Glorious tintanabulations, the Duchess of Cambridge has announced this afternoon that she is with child. Quite frankly it couldn’t have come on a more fortuitous day. In a weaker moment I’d agreed to do an interview for a US channel about British royal babies tomorrow for production company Spun Gold. Thanks to Kate the Internet is ablaze with royal baby facts and figures so I’ll have something more constructive to say than I suspect the Duchess has pre-ordered a copy of the Baby Bodum catalogue.
Much has been made of the royal child that he or she will be the third in line to the throne regardless of sex. As I understand it, the Commonwealth has yet to ratify this change in the line of succession but, with the exception of Bloody Mary, Britain always fares rather well with a woman on the throne so God bless the child be it a future king or queen.
I promised you a dispatch about Van Cleef & Arpels’ The Art of High Jewellery exhibition at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris that I had the privilege to see last week. The Arts Decoratifs is one of my favourite museums in the world and never fails to dazzle whether the subject be Sevres royal dinner services or Balenciaga ball gowns. The Van Cleef exhibition is a masterclass in the design and execution of exquisite jewels and is curated chronologically from the 1920s to the present.
Inevitably the jewels of historic provenance draw the crowds: the Maharani of Baroda’s diamond and emerald necklace, Princess Charlene of Monaco’s Océan wedding tiara, Elizabeth Taylor’s gold and diamond lion’s head choker and the cabochon ruby and emerald reticule beloning to the last Empress of Iran. I was particularly thrilled to see Marlene Dietrich’s mystery set ruby and diamond Jarretière bracelet that had a starring role in Alfred Hitchcock’s Stage Fright in which Miss Dietrich was dressed exclusively in Christian Dior Couture.
However, the pieces that utterly beguiled me were the ladies’ requisites that combined artistry, ingenuity and practicality; whispering of a lost age of elegance when a lady’s watch could be encrusted with an intricate geometric hieroglyph in precious stones in homage of the Art Deco craze for Tutankhamun-inspired jewels such as the piece owned by the Maharani of Indore. Magical minaudières – gold, bejewelled evening cases first made in 1933 to contain a lady’s requirements for an evening on the town – confirmed for me that civilisation has regressed.
Who today would commission a gold and mystery set ruby minaudière containing a concealed clock, a lighter, lipstick case, dance card, powder compact, tortoiseshell comb and pill box presumably pre-loaded with ‘naughty salt’ by a socialite contemplating an evening dancing with the Prince of Wales at the Café de Paris? Circumstance tested Van Cleef & Arpels’ artistry as when the famine of precious stones during World War II necessitated the house to design glorious polished gold pieces such as the ribbon bracelet and tourbillons ring.
Though you know I adore precious stones, I think my favourite piece in the exhibition was a relatively simple, delicate cheveaux d’ange (angel’s hair) gold collar caressed at the throat with a sinuous swirl of brilliant cut diamonds. I also adored the bold excesses of 60s pieces such as the diamond feather motif collar set with cabochon-cut turqouises the size of gobstoppers and 70s statement pieces such as the Etruscan Manchette engraved gold cuffs ordered by Mrs Kennedy.
Very few high jewellery houses continue to create pieces that can stand-up to their illustrious past. Hence it was heaven to see the Entrée en Scène diamond necklace from which drapes folds of mystery set rubies set in 2006 that echoes the ruby and diamond waterfall necklace commissioned by the Duchess of Windsor in the 1930s. Of the modern pieces my inner Gollum was released by the diamond and sapphire Peacock Constellation clip made in 2010.
It is a rare pleasure to see the working drawings of magnificent jewels commissioned from Van Cleef & Arpels; exquisite watercolours describing the precise placement of stones and pragmatic columns of figures detailing the carat weight and cost for such precious pieces. A further highlight of The Art of High Jewellery was a film showing in acute detail the workshops above Van Cleef’s Place Vendôme showrooms and the work of many hands who contribute to a masterpiece. This film deserves to be shown prime time on the BBC.
Most surprising not to mention thrilling for me was a rare sighting of a Van Cleef & Arpel jewel commissioned by First Lady of Argentina Eva ‘Evita’ Peron. You’ll recall I went on a bounty hunt to Buenos Aires decades ago to find Evita’s lost wardrobe. I found a cache of Dior, Hartnell, Balenciaga, Faith and Balmain in terrible condition hidden in a suburban bank vault. I understood that Evita’s jewel collection was sold in 1955 after her death when Colonel Peron was deposed. And yet there sparkling away in a showcase was Evita’s Van Cleef five-tier diamond riviere necklace. It’s worth the Eurostar ticket alone.