Friday, June 19, 2015

L’École Van Cleef & Arpels: Great American Jewelry Collectors, Then & Now

I was lucky enough to attend two of the evening discussions that were part of the L’École Van Cleef & Arpels which was held at the Cooper-Hewitt museum from June 4-18, 2015.

Both evenings were as wonderful as I hoped they’d be. Before the discussions there were glasses of champagne and hors d’oeuvres, and because space was limited, the events had an intimate feel. Everyone there clearly loved fine jewelry and it was like being among friends!

A glass of champagne and a Van Cleef & Arpels catalog about L’École in New York.

The lecture room prior to the discussion.

Great jewelry tomes on display in the bookcases!

The first evening discussion I attended was “Great American Collectors, Then & Now.” It was moderated by the noted jewelry writer Ruth Peltason, who worked with Elizabeth Taylor to create the 2002 book Elizabeth Taylor: My Love Affair with Jewelry. The two panelists were Fiona Druckenmiller, owner of the vintage jewelry boutique FD Gallery and jewelry collector in her own right, and Van Cleef & Arpels’ Nicolas Luchsinger. The talk was attended by representatives from VCA, as well as Cartier, and the jeweler Fred Leighton was also there!

In the photos, Ruth is on the far left, in a periwinkle blouse and pants, Fiona is the blonde in the center, and Nicholas is on the right.

Who else to get the slide show started but Liz and Dick?

In honor of it being the first time L’École was in New York, the focus was on American collectors such as Elizabeth Taylor, Marjorie Merriweather Post, the Duchess of Windsor, Daisy Fellowes, Barbara Hutton, Doris Duke, Babe Paley, and Ellen Barkin, among others. I thought it was very interesting that Ruth, Fiona and Nicholas did not limit the discussion to VCA jewelry. Other houses talked about were Bulgari, Cartier, JAR, Boivin, Belperron, Verdura, and Schlumberger’s work for Tiffany. There was a great slide show that featured both the jewels and the collector and you won’t be surprised when I tell you that the biggest number of slides were devoted to Elizabeth Taylor! Ruth told us a great story that Richard Burton once quipped that he introduced Liz to beer and she introduced him to Bulgari!

Barbara Hutton and her jade necklace with ruby clasp. The slide reads “Quality at any price.”

The DoW in her Cartier bib necklace. The first slide of her read “Little Woman, Big Stones.”

One interesting thing Ruth pointed out was that collectors like those mentioned above were interested in being seen with their pieces—whether they were being photographed incessantly, like Liz Taylor or the Duchess of Windsor, or wanted to wear their jewels in portrait paintings of themselves, as Marjorie Merriweather Post often did. Fiona and Nicholas said today’s collectors are sometimes shy about being seen too much in public with their major jewelry and if a piece has been lent to an exhibition, the owner will often then put it “back in the vault,” as Nicholas said, for several years.

Marjorie Merriweather Post and her Cartier pendant brooch. Look at the size of it!

MMP with a stunning Cartier necklace made from two bracelets.

Mrs. Sybil Harrington and her glorious VCA emerald and diamond brooch.

Something else I found fascinating was talk of how serious collectors often repurposed their jewelry—taking stones out of a piece or reworking something in order to “suit their taste,” as Ruth remarked. One piece they discussed that featured this particular kind of jewelry-making was an amazing 1967 Van Cleef & Arpels emerald and diamond brooch once owned by Mrs. Sybil Harrington (sold at a Christie’s auction last year for $425,000), with a center emerald that had originally been set in a diadem owned by Empress Marie-Louise, Napoleon’s second wife. VCA had acquired the diadem, removed the emeralds, and used them to create other pieces. Mrs. Harrington’s beyond-gorgeous brooch, featuring one of these historic emeralds, was a special order!

The Prince of Wales Brooch: From the DoW to Elizabeth Taylor!

Ruth asked Fiona when is the point at which someone knows they are a collector. Fiona said she thinks it’s very individual, sometimes people know early on that they want to collect jewelry, but that she herself fell into it. She noted that “for most, it’s a process,” and that some collectors need more guidance than others.

When the question was posed about how a jewelry collection is shaped, if a collector thinks with her purse or her heart, an audience member shouted out, “With your eye!” And I have to agree.

JAR pavé earrings created for Elizabeth Taylor. The colors are amazing!

Ellen Barkin and her JAR topaz earrings sold at auction. She should have kept them!

It may have been the first time L’École Van Cleef & Arpels, which is based in Paris and started three years ago, has been in New York City, but I hope it won’t be the last! The discussion was one of the most interesting events on the fashion or jewelry front I’ve been to in awhile. If you are going to be in Paris and would like to attend one of L’École’s discussions, check their website, as they hold them frequently, the topic always changes, and they provide simultaneous translations from French to English!

If you attended one of the other evening discussions at the Cooper-Hewitt, or took one of the VCA jewelry classes while they were in New York, I’d love to hear all about it!

I will post soon about the other VCA lecture I attended on jewelry in film, which was another fascinating evening.


Pam @ over50feeling40 said...

What a wonderful event, Jill! Would have loved to attend something like this! You get so many wonderful opportunities in New York!

Jill said...

This was an event I felt really lucky to take part in since I didn't see that many advertisements about it and because the subject of fine jewelry is close to my heart! What was even better about this discussion was that there was some history thrown in. It made it even more interesting to me. xx

Couture Carrie said...

Such a fab event!


Jill said...

Hi Carrie, this was another fabulous collaboration between VCA and the Cooper-Hewitt. They make a fantastic team! xx

Heather Lindstrom said...

Hi Jill, What a fabulous opportunity to absorb the beauty, style, elegance and history of these pieces. That photograph of Liz Taylor-and her legendary jewels-is just gorgeous. Thank you for joining our #stylefocus Lifestyle Linkup this month! This is such a stylish glimpse into NYC and the jewelry world. Please join us again in August-the first Monday of the month.
Happy summer, Jill! Cheers, Heather
PS-I'm just back from vacation in Riviera Maya so I'm having fun catching up!

Jill said...

Hi Heather! I loved joining your link-up and plan to make it a regular habit! I have already written it into my calendar for August. Thanks for your nice comments, this was one of those events in the city that make me so very happy to live here. It was such a great night, informative and fun. xx