In 2012, French journalist and historian Vincent Meylan put together Treasures and Legends, a coffee-table book about some of the most famous jewellery connoisseurs in the world and their exceptional gemstones. In the introduction to his book, Meylan transports us to a dinner party on Paris's rue Foch, in the autumn of 1966. In attendance is the creme de la creme of postwar Parisian society.
“Presiding over the company, seated opposite the hostess, was the Duke of Windsor,” Meylan writes. “On the right of the host, one of the city’s most successful lawyers, sat the duchess, and on his left the Maharani of Baroda.” The two women detest each other, we learn, having fallen out over a piece of jewellery.
Aristotle Onassis is also in attendance, although Maria Callas has made her excuses, which is taken as a sign that their romance is floundering. Socialites Lady Deterding, Madame Patino and Florence Gould are also to be found feasting on the menu of “consomme aux perles de la Volga, turbot braise, riz creole and agneau de lait a la broche”.
What is perhaps most remarkable about this scene is that these upstanding ladies are decked out in jewellery by the same creator: Van Cleef & Arpels.
The Parisian maison has sourced and styled jewels for European aristocrats, Middle Eastern princesses and Indian maharajas since the late 1800s. As part of its Treasures & Legends exhibition, running until Thursday October 31, more than 50 high-jewellery pieces from the 20th century are on display at the Van Cleef & Arpels boutique in Dubai Opera Plaza.
The retrospective also details the historical milestones and riveting backstories of some of the jewels and the individuals or dynasties who owned them. For example, Van Cleef's Collaret necklace was create in 1929, but modified for Princess Faiza of Egypt in 1937. So taken was the young royal with the dramatic necklace's teardrop-shaped Colombian emeralds that she wore it on numerous occasions, including on a night out at La Comedie Francaise theatre in Paris in 1952.
Another Art Deco collaret necklace comes to Dubai from the 1939 collection of Queen Nazli of Egypt, while Princess Faiza's Pivoine clip with rubies and diamonds is also on show. Elsewhere, a replica of former empress of Iran Farah Pahlavi's 1967 tiara sits alongside an Indian-inspired necklace from the Aga Khan collection of 1971. Other 20th-century muses of the maison include the Maharani of Baroda, Duchess of Windsor, Princess Lilian of Belgium and Princess Grace of Monaco: and they all are the heroines of this display.
"It was an unforgettable experience, exploring over a century in the history of one of the most prestigious Parisian jewellery dynasties and taking the reader on a historical journey filled with stunning pieces and interesting characters from around the world … exploring the glamorous and exotic patrons' heirlooms," says Meylan.
Alessandro Maffi, managing director of Van Cleef & Arpels Middle East and India, adds: “The world of Van Cleef & Arpels has always been a place of wonder and enchantment. The Maison’s patrimony collection explores a century in the history of one of the most prestigious jewellery dynasties and evokes a beguiling atmosphere replete with royalty, charm and prestige.”
Treasures & Legends runs until Thursday, October 31, at Les Salons Van Cleef & Arpels Dubai Opera. Some jewels will be on display until January