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For the next few months southern California is a literal treasure trove of spectacular jewelry exhibits. On a recent trip south I visited “More is More: Tony Duquette, Hutton Wilkinson Jewelry” at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in Carlsbad and “A Quest for Beauty: The Art of Van Cleef and Arpels” at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana. Both exhibits are world-class and located within about an hour’s drive of each other.

Tony Duquette was a multi-talented interior designer, set designer and jewelry designer whose style can best be described as over-the-top fabulous. His jewelry combined valuable gemstones and less-expensive stones – selected for color and effect rather than simply value – to create works of great beauty and theatricality.

The GIA exhibit is designed to make you feel like you are entering the salon of an elite private jeweler. The exhibit designers took to heart the “more is more” theme and display the jewelry on superb gemological specimens, draped on bird cages, nestled in succulents, and perched on several Duquette maquettes (models) for set designs. Here are a few examples of the how the jewelry is displayed including massive necklaces hanging from bird cages, a charming tree toad climbing a gnarled root, and jewelry hanging from maquettes for “Der Rosenkavelier”:

 

 

Duquette clearly had a sense of humor. One of my favorite pieces is a magnificent necklace of malachite, citrine, emerald and peridot set in 18K gold entitled “Pond Scum”(!)

Other fanciful titles include “Ring of the Apocalypse”, “Pebble Garden” (a bracelet of cabochon sapphire and tourmaline “pebbles”), “Sunburst Monstrance”

and “Empowers the Spirit, Cleanses the Blood to Promote a Long and Healthy Life” another spectacular necklace of amethyst stalactite slices, peridot, glass, and vermeil.

Hutton Wilkinson, Duquette’s business partner, continues producing jewelry in the style in which they worked. My one criticism of the exhibit is that the descriptive plaques don’t date the pieces or attribute the designs so there was no way to determine how the Duquette/Wilkinson style developed or to tell which pieces were collaborations and which were solo works.

“A Quest for Beauty: The Art of Van Cleef and Arpels” at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana is an extensive exhibit of more than 200 pieces of jewelry, timepieces, and accessories that is mostly drawn from the Van Cleef and Arpels archives. It contains many masterpieces, some of which were bought back by Van Cleef and Arpels from the estates of Elizabeth Taylor, Princess Grace, and other notable collectors.

Van Cleef and Arpels was founded in 1906 in Paris and the exhibit covers the history of the company as well as displaying their superb output. The exhibit is organized around themes of “Elegance”, “Femininity”, “Nature”, and “Exoticism”. One of the most interesting aspects of the exhibit for a jewelry geek like myself is a series of films that focus on each of the trades – design, gemcutting, gem setting, model making, etc. – that goes into the production of a piece. Photography was not permitted inside the exhibit so I can’t show specific pieces like I did with the Duquette exhibit, but I urge anyone with an interest in jewelry to attend if possible. A superb catalogue of the exhibit is available on the Bowers Museum website.

“More is More: Tony Duquette, Hutton Wilkinson Jewelry” will be on view at the GIA Museum in Carlsbad, California until March 2014. The exhibit is open to the public but is by appointment only, so call ahead.

“A Quest for Beauty: The Art of Van Cleef and Arpels” will be on view at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California through February 15, 2014.

Lisa Kramer of Lisa Kramer Vintage on Ruby Lane

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