Van Cleef and Arpels exhibits historic pieces from its archives at the Bowers Museum in California

'A Quest for Beauty: The Art of Van Cleef & Arpels' at the Bowers Museum features over 200 historic pieces, 70 of which have never been on show in public before


By Rachel Grant in Los Angeles

The halls of the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, Southern California, were dazzling on Saturday night, with guests turning out in their finest jewels to celebrate the opening of the museum's latest exhibition, 'A Quest for Beauty: The Art of Van Cleef & Arpels'.

The exhibition features over 200 pieces from the French high jeweller, 70 of which have never been displayed to the public before. Curated by the maison's heritage director, Catherine Cariou, it showcases some of Van Cleef & Arpels' most iconic pieces, as well as displaying the influence of nature and haute couture on its sophisticated designs.

Van Cleef & Arpels was founded in 1906 and has long been famed for the expertise of its master craftsmen - its so-called Mains d'Or. Its meticulous skills are no more evident than in the maison's mystery setting technique, patented in 1933, where stones are specially cut and placed so that the setting cannot be seen.

Another awe-inspiring innovation is the maison's iconic zip necklace. The original design was inspired by a conversation between artistic director Renée Puissant and the Duchess of Windsor in the 1930s, and the necklace can literally be unzipped to different lengths or worn as a bracelet.

The only pieces at the Bowers Museum that are not part of Van Cleef & Arpels' own collection are from the private collection of Princess Grace of Monaco. The maison was appointed the official supplier to the principality in 1956, and exhibits include an elegant set of pearl and diamond jewels commissioned by her husband Prince Rainier as a wedding gift that same year. Also on display is a breathtaking platinum and diamond tiara worn by the Princess on the occasion of her daughter Princess Caroline's wedding in 1976.

Elizabeth Taylor was well-known for her love of Van Cleef & Arpels, and her magnificent Barquerolles choker necklace also forms part of the exhibition. The yellow gold and diamond necklace, sometimes called The Granny Necklace on account of it being bought for her by Richard Burton on the birth of her first grandchild in 1971, features a detachable circular-cut diamond lion's face with marquise-cut emerald eyes, and is transformable into two bracelets and a clip.

Smaller pieces on display, inspired by nature and exoticism, are just as mesmerising in their exquisite, lifelike details. They include a bird clip from 1963 and the famous Spirit of Beauty brooch, originally purchased by American heiress and jewellery lover Barbara Hutton in 1944.

'A Quest for Beauty: The Art of Van Cleef & Arpels' at the Bowers Museum runs until 15 February 2014. Saturday's opening attracted an array of Hollywood actresses, including Camilla Belle, Kristen Ritter of 'Breaking Bad', and AnnaLynne McCord, as well as Van Cleef & Arpels' CEO and President Nicolas Bos.

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