Saturday, March 19, 2011

JEWELS FOR A PRINCESS, The Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels (c) By Polly Guerin

Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend but then there are rubies, emeralds and sapphires to color one’s life with vibrant fine jewelry designs that any princess in a romantic novel would cherish. Van Cleef & Arpels the legendary French jewelry brings to the fashion stage a world of beauty, fashion, mystery, storytelling and magic! The luxury jeweler has revisited its iconic surrealist Zip necklace and the gem-setting procedure known as the Mystery Setting at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York in the exhibit “Set in Style,” which showcases several themes: Innovation, Transformations, Nature as Inspiration, Exoticism and Fashion on display with all its historical dazzle until June 5, 2011. Even if you cannot afford this luxury---it is well worth admiring the detail of these exquisite works of art, the Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry, for themselves.
On view are over 350 jewels, timepieces fashion accessories and objets d’art, many of which were created for the American market. Since its boutique opened in 1906 in Paris Van Cleef & Arpels has played a leading role in style and design innovation in the world of the fashion cognoscenti. Its timeless pieces have been worn by royalty as well as heroines of the silver screen, queens, princesses and famous women including style icons the Duchess of Windsor, H.S.H. Princess Grace of Monaco and Dame Elizabeth Taylor to name a few. By far one of the most unique design is the Zip necklace that the jeweler recently introduced in Paris with four new spectacular versions at their Place Vendome boutique.
Van Cleef & Arpels is renowned for transforming objects from one form into another, hence the theme Transformations and the Zip necklace has a zipper that really works. What you’ll see on display, is the iconic surrealist Zip design, which was originally commissioned by the Duchess of Windsor in 1938, but only got as far as the sketch stage, being too difficult to engineer in platinum and diamonds as she had requested. However, the first yellow-gold version was produced in 1951. The highly technical piece the Zip necklace can be worn as a necklace or zipped up to form a bracelet, giving the piece great flexibility. It was the ultimate design solution by the firm’s head designer Rene-Sims Lacaze, and artistic designer Renee Puissant, daughter of Alfred Van Cleef and Estelle Arpels. Their liaison begins in 1926 and the next two decades are a highly creative period for luxury jeweler.
Truly remarkable is the Mystery Setting an innovation in which matched gemstones are grooved and set in channels so that the setting is invisible. The Mystery-Set Ribbon bracelet, circa 1943, for example, emeralds are softer than sapphires and rubies, making exact cutting difficult; they are also harder to match for color, so Mystery-Set emeralds are particularly rare. Van Cleef & Arpels is also the originator of the Minaudiere patented in 1934, a vanity case the size of a small clutch that is popular with fashionistas worldwide.
When Van Cleef & Aprels opened its doors it was an era of high collars and frilly lace, but the luxury jeweler has kept pace with the times of changing tastes and fashion. Whatever the period, VC&A has understood the line between fashion and jewelry as a powerful emotional sensibility that greatly influences contemporary design. The celebrated women and their choices of adornment are also a significant part of jewelry-design history. Among the great ladies legendary opera singer Maria Callas showed off her jewelry onstage and off including her flower brooch fashioned with rubies, diamonds and platinum, and always a favorite the adorable poodle brooch of the model owned by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in gold diamonds, rubies.
The history of Van Cleef & Arpels is a saga of the merging two families that formed legendary alliance as purveyors of fine jewelry, luxury jewelry. Both families had long been in the diamond and colored-stone markets in the Netherlands and Belgium. The daughter of Salomon Arpels, a dealer in precious stones, married Alfred Van Cleef, whose family were sheet merchants living in the 19th arrondissement of Paris. That same year, Alfred Van Cleef and Salomon Arpels established a jewelry business and in 1906, they registered the “Van Cleef & Arpels” trademark and opened a boutique in the tony haute couture enclave at 22 Place Vendome. Progressively, the second generation joined the business and in 1942 the Arpels family immigrated to America and opened their first boutique in New York, on 5th Avenue. Venturing further the firm later became the first French jeweler to open boutiques in Japan and China.

Visit Van Cleef & Arpels at
The Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum is located at 2 East 91st Street.
Biography: Polly Guerin, a former professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and is currently working on a book entitled the Cooper-Hewitt’s of Old New York in which the founders of the Cooper-Hewitt museum, Eleanor Gurnee and Sarah Cooper Hewitt, granddaughters of Peter Cooper, are featured in the chapter, “A Tale of Two Sisters.”

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


What could be more binding, more permanent a document than the legendary “Ketubbah” a marriage contract? The ancient Ketubbah was not merely a legal document it became a splendid work of art, but it did not begin that way. It originated as a contract protecting the interests of a woman and her children. From the first simply decorated examples of these magnificent treasures, frequently embellished with decorative borders and fine calligraphy evolved with increasingly elaborate ornamentation with texts and decoration providing rich sources of information on the artistic creativity, cultural interactions, and social history of the communities in which they were created from Iraq and Iran to Italy and the Netherlands, and finally to the United States. Recently there has been a renewed interest in the formalities of the Ketubbah and celebrations that follow the traditional Berberisca ceremony.
Similar to modern marriage contracts of intent, the Ketubbah not only outlined the rules of engagement and the sacredness of marriage it was a symbol of pride and displayed in the homes of Jews, be they wealthy or poor, scholar or layman, living in the West under Christian governance or in the East under Muslim rule. The largest number of Ketubbot in ‘The Library of Jew Theological Seminary’ are from Italy, where the art of the decorated Ketubbah found its most beautiful expression during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries under the influence of Renaissance and Baroque art. Thirty magnificent examples of marriage contracts from the Library from Egypt, Persia, Afghanistan and India are on view in the exhibit, “The Art of Matrimony” at The Jewish Museum, 1109 Fifth Avenue at 92nd Street, Manhattan.
Before a wedding, the families of Jewish brides and grooms traditionally negotiated a marriage contract, a legal document that sets forth the husband’s obligations to his wife and specifies the monies due her in the event of a divorce or his death. By the seventeenth century they were richly decorated with figurative, floral, architectural, and geometric designs. Regional stylistic traditions developed, emanating from the two major centers of Ketubbah ornamentation, Italy and the Middle East. The Marriage Contract, 1816, pictured above reflects the custom of Jewish couples in Italy and Amsterdam of creating a secular legal document to confirm their financial obligations. Watercolor and gold paint on parchment. The decorative border of flowers and birds was characteristic of Ketubbot from Ancora, Italy beginning in the early eighteenth century.
The ‘Noche de Berberisca’ ceremony, which takes place during the week before a Moroccan Jewish wedding, is an intimate gathering of families and friends that precedes the wedding. It is enhanced with Sephardic songs, or Judeo-Arabic music, fashion, delicious dishes and pastries made with almonds and honey. The richest and picturesque Noche de Berberisca or Soiree de Henne means that the bride’s hands and feet are decorated in elaborate designs with henna (Henna is a red dye from crushed henna) to prepare the bride for leaving her family. In the Marriage Contract from Meknes, Morocco, 1896, two blessing hands are inscribed with Priestly symbolism, and also amuletic and protective connotations, especially popular in Morocco.
The evening reaches its climax when the bride makes her entrance magnificently dressed in the Berberisca Traje de Panos, or Vestido de Berberisca (Spanish), or Keswa Elkibra (Great Dress in Arabic). *Note picture above. She also wears a gorgeous crown embellished with imitation or real gems. In this elaborate attire the bride-to- be is announced into the reception room and greeted by waiting family and friends. The event is enhanced with songs or singing and adulations (wailing noises) to show their happiness about the couple’s upcoming marriage. At this time the bridal presents may be displayed and tokens of adornment from bride and groom presented. The celebration is followed by a Moroccan tea and pastry reception. The traditional Moroccan Jewish Bridal celebration was part of The American Sephardi Federation’s exhibit “2,000 year of Jewish Life in Morocco: An Epic Journey.”