience, there’s much to learn from a visit to this one-of-a-kind exhibition.
Time, Nature, Love’s curator, Italian jewellery scholar and expert Alba Cappellieri, is no stranger to the finer points of fine jewellery. She is a professor of jewellery and fashion accessory design at the Politecnico di Milano, in the midst of Italy’s fashion heartland, where she leads the International Master in Fashion Accessories Design. She also heads up the Master of Brand and Product Management at the Milano Fashion Institute, as well as being the director of the Museo del Gioiello Vicenza, Italy’s only museum dedicated entirely to jewellery. The perfect person, then, to tell the story of Van Cleef & Arpels in a dynamic and compelling way.
GMT GCC sat with her to find out more about her curation process and how working with designer Johanna Grawunder’s unique take on an exhibition space propelled the installation into a true flight of fantasy

GMT GCC: Time, Nature, Love – three themes perfectly capturing so many of Van Cleef & Arpels’s motifs, features and history. How did you decide on these sections?
Alba: My idea of curation is like designing a product or writing a book, you need to create a powerful innovative story mixing the materiality of the artworks with the immateriality of the Maison’s heritage and legacy. Enlightening and interpreting the brand’s glorious past with a contemporary perspective is my objective. This is the reason why I selected time, nature and love for Van Cleef & Arpels. They are the most important contemporary values and also very important values for the Maison.

The Van Cleef & Arpels archives simply teem with incredible creations. Does it make your job more difficult when you’re so spoilt for choice?
Definitely not. The extraordinary Van Cleef & Arpels patrimonial collection is a dream for any curator, with its great variety and deep knowledge.

The pieces are displayed so beautifully in Johanna Grawunder’s immersive space. How did your work and hers intertwine? Did you work independently and make your selection in advance of seeing her design, or was there some give and take within both your processes?
Johanna’s design is one of the best scenographies I have ever seen. We worked together in a very harmonious and collaborative way. We started from the concept and with the unique support of [Van Cleef & Arpels director of patrimony and exhibitions] Lise MacDonald, we created something unique.
How does your curation process look, when approaching an exhibition such as Time, Nature, Love?
For me, curation is a design practice. Just like designing a product, the best design is based on a powerful story and for this reason, for me, curating is based on the intersection between storytelling and the narrative qualities of the artworks. Creations can design stories, not just the ones intrinsic to their materials, gemstones or craftsmanship, but rather their semantic and contextual characteristics. Curation is a way to innovate.

Does working with a Maison as historic as Van Cleef & Arpels throw up any particular advantages, or challenges? How do you work with these particularities to your benefit?
Working for Van Cleef & Arpels exceeded my expectations by far. It is a great Maison, with an extraordinary story and is guided by visionary and very talented people. I’ve learned a lot working with them and this has been a privilege.

On a personal note, how did it feel to curate this particularly special exhibition?
I feel extremely lucky and grateful. This exhibition changed my perspective forever.

What does Van Cleef & Arpels mean to you, not just as a professional, but also as a jewellery lover?
Van Cleef & Arpels is a model for everyone from different perspectives: the creations, the innovations, the design, the craftsmanship, the history, and after this exhibition for me they are also a model for the human relationship.