On June 2, Van Cleef & Arpels is to unveil “A New Art: Metamorphoses of Jewelry, 1880-1914,” an exhibition in Paris focusing on almost 100 items from a period that included the Art Nouveau era, many designed by the foremost artisans of the age, like René Lalique, Georges Fouquet and Henri Vever.
“Art Nouveau is a topic that we had not covered in the past in our exhibitions, and we do, when we program our shows, always try to look at different angles, different time periods, as well as different cultures,” said Lise Macdonald, the president of the brand’s L’École, School of Jewelry Arts. Its most recent show featured gold ornaments from China over several centuries.
Reservations can be made on the school’s website for the free exhibition, to be held in L’École’s 18th-century building near Place Vendôme through Sept. 30 (with a hiatus from Aug. 5-21). Most of the exhibits, on loan from brands and institutions like the Musée d’Orsay, have distinctively Art Nouveau details: curving lines, a combination of precious materials and commonplace ones like glass and pewter, and imagery inspired by nature or fantasy.
But the movement, which had its heyday from about 1890 to 1910, was not limited to jewelry. “The vision of Art Nouveau was that all of the arts are touched by it,” said Paul Paradis, a teacher at L’École who worked on the exhibition. “It was a total design concept, from the ceiling to the floor to the door handles.”
None of the jewelry — including a Lalique necklace in gold, enamel, glass and platinum with dangling pendants that resemble women with vivid green and cobalt butterfly wings around their legs — was made by Van Cleef, which opened its first store in 1906 on Place Vendôme.
“The mandate of the school is not to focus on Van Cleef & Arpels,” Ms. Macdonald said; it is meant “to speak to the larger audience on the history of jewelry, on its know-how and on gemology.” During the period represented in the exhibition, Van Cleef was focusing more “on abstractions and symmetry and the trend of Art Deco.”
Joanna Hardy, a fine jewelry specialist based in London who is not affiliated with the school, said L’École is more concerned with education than it is with marketing. “Just because they didn’t make it, doesn’t mean to say they wouldn’t show it,” she said.
Nonetheless, the show’s theme seems to reinforce the brand’s positioning.
Van Cleef is “trying to use Nouveau to say, ‘We are about craftsmanship — it’s not just about the gold you buy or the diamonds you buy,’” said Akshay Madane, a partner at the management consulting firm Kearney.
Other luxury brands have used museum sponsorships and exhibitions to sell similar stories, he said. “They’re trying to educate and inspire, and they’re doing it slowly in a subtle way so as not to come across as sales-y, because that’s not what these brands are about.”