Monday, July 4, 2011

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

Van Cleef & Arpels in New York.  
744 5th Ave
New York, NY 10019
Part V – Exoticism at Set in Style at the Cooper Hewitt, blah, blah,blah.  We are almost done with this exhibit – one more to come after this.  This post is a little late because #1, The Duchess of Cambridge wore a yellow gold charm bracelet and #2, my sister and I went back to revisit this exhibit one more time before it closes on July 4th.  For those of you who didn't have a chance to see this exhibit, I hope you will enjoy these blog posts.

Dazzled by the beautiful stones during my first visit, I was much more critical the second time around, noticing age and wear on some of the jewelry, as well as a few mismatched stones.  The exhibit is still drawing a big crowd, including the obnoxious people all around me who were taking way too much time hovering over one item and clogging up the flow of traffic.  As a result, people were stomping their hooves and crowding all around my sister and me, like when you are checking out at the food store and the next person moves right up into your personal space where you should be in order to pay the cashier.  People please..... can you keep your coffee breath to yourselves and floss before you leave your caves.

The Exotics in the VC&A collection are just that - jewelry inspired by travels to the foreign and exotic lands that weren’t on the Average Joe's radar back in the 1920’s.  Some of the VC&A vision came from the Arpels' travels all over the world responding to commission requests from wealthy moguls, which in turn, expanded their global clientele even more.  Due to this growing international clientele, these exotic influences in design became a solid part of the VC&A aesthetic.

Platinum and diamond Cambodian bracelet. 1938
VC&A had many wealthy Americans as clients as well.  One of their first commissions was made by Eugene Higgins (1860-1948) heir to his father, Elias's, New York City carpet manufacturing fortune. A wealthy and handsome bachelor, Higgins sold the family business in 1889 shortly after taking control of it and spent the fortune on a leisurely lifestyle, i.e., he partied all the time. In 1908, Higgins asked VC&A to make a replica of his yacht, the 304’ Varuna. They complied with a duplicate Varuna sitting on top of a sea of smooth, carved jasper.  A white enamel life preserver floats on top of the jasper and when pushed, rang Higgins’ butler for duty.  Unfortunately for Higgins, calling the butler didn’t help in late in 1909 when the real Varuna was wrecked off the coast of Madeira.  Higgins lost a crew member and the ship.  Party over.

This is all he had left.  He played with it in the tub.
VC&A‘s jet-setting clientele encouraged them to design jewelry with "foreign" themes.  They created pieces which imitated the traditional style of these faraway lands using the materials that suggested those influences such as the use of lacquer and jade for a Japanese or Chinese creation.  

Sometimes they adopted exotic motifs for other pieces, as in the gorgeous bracelet below, reflective of the Egyptomania inspired by the excavation of King Tut's tomb in the early 1920s.

Can you believe this.....
Inspired this!  The Egyptian Bracelet.

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