Marthe Le Van is a contemporary jewelry evangelist and enabler. She owns Mora, visit at www.moracollection.com, an award-winning retail boutique for contemporary jewelry in Asheville, North Carolina, USA; volunteers on Art Jewelry Forum's Publication Committee; and offers freelance services for jewelers, publishers, and arts organizations. An internationally recognized writer and editor, Le Van has more than 50 jewelry titles to her credit. She founded and was senior editor of Lark Jewelry Books from 2002 to 2012.
Each award-show season, a virtual community of jewelry enthusiasts gathers around hash tags to observe and assess red-carpet arrivals in real time. Using a predetermined tag—#oscarjewelry #globejewelry #grammyjewelry—lets us comment, question, commiserate, and crack wise on the jewelry selected to adorn celebrities at these rarified events. Considerable intrigue surrounds who will wear what. Calling a trend is a sport. Being irritated when jewelers aren’t credited is de rigueur. There are even drinking games based on catchphrases and clichés. For a few hours, with jewelry in the limelight, we share opinions, expertise, and camaraderie. Though art jewelry never makes an appearance, witnessing what designs and which designers excite those in the fine jewelry field is interesting. And for anyone seeking a thorough picture of contemporary jewelry, it is important.
Cut to the 2015 Oscars. Twenty minutes or so into the red-carpet entrances, a necklace arrived that was so unexpected, so devastatingly gorgeous that it stopped the Twitter chatter cold and provoked a collective jaw dropping of unprecedented proportions. At that moment, there was an unspoken, unanimous agreement that Australian actress Margot Robbie won the night, though it had barely begun, in Zip Antique Colombine by Van Cleef & Arpels—a piece with a backstory as captivating as Ms. Robbie on the red carpet.
In 1938, the Duchess of Windsor proposed a design concept to Renée Puissant, the artistic director of Van Cleef & Arpels. She imagined a fully functioning zipper crafted from precious metal that could be worn as a necklace when open and a bracelet when closed—a novel idea, but also a subversive one. Zippers had only become widely used after World War I. The Duchess was tinkering with perceptions of value by elevating a wholly utilitarian object to luxury status.
The technical challenges of making the zipper function and the piece convert from necklace to bracelet took the goldsmiths of Van Cleef & Arpels more than 12 years to resolve. Although the commission was placed in 1938, the final design was not presented to the Duchess until 1951. Once perfected, the Zip necklace became an iconic design for Van Cleef & Arpels and has been reinterpreted numerous times. Making an appearance and looking as fresh as ever on a 2015 red carpet is testament to the endurance and importance of this design.
Seeing Margot Robbie in the legendary Zip was both a magnificent high and a complete buzz kill. A bone had been thrown to all manner of jewelry hounds—the gem fanatics, the fashion obsessed, the vintage specialists, the art jewelry interlopers—leaving us no longer hungry or hopeful. Our expectations had been met by just one necklace at the very beginning of the red carpet broadcast. There was nothing left to grumble about. We had been zipped up too soon, and for good.