Additional reporting by Pakkee Tan
Seoul is having its moment in the spotlight. With total spending on personal luxury goods by South Koreans growing year‑on‑year by around 24 per cent to 21.8 trillion won (about S$22.3 billion) in 2022, as well as a slew of high‑profile fashion and jewellery events taking place in the city in 2023, is it any wonder that French jewellery maison Van Cleef & Arpels would bring its Van Cleef & Arpels: Time, Nature, Love exhibition to the city? Running at the futuristic D Museum until 14 April 2024, this marks the exhibition’s fourth stop on its world tour after showing at Palazzo Reale in Milan, the Power Station of Art in Shanghai and the National Museum of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh.
On why now is the right time to bring the exhibition to Seoul, the maison’s president and CEO Nicolas Bos says: “These collaborations make for a valuable exchange of views and enrich the way our creations are perceived. In 2016, The Art of Clip exhibition showcased a unique selection of clips from the Van Cleef & Arpels patrimonial collection, shedding light on our high jewellery heritage. Today, we’re proud to see [Time, Nature, Love] travelling to D Museum in Seoul, where the maison already took part in the cultural scene. We’re glad to nurture this long‑standing relationship and to be welcomed in D Museum.”
Curated by Alba Cappellieri, a professor of jewellery design at Politecnico di Milano and the president of Milano Fashion Institute, the exhibition showcases more than 300 jewellery creations, timepieces and precious objects, in addition to 90 archival documents, sketches and gouaché designs that offer a glimpse into the brand’s extensive history.
The first floor of the exhibition is devoted to the theme of “Time”, where objets, watches and jewellery relating to each of its 10 concepts—five are values drawn from Italian writer Italo Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millennium (Lightness, Quickness, Exactitude, Visibility and Multiplicity) and five are conceived by Cappellieri to reflect the DNA of the house (Paris, the Elsewhere, and Intersections with Fashion, Dance and Architecture)—are on display. The second floor is dedicated to the theme of “Nature”, expressed through jewellery and timepieces inspired by fauna, botany and flora, while the Love room, reserved for the namesake theme, displays fantastical creations symbolising some of the most mythical romances of the 20th century.
Among the treasures showcased at the exhibition is a gold choker with a lion’s head motif owned by Elizabeth Taylor, a diamond tiara worn by Grace Kelly, the 1929 emerald cabochon‑tipped diamond necklace worn by Princess Fawzia of Egypt and the Collaret necklace that was created for Queen Nazli to mark the wedding of her daughter to the Shah of Iran.
For an exhibition so centered on Paris as the birthplace of the maison founded in 1906, it was left to American architect‑designer Johanna Grawunder to root this narrative firmly in its host country. “Because we’re in South Korea, we take subtle inspiration from local and cultural factors, such as the modern Korean alphabet as seen in contemporary calligraphy and historically significant colours such as the pale green of celadon ceramics, the light blue sky reflecting off the algae‑dense area, and the pastel colours of manhwa (the South Korean term for comics and graphic novels),” Grawunder says.
This is particularly evident in the Love room, which was built with the idea of a town square in mind, with a magnificent floating sculpture, titled Dichroic Confetti, at its centre that subtly changes colours as visitors walk through the space. “The idea is to weave the history of the two protagonists, Van Cleef & Arpels and D Museum, into a magical, immersive and moving visit,” Grawunder shares. “With the use of materials that respond to reflection, luminosity and the light of the jewels themselves, these towers, tables and cases, placed within the organically flowing ribbon of space, offer an emotional and memorable exhibition experience.”
“This is not a commercial event, nor is it a communications coup,” Bos says. “The objective for us is to welcome as many visitors as possible from all possible backgrounds. It’s not about exclusivity. It’s not about the expensive pieces. It’s really about forms of beauty, and that we welcome [as] many visitors as possible to discover the exhibition.”
Van Cleef & Arpels: Time, Nature, Love is on display now until 14 April 2024 at D Museum, 3-21 Wangsimni-ro, Seongdong-gu, Seoul.