Event - Jaw Dropping Over Van Cleef & Arpels Jewelry at Bowers Museum and Dining at Tangata


If you know me closely, you would know that I'm not one to pay attention to jewelry or like adornments. However, when the practical and skillful beauty of Van Cleef & Arpels is in my face in the "A Quest for Beauty" exhibit, it's hard not to stare. I confess that I was not even familiar with the name despite its world renown; my apologies for not being as aware as I'm sure even the most closeted person is. Once I got a whiff of their importance in the history of fine jewelry today though, I was surprised to find such a stunning and well-curated exhibit in the small Bowers Museum located in Santa Ana. From October 27, 2013 to February 15, 2014, the iconic museum housed/houses a grandiose arrangement of some of the most astonishing pieces of jewelry (and certainly a rich history of those) both to showcase the beauty and remind guests of their presence. After all, February 6th will see a boutique opening of Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry at South Coast Plaza.


Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Van Cleef & Arpels

Why was Much Ado About Fooding there? The invitation to an exclusive after-hours tour of the exhibit included a dinner with Chef Chris Brodeur of Tangata, the restaurant attached to the museum and a part of the Patina Restaurant Group. Though that seemed a prize at the end of a walk-through, I was constantly in awe about all that we learned about Van Cleef & Arpels. A company built upon a love story, this jeweler has been providing treasures for decades and for the likes of royalty. Founded in 1906 by Alfred Van Cleef, son of a stone-cutter, and his wife's brothers Charles, Julien, and Louis (some of whom joined later), the business seemed completely fitting considering the couple's individual backgrounds - Estelle Arpels was the daughter of a precious stones dealer. Their passion for each other and stones fueled this business in Paris until it became a world-famous name for its exquisite jewelry.

As we walked through, I was constantly amazed at how many innovations Van Cleef & Arpels was responsible and credited for. Not only was their work magnificently complex and skillful, it was also gorgeous, creative, and practical. Our docent was Tim Adams, an art historian and historical goldwork specialist who was serving as a curatorial consultant at Bowers because he had written a chapter ("Exoticism") of The Quest for Beauty: The Art of Van Cleef & Arpels (I also learned later that he is an expert in fabergĂ© as well!). He explained the versatility of each piece of convertible jewelry in such a rare exhibition which was divided into sections highlighting Nature, Elegance, Exoticism, and Femininity.

Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Van Cleef & Arpels
Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Van Cleef & Arpels
Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Van Cleef & Arpels
Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Van Cleef & Arpels

It seemed as if every stride of innovation we saw was iconic Van Cleef & Arpels. I learned how the minaudiere was invented, a multi-compartment make-up and jewelry holder built out for elegance and classiness for women. Because checking one's watch was unladylike during a visit with someone, the secret watch was born which looked like a decorative bracelet but featured a wearer-only view of the time. Antique accessories and knickknacks were purchased and repurposed into truly timeless pieces. I began to realize that they were not just jewelers but problem solvers. Convertible jewelry was key so that a tiara could double as a necklace, a necklace could come apart into bracelets, and brooches could be gathered from the detached larger pieces. We gaped at the invention of a golden zip necklace (which zipped up to become a bracelet!) which took 15 years to perfect due to gold's own malleability. How amazing is that?

One of their most impressive and certainly signature methods is the "invisible" setting which is done by hand and achieves a seamless gem look. You cannot see any metal in between the precious stones used so that it looks complete. Each piece done with such an arduous setting takes one to two years' time and results in losses of 50-75% in stones (only 1 out of every 4 emerald survives the process and 1 out of every 2 of sapphires and rubies). Such heavy losses occur because these jewels must have microcuts done to slide onto a rail before being snapped in; these cuts create vulnerable points on the jewel and the pressure of snapping can break it. Understandably, the pieces are quite expensive for all of the hard work needed to finish them. It is no wonder that worldwide royalty clamored for these innovations including brooches made by placing jewels on individual springs so that the entire structure shivered with movement. From what we learned, maharajahs were also constant customers and collectors of Van Cleef & Arpels products. Overall, my favorite section was in Exoticism for all of the cultural influences shown through their work.


My thanks to everyone involved in this visit! After viewing such grandeur, we were all led to Tangata, the French inspired restaurant attached to Bowers Museum. Chef Chris Brodeur treated everyone with three courses, the first of which was lovely all in itself and possibly where I ought to have stopped eating due to being full. We had a Radish Salad formed with watermelon radishes and large leaves of butter lettuce. Topped with red grapefruit, dried apricots,and tarragon, the first course was fresh and a palate opener with its champagne vinaigrette. Our second course was an impressive 6 oz medallion of filet mignon that was so tender, I hardly used my knife. It was presented with a fennel soubise, smoked fingerling potatoes, and sauce au poivre. All of the pieces played together quite well. Our third course was a Red Wine Poached Pear made with red wine reduction, truffle honey, truffle Chantilly cream, and a cinnamon essence (Chef Chris noted that he used a 20th Century pear to hold up against the poaching). Earthy and luscious, this pear seemed almost experimental with its paired truffle Chantilly but was a beaut in its own right. Was this our "gem" of a tribute for the night to match Van Cleef & Arpels? Perhaps. But then, I wasn't able to wear it as a bracelet too so maybe not.

MAAF Photography by Minerva Thai. Other photos noted in captions. More photos available on Facebook here.

Share:

0 comments