Two French jewelry companies—each, family firms over 100 years old—are currently displaying historic examples of their wares in New York museum exhibitions. Van Cleef & Arpels has filled the Cooper-Hewitt's main-floor galleries with diamonds, rubies and other precious stones; Bernardaud, manufacturer of Limoges porcelain, presents artist-designed ceramic jewelry, ranging from amusing to provocative, at the Museum of Arts and Design.
"Set in Style: The Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels" [Feb. 18–June 5] includes more than 350 brooches, earrings and necklaces, mostly in nature-inspired forms, plus accessories like watches, cigarette cases and minaudières, the diminutive vanity case the firm patented in the 1930s. The pieces emphasize craftsmanship in elegant materials: gold, enamel, coral and every faceted stone you can think of. Highlighting VC&A's technical innovation are the invisible or mystery settings, in which no prongs or rims interrupt the jewel's surface. Stones are exactingly fitted at the back into minute platinum channels; when held to the light—as one example is, behind a huge magnifying lens—they looks like stained glass.
In the first gallery, foliage of leaf-shaped mirrors make up an overhead display environment that scatters ambient light; some of the same reflective material is strewn among the bubble-shaped vitrines that contain the jewels—and, unfortunately, can distort them. Elsewhere, a tall cylindrical case looks like a vivarium filled with butterflies, though the creatures here are not living but lacquered. Most fantastically, four jewels lie on open stands, seeming to pose a staggering security risk until you discover they are holograms.
The much smaller MAD show, in the museum's designated jewelry gallery, lacks splash but compels by the cleverness of the works of 18 jewelers and designers. More than a third of the makers are from the Netherlands, which curator Monika Brugger explains by noting in press materials that Holland has some of the best jewelry schools in Europe, exceptional government support of the arts and the influential European Ceramic Work Center. France itself produces little contemporary jewelry.
Brugger, a jeweler born in Germany but resident in France for 30 years, was commissioned by Bernardaud to organize the show, titled "A Bit of Clay on the Skin: New Ceramic Jewelry" [Mar. 15–Sept. 4]. Her choices defy summary. Andi Gut's rings are made of carved dental porcelain protected with steel edges, while Shu-lin Wu's necklace is made up of large marbled blue-and-white porcelain beads.
Some pieces are comic in intent, such as Peter Hoogeboom's miniature bundle of cast ceramic vessels, seemingly offering some greater jewel unseen. Still others are conceptual. Carole Deltenre's diminutive brooches with lacy silver edges frame pinched matte porcelain. Each brooch looks like landscape until you realize it's female genitalia-Hannah Wilke's chewing gum revisited with innovative craftsmanship and permanence. Marie Pendariès's The Dowry is a photograph and installation of "wedding armor" consisting of bracelets, rings and a necklace cut from white china plates and bowls.
Both shows present jewelry as symbolic objects. VC&A, favoring status and wealth, offers many photographs of famous bejeweled customers. The work Bernardaud brings together is less commercial but highly imaginative.
ABOVE, LEFT: VAN CLEEF & ARPELS,SCARLET MACAW BROOCH, COURTESY THE COOPER-HEWITT, NEW YORK. PETER HOOGEBOOM, PRECIOUS GOURD, 2008. SHU-LIN WU, MOKUME (NECKLACE), 2009,COURTESY THE MUSEUM OF ART AND DESIGN/SMITHSONIAN. LEFT: