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Lust-worthy window shopping at ‘The Art and Science of Gems’

art and science of gems
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Learn everything you could ever want to know about gems and jewellery (with plenty of eye candy to ogle) at ArtScience Museum’s new exhibit, “The Art and Science of Gems”

If ever there was an event where I wish there’d been a gift bag, it was at last week’s official launch of The Art and Science of Gemsexhibit at the ArtScience Museum, presented in collaboration with luxury jewelry house Van Cleef & Arpels and the French Museum of Natural History (which is home to the largest collection of gems and jewels in the world).


But alas, I received no glittering diamond trinkets to take home and admire. Instead I had to be satisfied with a delightful morning of learning everything you could possibly want to know about gems and jewellery – from their evolution deep in the Earth into some of the world’s most stunning and unique pieces of craftsmanship. Featuring over 400 pieces of jewellery from the Van Cleef & Arpels Collection and those of private collectors (for example, they’ve got Princess Grace’s wedding tiara!), the exhibit makes for an informative and unique hour or two of lust-worthy window shopping.

The morning kicked off on a high note with a surprise visit from none other than Cate Blanchett, which was totally amazing and obviously set the bar quite high (I’m going to assume she’s a fan of Van Cleef & Arpels – who wouldn’t be?). We then got a bit more background on the exhibit – which aims to explore “the links between art, science, culture and technology” – and its collaborators.


Did you know that the French Museum of Natural History, besides having the world’s largest collection of gemstones and minerals (over 60 million specimens!), traces its roots to 1626 and the personal collection of King Louis XIII? The collection made its public debut in 1745 to illustrate how natural history could inspire the arts, and grew considerably in the 19th century as Napoleon conquered (and plundered) much of Europe and beyond.

Meanwhile, fellow Paris denizen Van Cleef & Arpels is one of the world’s most esteemed jewelry houses, renowned for their gorgeous, inventive and impossibly intricate jewelry pieces (why have a plain old necklace when you can have a solid gold zip fastener studded with diamonds and rubies?).


The exhibit is filled to the brim with interesting info about naturally occurring gems and minerals – for instance, one of the most notable pieces is a 300+ carat black diamond, which I would have mistaken for a plain old rock – and the scientific side is organized into sections like “The Earth”, “Pressure”, “Temperature” and “Metamorphosis”. Honestly I didn’t pay super close attention to this part (what can I say? I’m easily distracted by shiny things), but I think it would absolutely make for an interesting conversation starter with kiddos interested in earth sciences and evolution. They even have a piece of what’s thought to be the world’s oldest rock (at more than 4 billion years old)!


There’s also a hands-on workshop for kids set aside especially for school groups during the week, but open to the public on the weekends. Here kids will get to see what kind of work geologists and mineralogists do, with plenty of exploration and the chance to pass around all sorts of fascinating objects from the Earth.

But oh, the jewels! I quite like how the exhibit is set up, with info on various gemstones (diamonds, opals, emeralds, pearls, etc.) sitting alongside the exquisite finished products from Van Cleef & Arpels, though I fear the latter quite literally outshines (and at least overshadows) the former.


The Van Cleef & Arpels pieces are organized in thematic categories like “Couture”, “Nature”, “Ballerinas and Fairies” and “Masterpiece” (the first thing you see when you enter the exhibit is a stork-like “Bird Clip and Pendant” highlighted by a 96.62 carat briolette-cut yellow diamond – this was actually commissioned by a mama in the 1970s to celebrate the birth of her son. Talk about a push present!).

Some of my favorite pieces were clever watches and necklaces (such as the aforementioned zip clasps) from the Art Deco period, though the little girl in me was equally delighted by the house’s many intricate flowers, butterflies and fairies. Children are sure to be wowed by many of these pieces; I think even my toddler would enjoy looking at the menagerie of tiny animals, or naming the different colors of each gemstone while also learning their names.


For slightly older kids, the “Influences” section might make for a good discussion about exoticism (particularly as it applies to the East): the golden dragons and sitar-playing maharaja figurines from the 1920s are gorgeous to be sure, and the press materials euphemistically present this as the “Maison’s curiosity for different cultures”, but I think it would be worthwhile to visit the Asian Civilisations Museum in tandem so as to appreciate the fact that art from this part of the world is just as beautiful and doesn’t need to be validated through a Western lens.


The final section, “Icons”, includes pieces worn by royalty (The Duchess of Windsor), movie stars (Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor), and various heiresses and socialites. It’s fun imagining what it would be like to order a custom tiara or necklace (or even have the occasion to wear such a stunning piece!).

For me, the exhibit at its best is about combining fantasy with the [literally] down to earth reality of the origins of jewels and gemstones (though there’s nary a mention of conflict diamonds). Perhaps the reason I absorbed so little of the science was that I just needed more of an escape from reality on that particular day. Whether you’re after a bit of escape, you want to give the kiddos a lesson in geology, or something in between, “The Art and Science of Gems” is well worth a visit, mama.

“The Art and Science of Gems” is on through 14 August, 2016 at the ArtScience Museum, Marina Bay Sands, 10 Bayfront Avenue, Singapore 018956.

Opening Hours: 10am to 7pm daily (last admission at 6pm)

How Much: Adults $17; Singaporean Citizens & PR $10; Children $10 ($6 for Singaporean and PR); Family $39 ($26 for Singaporean & PR)

Lead Image: Art Deco bracelet, 1925, Platinum and Diamonds, from the Van Cleef & Arpels Collections

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