Van Cleef & Arpels, the French luxury jewellery maison, began life at Place Vendôme in Paris in 1906. The house was born from the marriage of Alfred Van Cleef to Estelle Arpels, who had wed in 1885.
Estelle Arpels, fortuitously, was the daughter of a dealer in precious stones and Alfred Van Cleef was the son of a craftsman and diamond broker. Clearly, it was meant to be. It would be Estelles’ brothers who would partner with Alfred Van Cleef in the beginning to open a boutique at 22 Place Vendome. As a result, this address, now iconic in the world of jewellery, is where Van Cleef & Arpels headquarters has remained since.
Arche solaire bracelet. White gold, 41 oval-cut pink sapphires for 57.98 carats (Madagascar), mauve sapphires, coral, diamonds.
Over the subsequent hundred plus years since conception,Van Cleef & Arpels has earned a lengthy list of high jewellery, watch and even fragrance accolades.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the house adopted the lines and designs of the burgeoning Art Deco movement. Egyptian, Japanese, Chinese and Indian inspirations were explored following the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun and a subsequent popularity for orientalism in Europe.
Nébuleuse clip. White gold, rose gold, one troidia-cut spessartite garnet of 8.18 carats, mauve sapphires, onyx, diamonds.
heir first secret watch was created in 1923, which was platinum and diamond. Two years later this watch was awarded the Grand Prize at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris for its Roses bracelet, which was set with rubies, emeralds and diamonds.
A couple of years later Renée Puissant, who was the daughter of the founding couple, became the Maison’s Artistic Director in collaboration with designer René-Sim Lacaze in 1926. Why were they so successful? Because their aesthetic was bold, distinctive and full of imagination. This style became instantly recognisable as uniquely Van Cleef & Arpels. Added do that, it was on their watches that numerous designs, now iconic, came to be. Examples include the fabled Cadenas watch, as well as the Minaudière, the Passe-Partout and the Mystery Set™.
As an example, the Minaudière was launched in 1933, a beauty compact that was designed practically to perfection and inspired by Florence Jay Gould. The Mystery Set, which is trademarked, was created the same year and involved setting precious stones in a way that caused the metal to become invisible. Lastly, in 1935 the Cadenas watch made its debut. It was a wristwatch with a dual snake chain bracelet, a clasp akin to a padlock. Notably, its angled dial offered a discreet way to read the time.
Subsequently special orders were placed by Edward VIII who was a huge fan. For Wallis Simpson’s 40th birthday in 1936 he ordered a Cravate necklace as well as a ruby and diamond bracelet. Additionally t Edward VIII bought a Houx clip made of Mystery Set rubies.
The remainder of the 1930s saw the creation of two new designs. Firstly the Peony double clip and secondly the Passe-Partout, these were the first transformable pieces created by the Maison. The house also created the jewellery for the wedding of Princess Fawzia of Egypt.
Into the 1940s came the first ballerina and fairy clips, which became something of a Van Cleef & Arpels tradition. Expansion outside of Europe followed with the opening of a New York boutique, opened at 744 Fifth Avenue. The end of the decade welcomed a man’s watch designed by Pierre Arpels, initially for his own use.
Special orders by the Maharani of Baroda came in 1950. That same year the Zip necklace made its debut. This was an original design that had been in existence since 1938, but it was now finally perfected. While a series of animal clips formed part of a new and affordable range that lent itself more to a ready to wear collection.
Further highlights came in 1956. Prince Rainier III of Monaco offered his bride, Grace Kelly, a pearl and diamond jewellery ensemble from the house. Furthermore the Maison became the official supplier to the Principality of Monaco. Throughout the 1960s, the house created unique pieces that were specially ordered by leading names such as Barbara Hutton, Princess Grace of Monaco and Empress Farah Pahlavi of Iran.
A meeting with George Balanchine, co founder of the New York City Ballet led to Jewels, a ballet dedicated to precious stones which debuted in April 1967. The ballet’s three acts were titled Emeralds, Rubies and Diamonds, and set to music by Fauré, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky, respectively.
The first Alhambra long necklace, inspired by the four leaf clover, and instantly recognisable as a house design today, came to life in 1968. It would evolve over the years in various guises but had been inspired initially by the hippie movement.
The 1980s saw a further foray into its Snowflake collections, which had originally begun life in the 1920s. Various exhibitions and retrospectives followed, as did two new patented techniques. One using hexagonally cut stones, the other designed for diamonds. In 1992 The Musée de la Mode et du Costume held an exhibition dedicated to Van Cleef & Arpels. In honour of the occasion, the house created a Mystery Set ensemble entitled Galliera, which featured a total of 1,717 rubies, cut one by one!
Another celebratory moment came in 2000 and the millennium clip, a dual design set with rubies and diamonds. And to mark its 100th anniversary, the Maison manufactured 11 unseen pieces based on sketches made between the 1920s and the 1960s.
Halley necklace and ring with interchangeable motifs. White gold, yellow gold, one pear-shaped Fancy Vivid Yellow diamond of 11.29 carats, one pear-shaped DFL diamond of 3.26 carats, yellow and white diamonds.
Ballet was to be a recurring theme as, in 2007, the house drew on its collaboration with choreographer George Balanchine to create a collection in four chapters: ballet, emerald, ruby and diamond.
A string of exhibitions would follow during the next decade: “The Spirit of Beauty” exhibition at Tokyo’s Mori Arts Center. “Set in Style” an exhibition at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York. “Timeless Beauty” was an exhibition at the Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), China. “Van Cleef & Arpels, L’Art de la Haute Joaillerie” at the Paris Musée des Arts Décoratifs. “The Art and Science of Gems” exhibition took place at the ArtScience Museum in Singapore. “Van Cleef & Arpels, When Elegance Meets Art” exhibition at the Today Art Museum in Beijing. Lastly, the “Van Cleef & Arpels: Time, Nature, Love” exhibition at the Palazzo Reale in Milan, Italy.
And there would be new launches, the Palais de la chance® High Jewelry collection, Le Secret High Jewelry collection, the Quatre contes de Grimm High Jewelry collection, the Treasure of rubies High Jewelry collection and the Romeo & Juliet High Jewelry collection.