'Van Cleef & Arpels' Exquisite Timepieces

With her ready wit and striking-good looks, Paulette Goddard acquired jewelry only slightly more than she acquired husbands,” observes Ruth Peltason, the New York jewelry editor and publisher, who, as editor of the book Elizabeth Taylor: My Love Affair with Jewelry (Thames & Hudson), knows a thing or two about film stars and their treasure-troves.

Peltason is also a key contributor to another Thames & Hudson book, Set in Style: The Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels, which is published in the UK next week, to coincide with the exhibition of the same name that’s currently on show at the Cooper Hewitt design museum in New-York.

In it, she reveals that-Goddard, once Mrs Charlie Chaplin, was the owner of one of the French jewelr’s key watch designs, the Cadenas, or padlock

The stunning--creation, (pictured above), is fashioned in platinum, set with diamonds and on a serpent bracelet, and is just one of the many fascinating watches on show at the exhibition, which are displayed alongside a breathtaking array of some of the 20th century’s most important jewelry designs.

Made for her in 1940, Goddard’s Cadenas is a secret watch, a well- known term in jewellery circles for an item created-with social discretion in mind. In the Twenties-and-Thirties, it was deemed ill mannered to consult one’s watch while in company, so jewellers came up with stylish solutions that allowed the wearer to easily check the time while not appearing to do so. Hence, the Cadenas looks simply like a beautiful-bracelet, concealing a watch that only the wearer can see.

"It nods towards the Bauhaus-philosophy in its practicality, and this is reflected in the fact that men wore the Cadenas, too, the Duke of Windsor commissioning one for himself in gold-and-leather in 1938. One observer hailed the design as proof of the search for a functiona- aesthetic.

"But then the notion of creating pieces-with a dual purpose is key to the Van Cleef & Arpels approach: much of the jewellery the cosmopolitan company has created has been designed with a real, as well as an aesthetic, purpose. And so a necklace-doubles up as bracelet and a pair of earrings; a lapel pin doubles up as a watch; a clock as a lighter, and so on."

"Another gloriously glamorous-example of this pragmatic take on fine objects was the Minaudière, one of the company’s signature pre-war designs, which was said to have been inspired by Florence Jay Gould, the French- American-wife of the philanthropist Frank Jay Gould."

"She was reported to have carried a plain tin housing her powder-puff, lipstick, handkerchief, comb and cigarette lighter. Van Cleef & Arpels appropriated her smart idea, spotting a blank canvas upon which it could apply its decorative-magic. And so it created the Minaudière, a thoroughly modern portable vanity case."

"While some Minaudières looked like plush little evening-bags, decorated with clasps of rubies, sapphires or diamonds, others, primarily-fashioned in enamel or gold, reflected the understated chic of Gould’s tin."

"The interior of the-Minaudière was split into compartments, which were calculated to the millimeter to hold a powder box, a lipstick, a lorgnette, a comb, a pill box, a candy box, a dance card, a cigarette lighter and a tiny removable watch.

The delightful Minaudière became a signature Van Cleef & Arpels design, and the watch was a key component.

"That said, every watch in the Cooper Hewitt exhibition delights and surprises as much as the last, reflecting the French jeweller’s exquisitely creative take on the idea of what a watch should, and could, be. And so we see drawer watches in expertly engraved-and-engineered little carry cases that became the must-have accessory of the jet-setting businessmen of the Sixties.

"Then there are the Radiator-watches, designed in the manner of a limousine radiator grille, which were also created to respond to the social mores of the times: the grille could be opened by turning a little knob, so that the wearer might discreetly interpret the time. Designed to appeal to the sophisticated man or woman, they could be pinned to a lapel, or to a handbag as a stylish clasp.

"Today, Van Cleef & Arpels continues to pay as much attention to its watchmaking as it does to its jewelry craft. This is evident in creative director and president Nicolas Bos’s clear dedication to taking this-illustrious name forward, while upholding the company’s history of progressive-design.

"Each year, Van Cleef & Arpels offers ever more enchanting watch designs – this year’s Les Voyages Extraordinaires range is inspired by the books of Jules-Verne. That the technology behind these brilliant pieces is designed to heighten their aesthetic value pays homage to the brand’s unique vision: “A piece of jewellery or a watch must not be merely a precious-object.

"Beyond their functional characteristics, jewelry and watches must enhance their owner’s luck, comfort and well being.”

"As this exhibition proves, the Van Cleef & Arpels philosophy is set in stone as well as in style.

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