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.

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