See how minerals are turned into jewelry at this exhibition in Paris


Imagine unimaginable treasures like the restored Tourmaline Tree by Jean Vendôme which is at the same time jewelry, design and sculpture, the Oiseau de Paradis 1942 clip in yellow gold, platinum, rubies, sapphires and diamonds, or the platinum necklace set with 673 round and baguette-cut diamonds ordered by Queen Nazli of Egypt in 1939 for her daughter’s marriage to the future Shah of Iran, unprecedented in France. These finished pieces stand alongside the two largest sapphires ever found in Europe, the native Occitan gold of Sabine and the amethysts, turquoises and pearls of the Crown Jewels of France. They each come with their own story to tell, from the way they were designed and crafted to the cuffs and necks that they then decorated. Take for example a beauty box in black enamel mixing an Art Deco aesthetic with Chinese inspiration, embellished with carved jade ornaments and engraved on a red enamel background, which corresponds to the Western taste for Chinese motifs at the beginning of the 1900s. 20s.e century. Then there are priceless objects of French cultural history, such as the Grande Table des Orsini, a 17emasterpiece of the century in stone marquetry offered to Cardinal Mazarin by the Orsini princes as a diplomatic gift. A shining example of the use of gemstones in the decorative arts, it features a Carrara marble top inlaid with lapis lazuli, jasper, mother of pearl and a plethora of stones featuring war and peace themes and patterns. naturalists like birds, roses and butterflies.

All these elements and many more are on display in the exhibition Gems until August 22, 2021 at National Museum of Natural History (MNHN / Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle) in Paris, in collaboration with the prestigious jeweler of Place Vendôme Van Cleef & Arpels, and under the scientific direction of Lise Macdonald, director of heritage and exhibitions at Van Cleef & Arpels, and François Farges, professor at the MNHN and specialist in environmental and heritage mineralogy. Taking an approach that is both scientific and artistic, he reveals the journey of precious stones from their origins in the depths of the earth to the creation of jewelry of unparalleled beauty that reflects thousands of hours of painstaking work, and how minerals, gems and jewelry have mesmerized civilizations since the dawn of time. Bringing together more than 250 jewelry creations from the heritage collection of Van Cleef & Arpels, 360 minerals, precious stones and art objects from the MNHN – housing one of the richest collections in the history of mineralogy with 130,500 samples – and 50 loans from other institutions and private collections, accompanied by films, interviews and interactive elements, the three-part show is both chronological and thematic.

The opening section titled “History of the Earth, Stories of Know-How” examines the creation of minerals and their use in society, tracing the evolution of craftsmanship and lapidary know-how since prehistoric times. Minerals reflect the constant geological movements of the earth, whether they result from stellar, geodynamic or marine processes. Meteorites bombarded the earth 4.4 billion years ago, while the collision of tectonic plates led to mountain ranges harboring crystals sometimes propelled to the surface due to telluric activity, and minerals have also developed deep in the oceans from fossilized organisms. There is a 90,000-year-old pierced seashell, considered one of the oldest jewels in the world, and the display cases feature the three different states of a mineral: as original crystal, as cut stone, and as jewel. A natural ruby ​​crystal from the Mogok Valley in Burma, some 30 million years old, is presented alongside a Van Cleef & Arpels fine jewelry creation: the Fuchsia 1968 clip featuring Mystery Set ruby ​​petals and of a cascade of pear-shaped diamond pistils.

The second chapter, “From Minerals to Jewels,” immerses visitors in the geodynamic cycles and natural phenomena such as pressure, temperature, fluids, water, oxygen, life and metamorphism that take place in the region. heart of the earth, which shape stones, rocks and crystals before their metamorphosis into jewels, defining the challenges of gem cutters and the creativity of jewelers. The path of precious stones born of nature and shaped by the hand of man into works of art is thus traced. The last segment, “Paris, center of knowledge”, highlights the historical, scientific and artistic importance of the French capital as a hub of knowledge, creation, research and innovation in discipline of mineralogy, extending its influence across the world and inspiring artists from all walks of life and admirers of beauty.


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