No trip to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York is complete without a visit to the Halls of Gems and Minerals. But there’s now a green glow emanating from one of its exhibition spaces that makes exploration there even more compelling.
One must walk past exquisite raw specimens like the massive 632-carat Patricia emerald to get to “Garden of Green: Exquisite Jewelry from the Collection of Van Cleef & Arpels.” It’s a journey from science to art and the combination thereof. And yes, of green is involved—from apple to evergreen, pretty much an entire Pantone book’s worth. The gemstone bijoux and span a century of the 117-year-old heritage house’s history.
According to Alexandrine Maviel-Sonet, the heritage jeweler’s exhibitions director, “Green symbolizes hope and of course the inspiration of nature.” She worked with Dr. George E. Harlow of AMNH to shape “Garden of Green.”
The show, which opened last month and runs until January 2024, is comprised of 44 pieces from the French high jewelry maison’s history. Most are from the Van Cleef & Arpels archive, but certain pieces are on loan from private collections. Thirty-two items have never been displayed in the U.S. Emerald and jade rule supreme in the mass consciousness, but viewers might come away enamored with a precious stone with which they had been previously unfamiliar. The exhibit is divided into sections: emerald, green chalcedony, chrysoprase, malachite, peridot, and jadeite, while Variations of Green features a medley of stones in pieces inspired by the natural world.
Maviel-Sonet stresses the paramount importance of the stones in the Van Cleef process. “The stones come first,” she says. “We to select the best stones. Once we have the stones, then we do the design and creation.”
More than a curation of gems in myriad hues of greens, the show is a building narrative of styles. A sleek modernist bracelet is contrasted with a playful 1950s mouse pendant and then a brutalist necklace with seemingly unpolished, rough-hewn emeralds. “Garden of Green” is an intimate grotto-like segue in the grand Halls of Gems and Minerals, but it manages to make a dazzling statement about the very human creative impulse toward aesthetics and innovation: that any rough gem is selected, polished, and set is the reason it sits in a jeweler’s vitrine rather than a museum’s display case.
Here are some of the stunning pieces in the collection.
“Garden of Green: Exquisite Jewelry From the Collection of Van Cleef & Arpels” is on view at the American Museum of Natural History in New York through