Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Duchess of Cambridge's New Charm Bracelet

Kate wearing her new bracelet and
the dress that sold out in minutes.
We are taking a break from Van Cleef and Arpels for just a moment to report on a new piece of jewelry seen on the arm of The Duchess of Cambridge, aka, Kate Middleton. You probably owned a piece like this at one time but felt it was a little outdated and may have recently "sold it for gold" to make a little extra cash.  So who but the world's current fashion icon is seen wearing a very traditional yellow gold charm bracelet with an initial disc hanging from it? Reports say it was a wedding gift from mother-in-law, Camillia, who wears a similar bracelet on her wrist.

No matter how hard Italian jewelry designers like Roberto Coin and Marco Bicego are working to return the trend to yellow gold, white gold has remained a strong trend for the last 15-20 years.  As a matter of fact, most of the gold that's being sold for cash these days is the yellow gold we all have laying, unworn, in the bottom of our jewelry boxes. 

Kate has the fashion power to turn the trend back to yellow gold.
That's a lot of "C"'s, standing for Catherine, Cambridge, Camilla.  
What other "C" words could go on Camilla's bracelet?
The disc charm has Catherine's monogram on one side and Camilla's on the other.
Both "C"'s are under a coronet but Kate's "C" has an extra curl while Camilla's is surrounded by a circle.

Not to be outdone by Diana's stunning sapphire and diamond engagement ring,
Camilla takes possession of Kate's other arm with a replica of her own charm bracelet. 
I had to post this photo because I just love his coat.
Prince William: wearing a better outfit than the Duchess. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Field Trip! Part IV - Fashion at the Van Cleef & Arpels Exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum

Open Minaudiere. 1935
In Part IV of Set in Style, the Van Cleef & Arpels exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, we bring you Fashion.

As the story goes … in 1930, Charles Arpels was having dinner with friends, among them, Florence Jay Gould, wife of a philanthropist, when he noticed the tin box she took out of her purse that held her lipstick (some say it was a metal Lucky Strike cigarette box).  He was surprised that such a glamorous woman didn’t have a more luxurious container for her cosmetics, and, right there at the dinner table, the clever, ornate and utilitarian Minaudiere was born.

“Minaudières” by Van Cleef & Arpels from “The Spirit of Beauty” exhibition from Van Cleef & Arpels inspirations on Vimeo

Taking inspiration from the smaller Nécessaire, Arpels decided it should hold everything (MacGyver style) that a fashionable woman could possibly need for a night out on the town.  It was an engineering wonder that contained fitted, hinged compartments which held lipstick, cigarettes, compact, watch, hankies, etc., and, when open, resembled a bejewelled piece of camping equipment.  Women looked so chic pulling a cigarette out of their Minaudiere's, however, the less dexterous may have needed help closing all those little lids because it looks like you could cut a finger off if you were in a hurry. 

Now this is my idea of a Kindle cover.
Black lacquer, gold and diamonds.

She came a long way from the tin box.
Pearl and diamond Nécessaire once owned by Florence Jay Gould.
Do you think this fits the IPhone?  
Ruby, emerald, sapphire, diamond, jade and gold Nécessaire, 1926.
An 18th century version of the Minaudiere, The Nécessaire was smaller and only held a few personal items like sewing needles and small scissors. far we've come.  Just think of Minaudiere and Nécessaire as French words for "make-up bag."  Women still refresh their make-up at the dinner table, although with today's manners, it's not unusual to see a woman throw a piece of Samsonite up on the dinner table and do a full makeup – 10X magnified mirror and all.  Gone are the glamour days of just carrying your essentials on a night out.  We carry so much stuff in today's gigantor handbags that a girl needs a cortisone shot in her shoulders from time to time just to carry her Marc Jacobs around town.

But you would be wrong if you thought the diminutive Minaudiere was a complete thing of the past.  Judith Leiber, one of the longest sustaining luxury handbag designers, continues to produce some of the finest Minaudiere's you can find.  Emigrating to the United States with her husband in 1947, Ms. Leiber honed her skills by working for some of the leading handbag manufacturers in New York.  Starting her own company in 1963, her unique, intricate marvels were a cut above the rest.  Made from the finest Austrian crystals and, in some cases, semi-precious stones, they are not cheap.  Not only have her bags been found on the arm of most of our first ladies since the 1950's, and some of Hollywood's most famous women, but you can also find them as part of permanent collections in London, New York, Washington, DC, Houston and Los Angeles. Here are some of the more hysterical - I mean unique ones....

Habibi Minaudiere. $5995-This party is so boring I'm going to rub the side of this bag and when the genie comes out, I'm going to wish I was somewhere else.

Panda Minaudiere. $4695 - For those of you who have ever been addicted to a Panda Cam, now you can just sit this thing on top of your computer.

Beehive Minaudiere. $5600 - Are Pooh and Piglet available as key fobs?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Field Trip! Part III - Nature at the Van Cleef & Arpels Exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum

Believe it or not, this is a Van Cleef & Arpels brooch.
Would you wear it?
Welcome to Nature, Part III of Set in Style, the Van Cleef & Arpels exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. Many of the pieces in this category were brooches and, no offense, brooches (or pins) are probably the most boring piece of jewelry one can own.  Even the word brooch sounds old, like it should come in a mothball can.

I think brooches are boring.
Unless we're talking about one of VC&A's Set in Style treasures,
then that's a different story.

Every now and then, a client will come to my counter (usually an older person) to ask if we have any brooches. When we say we don’t have any in stock, this person often looks at us like we are dumb as rocks for missing the biggest selling opportunity to ever come along.  Sometimes, this person will continue to give me an attitude, at which I say things like, “gee, I haven’t even seen a brooch in the past 30 years.” (Like, hello, go back to your coffin - it's almost daylight).

Therefore, if you are a younger person, most likely you don’t own a brooch since they haven’t been in style for a really long time. You might have one or two lying in the bottom of your jewelry box like I do, but you don’t wear them because you have so many other cool things that you wear all the time, however, there are those women who still wear them (corporate world, attorneys, etc) because of the way they can finish their look.

I think pins look best on suits, but women just don’t wear that many suits anymore.  Today, women tend to show a Iot more skin, and it’s hard to pin a pin on skin. I really haven't seen pins since the Alexis Carrington Dynasty days of the 80's when suits were structured and had runway sized shoulder pads. Pins actually soften the look of a suit, and that’s why women like Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright look good in pins because they can be somewhat cardboard in appearance when conducting business. However, take a look at Hillary Clinton at her daughter Chelsea's wedding last year. I thought she looked her best in her silky, turquoise caftan (rather than as we usually see her).

Looking more like wood.
Flowing and looking less like wood.

Someone who really knows how to wear a pin is Madeleine Albright.  She used pins to set a tone for important meetings during her tenure as Ambassador to the United Nations and as Secretary of State.  She, as many women do, used jewelry to commemorate an event or indicate how she felt.  She did this through pins, and she did it well.  She wore an antique snake pin when she met with Saddam Hussein, and a “hear  no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” monkey pin when she met with Vladimir Putin to indicate her position on the Chechen atrocities. Putin told President Clinton he could tell how a meeting with Albright might go depending on her pin.

This was an imaginative and creative use of jewelry, and her book, Read My Pins, tells us the thought process behind the pins she chose to wear depending upon whom she was meeting. Think about a woman as busy as Albright.  Not only did she have to do her hair and get dressed in the morning, she also had to pick out the right pin. I will never complain again about getting ready for work in the morning because one thing I don't have to do is coordinate my jewelry with history.

You go girl....I think she's pissed because she wasn't allowed
to go down in that hole and pull Saddam out!

But I digress. The brooches inspired by nature in the VC&A exhibit are magnificent.  The platinum and diamond “Orchid” brooch (1928), the gold and diamond “Snowflake” brooch (1948), the diamond and pearl “Bunch of Grapes” brooch (1915), the diamond and emerald (or sapphire or ruby) “Sycamore Leaf” brooch (1951), and my personal favorite, the enormous and completely ridiculous “Scarlet Macaw” brooch (1995). Made from diamonds, rubies and sapphires, the beak is made from coral and onyx. This brooch, as other VC&A brooches, is really big.  Of course, that means more precious stones, which equals more expensive, but that’s what VC&A’s is all about. I just get a fit of hysterics when I think of someone wearing this pin on her shoulder.  ARG!

My orchids always die.  I would take better care of this one.

What a shame you can you only wear this in winter.
The Grapes of Want.

I would have no problem raking these leaves if they fell in my yard.
Must be worn on the shoulder while on a wooden ship.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Field Trip! Part II - Innovation at the Van Cleef & Arpels Exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum

Today we are taking a look at another category of jewelry from the Set in Style, The Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. Today’s subject is “Innovation,” and who better to analyze than an original famewhore, the Duchess of Windsor and the “Zip” necklace.  Around 1939, the Duchess collaborated with Renee Puissant, the artistic director of VC&A, and asked the renowned jeweler to create a platinum and diamond zipper for one of her evening dresses. Zippers were relatively new at the time, but even for someone as ostentatious as she, a platinum and diamond zipper for a dress was a little over the top. Can you imagine having the kind of downtime that allows you to come up with such an idea?

Never mind the scarcity of platinum during this time. Keep in mind that even today, compared to silver and gold, there is relatively little platinum available. Per the Platinum Guild, “Platinum is 30 times more rare than gold. If platinum mining ceased today, the available supply would be exhausted in two years, compared to a quarter of a century for gold," so you can imagine how rare the metal was in the 1930s.  The Guild further states, “With the outbreak of war in 1939, platinum is declared a strategic metal in the USA, used for the manufacture of armaments. Its use for making jewelry is forbidden.” (But Wallis whined, "I need that zipper - buttons are so hard to do!"). So while it was a very creative notion on the part of the Duchess to use one of those newfangled zipper things as a jewelry idea, her self-focused sense of timing was terrible.  

Another bad idea.  We should not be making these PR decisions on our own anymore.

Although the zip was never actually sewn into her dress, VC&A achieved the first zip necklace around 1940 with two gold ribbons and small diamond set hooks on each side that slide into each other. It can be worn open as a necklace or zipped up and wrapped around your wrist and worn like a bracelet. In the image below, the back actually unclasps from the top of the necklace to form a bracelet.

Innovation.  Van Cleef & Arpels Zip Necklace.

It took a full 10 years to perfect the design technique, and by 1951 it was fully developed and the “Zip” necklace was born.  The Iconic Zip Necklace continues to be a formidable part of the VC&A collections.

Eve Best as Wallis Simpson in "The Kings Speech" wore a number of authentic Van Cleef & Arpels pieces in the film.

Some say the Duchess is famous for the quote, “You can never be too rich or too thin.” Well, she was rich and she was thin, and by 1950's, her cigarette induced, osteoporitic, wizzened frame was very fashionable. Today, when I see someone like that, I'm already doing calculations in my head about how long they have to live.  

Living the life of luxury can be hard on a girl.  Photo:  Richard Avedon.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Field Trip! Part I - Transformation at Van Cleef & Arpels Exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum

My sister and I ventured to NYC the other day to check out, Set in Style: The Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels, exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. Organized by Sarah Coffin, curator and head of the Product Design and Decorative Arts Department, the exhibition opened February 18, 2011, and runs through July 4, 2011.  Organized by six themes, Innovation, Transformation, Nature as Inspiration, Personalities, Exoticism, and Fashion, more than 300 pieces were on display, each piece better than the next.  The next few blogs will cover an amazing piece of jewelry from each category.
The piece that prompted our sojourn was probably one of the first “push presents” ever given, the Walska Brooch.  A “push present” is the gift a man gives a woman after he watches her do whatever it takes (short of standing up in those frigging stirrups) to deliver their new sprout.  He realizes some type of compensation must be in order because he can't believe what he just witnessed: "I thought it was a bowling ball with hair - but it was actually the baby!" Trusted advisers tell him that jewelry calms her central nervous system so he begins to search for the perfect gift.

I really thought push presents were a newer trend but this gift was given in 1971 so it’s not as new as I thought.  After seeing this Van Cleef & Arpels masterpiece, one can only surmise this man was very impressed with his wife’s birthing powers.  Luckily, for that extremely wealthy man who pondered the question way back in 1971, “What could I possibly give my wife when this baby finally comes out," he found the Walska diamond available and requested VC&A to create something beautiful and appropriate for the occasion of his first child’s birth.

Keep in mind it’s the thought that counts when your husband presents his gift to you because it would be almost impossible to top this little thing that VC&A came up with:

This piece features a 95-carat yellow diamond suspended from the bird’s beak and meant to depict the newborn bundle. Transformations. Photo by Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt Museum.

Looking like it could weigh about as much as a newborn, the Walska brooch is a sapphire, diamond, and emerald studded brooch in the form of a stork carrying the little bundle of joy.  The brooch comes apart to make a pin, earrings and pendant, but it's the "little bundle of joy" that is the star of this show.  It’s the original Walska diamond, a 95 carat briolette yellow diamond previously owned by Ganna Walska (1887-1984).

Walska was an opera singing, marriage addicted, guru seeking, garden designer.  The diamond industry refers to her stone as the “great unknown” as little history is available.  Much more is known about Lotusland, a 37 acre estate and botanical garden in California Ms. Walska purchased in 1941 (the same year she purchased the yellow diamond) and dedicated the remaining years of her life to.  She spent the next 43 years creating and expanding Lotusland, which today is a non-profit botanical garden of rare plants.  The Lotusland website reports, “So determined was she to finish the work she had begun that in the 1970’s she auctioned off some of her jewelry in order to finance her final creation—the cycad garden," so it’s certainly plausible she sold the diamond to keep the Santa Barbara imaganerium running and perhaps that's how it became available to VC&A.  Both the diamond and Lotusland are masterpieces that live on today….one gem traded for another.