By Alison Tay

A Glimpse into Van Cleef & Arpels “Time, Nature, Love” Exhibition in Seoul

As Van Cleef & Arpels’ patrimonial exhibition rocks up in Seoul, we discover the beautifully moving history of the house as told through its objects.

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 from 2022 by around 24% to $16.8 billion in 2023, and a slew of high profile fashion and jewellery events taking place in the city this year, is it any wonder that French jewellery Van Cleef & Arpels would bring its Time, Nature, Love exhibition to the city? Held at the futuristic D Museum, 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. 

The Elsewhere room in the Time, Nature, Love exhibition at the D Museum. Photo: Courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels / Yongjoon Choi

Why is now the right time to bring Van Cleef & Arpels: Time, Nature, Love to Seoul? President and CEO Nicolas Bos has the answer. “These collaborations make for a valuable exchange of views and enrich the way our creations are perceived,” he says. “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 are proud to see [Time, Nature, Love] travelling to D Museum, in Seoul, where the maison already took part in the cultural scene. We are glad to nurture this longstanding relationship and to be welcomed in D Museum.”

The entrance of the Time, Nature, Love exhibition at the D Museum. Photo: Courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels / Yongjoon Choi

Curated by professor of jewellery design at Milan Polytechnic University and president of the Milano Fashion Institute, Alba Cappellieri, the exhibition showcases more than 300 jewels, timepieces, and precious objects, in addition to 90 archival documents, sketches and gouaché designs illustrating the creative process from the Patrimonial Department, led by Van Cleef & Arpels’ director of patrimony, Alexandrine Maviel-Sonet.

The first floor of the exhibition, Time, is based on five concepts from Italian writer Italo Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millennium (Lightness, Quickness, Exactitude, Visibility, Multiplicity), to which Cappellieri added five more themes (Paris, the Elsewhere, Intersections with Fashion, Dance, Architecture) for a total of 10 themed showcases with objets, watches and jewellery pieces relating to each theme on display. The second floor is dedicated to Nature—expressed through jewellery and timepieces inspired by Fauna, Botany and Flora—and Love, which displays fantastical creations symbolising some of the most mythical romances of the 20th century.

Among the treasures on display is a lion’s head gold choker 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 are in Korea, we take subtle inspiration from local and cultural factors, such as the modern Korean alphabet as seen in contemporary calligraphy and historically significant colors like the pale green of celadon ceramics, the light blue sky reflecting off the algae-dense area, and the pastel colors of manhwa,” 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 declares. “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.”

van cleef arpels seoul exhibition
The floating Dichroic Confetti sculpture in the Love room. Photo: Courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels / Yongjoon Choi

“This is not a commercial event, nor is it a communication 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 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.

This story originally appeared on GRAZIA Singapore.