In conversation with Alexandrine Maviel-Sonet: The art and craft of Van Cleef & Arpels’ Time, Nature, Love exhibition in Seoul

In conversation with Alexandrine Maviel-Sonet: The art and craft of Van Cleef & Arpels’ Time, Nature, Love exhibition in Seoul

Timeless art


By Sarah Hani Jamil

Images courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels

One of the driving forces behind the ‘Time, Nature, Love’ exhibitions by Van Cleef & Arpels is Alexandrine Maviel-Sonet, the Director of Patrimony and Exhibitions. In her role, she is responsible for developing the Maison’s heritage and supporting Van Cleef & Arpels’ present and future creations. Maviel-Sonet recently assumed this position earlier this year.

During the launch of the exhibition in Seoul, held at the D Museum and running until April 14, 2024, we had the opportunity to discuss the curation journey with Maviel-Sonet. Offering a captivating glimpse into the Maison’s rich, almost 120-year history, the exhibition highlights over 300 exquisitely curated pieces. The selection—based on the perspective of Italian scholar, curator, and author Alba Cappellieri regarding the values of Time, Nature, and Love—includes a range of items, from grand high jewellery to ornate watches and precious objects. 

Curating this collection was no small feat. Ahead, Maviel-Sonet sheds light on the intricacies of the curation process and shares some insights into her favourite pieces from the exhibition.



What are the key elements that contribute to creating an exhibition of this prestigious scale?

“It’s usually through a collaboration, either with a curator or through a partnership with a museum, like the one we did with the ArtScience Museum in Singapore.

“For this specific exhibition, the key factor was the encounter with Alba Cappellieri. We really wanted to work with her in Europe. She is a jewellery specialist in Milan, or rather, she is the Director of Master in Accessories and Jewellery Design at the Polytechnic University of Milan. She was also the Director of the Museo del Gioiello in Vicenza’s Basilica Palladiana, Italy’s first jewellery museum. So we wanted to have an exhibition with her. She came with the idea that time, nature and love were the most important values to her, and we proceeded to build on that idea together.”



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There are over 300 pieces on display. What were the criteria for your selection?

“It all began with Alba’s belief that time, nature, and love are the most crucial elements in life. This concept seamlessly aligns with our jewellery collection because, as Nicolas (the CEO of Van Cleef & Arpels) said, they are inherently timeless. We started our exploration with pieces dating back to the 1910s, featuring motifs such as flowers and birds. We have a lot of flora and fauna pieces, so naturally, nature holds a profound significance for us.

“Love is also a recurring theme in our pieces because, very often, our pieces have a love story behind them. Therefore, the trio of time, nature, and love resonates deeply with us, reflecting the essence of our jewellery pieces in the collection.”



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What does Time, Nature, and Love mean to you?

“Time holds great significance for jewels, acting as vessels that transcend eras and remain timeless. Our goal is to showcase this aspect as if each piece were an actual work of art. As for nature, as I mentioned, our rich design history is filled with depictions of flora and fauna. 

“For love, every piece in the [Love] room carries a unique love story. Take, for instance, the Barquerolle—a yellow-gold choker adorned with a lion in the centre. This belonged to Elizabeth Taylor, who was famous for her jewellery collection. That piece is dear to me because of its transformability; the necklace seamlessly converts into a bracelet, with the lion serving as a clip and the two rings doubling as a pendant. The inspiration behind the entire piece comes from Venice, specifically the locker of a door in the city. 

“The love story behind it adds an extra layer of charm—Richard Burton gifted it to her when she became a grandmother. He called it the Granny Necklace. The name is not glamorous, but a nice story is behind the piece.”


Is there a specific piece from a particular time period that resonates with you?

“Personally, I would choose something simple—a circular brooch from 1932, which can be found in the architecture room. This piece is famous in the thirties due to its unique mechanism that allows you to wear it anywhere. The brooch can be placed on a jacket, affixed to a hat, or added to a bag—wherever you desire. I find this quite fun because I also like to play with the jewels. The brooch, with its circular design, draws inspiration from calligraphy, where circles are a prevalent motif. It matches perfectly with the exhibition.”


Were there any that were particularly challenging pieces to acquire for this exhibition?

“Possibly the Marlene Dietrich Bracelet. Acquiring it wasn’t difficult, but bringing it over here was the challenge. We bought it in June at an auction in New York, and the logistics of transferring it took some time. The processing for all the necessary arrangements is considerable. Thankfully, we are very lucky, and that’s why we’re so enthusiastic about having this piece in the exhibition.”



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What about the House of Van Cleef & Arpels attracted you to join as the patrimony director?

“Honestly, the collection is truly remarkable. Moreover, our various projects, such as this collaboration with Alba, are highly motivating. I’m also inspired by the fact that the Maison is dedicated to the idea of transmission, as Nicolas emphasised. We aim to educate people that jewellery is a form of art. We have L’École, which offers courses on jewellery history and genealogy. This emphasis interests me and became a key factor in my decision to join the Maison.”


What do you hope that visitors will take away from this exhibition?

“I hope they will be pleasantly surprised, and I hope for them to recognise that jewellery is a form of art. It’s decorative art, for sure, but we sometimes overlook mentioning that it is indeed genuine art. Upon seeing the exhibition, you will witness the savoir-faire behind each piece—the intricate techniques and countless hours devoted to developing these creations. Each piece is truly a work of art, and I hope people perceive them as such.”


For more on the exhibition, click here.

For more jewellery reads, click here.


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