Jewelry exhibit dazzles Southern California

Updated: 2013-10-28 06:49

By WANG JUN in Santa Ana (China Daily)

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Video by Wang Jun. Clickto watch on Youtube.

Through the determined efforts of two passionate Chinese women over a decade, an exhibition from the high-end Parisian jeweler Van Cleef and Arpels opened at Bowers Museum in Santa Ana on Oct 27.

The exhibit — entitled A Quest for Beauty — showcases 200 unique pieces from Van Cleef and Arpels collection, 70 of which have never been shown to the public before.

The two women — Helen King, vice president of high jewelry development at Van Cleef and Arpels, and Anne Shih, the Bowers Museum's chairwoman — have been friends for almost 20 years. At the exhibition opening, each of them was wearing the jeweler's iconic mother of pearl butterfly clip on their dresses.

Recently promoted to the position of vice-president, King started at Van Cleef and Arpels in 1996 as its store manager at Orange County's South Coast Plaza. English and Chinese bilingual store managers were rare at the time and King was one of them.

She invited Shih, a big fan of jewelry, to visit Van Cleef and Arpel's workshop at the Place Vendome in Paris. Shih was so amazed by the visit that the dream of an exhibit at the Bowers was born.

"When the exhibit is unveiled in just a second, you'll see the setting is jewelry lighting, which makes jewelry even more beautiful," Shih said at the opening. "Unlike our traditional black-ink-on-white-paper information plates, you'll see we're using aluminum plates, which goes best with jewelry."

She regards A Quest for Beauty as the most exciting exhibition in her 18 years at Bowers. "You'll see Princess Grace's crown, Prince Rainier of Monaco's proposal gift — a set of pearl jewelry that he bought from the Van Cleef and Arpels New York boutique — as well an Elizabeth Taylor necklace.

"And the Zip necklace that the Duchess of Windsor proposed to the jeweler's artistic director Renee Puissant in 1938 to create — jewelry inspired by the zipper, which was newly invented back then. It took 13 years to design and make the piece," said Shih, who was wearing black Van Cleef and Arpels' Alhambra necklace and earrings herself.

Shih said she is learning everyday from Van Cleef and Arpels. "They have more than a hundred years of history. The royal and noble families special-ordered jewelry from them. There's a unique story behind each and every piece of jewelry," she said.

"The exhibition came from the Louvre and will go from here to the Kremlin in Moscow," she said. "I feel it's a recognition and elevation of Bowers' status. That's why we have been making all the effort to do the best we can for each of our exhibitions over the years. This exhibition in particular will bring a lot of surprise and joy to our community."

Van Cleef and Arpels has held exhibitions in Paris and New York, in Tokyo three years ago, and Shanghai last summer, said Alain Bernard, president and CEO of the jeweler's US operation. This is its first time coming to California, "where West meets the East".

"It has been very exciting to see more and more collectors from mainland China and also from the Far East," said King, who was born in Shanghai, grew up in Hong Kong and went to college in the US.

King said, "Being bilingual, I was given more opportunities. It's very exciting to tell our stories in both English and Chinese."

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