Van Cleef & Arpels

Sparkling Jewels Found: Van Cleef & Arpels

Van Cleef & Arpels

The history of the famous Parisian jewellery house began in 1896 with the marriage of Estelle Arpels to Alfred Van Cleef. The company was founded in 1906 by Alfred and his brother-in law, Charles Arpels at 22, Place Vendôme. Julien Arpels joined the family business in 1908, and Louis Arpels in 1913. The oldest son of Julien Arpels, Claude, joined in 1932, followed by his brothers Jacques and Pierre in 1936 and 1944. An American boutique was opened by Claude in Rockefeller Center in New York in 1939, soon relocating to its definitive address at 744 Fifth Avenue. The 1930s saw some of the company’s most iconic designs: the house’s arguable trademark, the Mystery Setting – where the mounting of the gemstones is cleverly hidden behind the continuous calibré-cut ruby and sapphire surface of the jewel – was invented in 1933; and the concept of the Minaudière, made in honour of Florence Jay Gould, was invented in 1930 by Charles Arpels. In the following decades, the firm upheld its reputation for innovation with the zip necklace of the 1950s and the Alhambra theme of the 1970s. Today, Van Cleef & Arpels is part of the Richemont Group with more than 45 boutiques around the world.


There is of course Queen ­Nazli’s necklace. The 220-carat all-white-diamond bib was commissioned by the queen from Van Cleef & Arpels to celebrate the wedding of her daughter Princess Fawzia of Egypt to the shah of Iran. There is also the Medicis necklace, exhibited in 1937, a ribbon of mystery-set white diamonds overlaying rows of baguette-cut white diamonds dotted with round white diamonds. There are those geometric bandeau white diamond bracelets women loved to wear stacked on their newly bare arms in the 1920s. There is that white diamond piece Eva Perón is wearing in the picture of her with the Argentinean ambassador to France in 1947. There are those white diamond Haricot clips that Jackie Kennedy liked to wear with her pearls.

Van Cleef Haricot clips

Diamonds and Van Cleef, they go way back. “White diamonds have adorned Van Cleef & Arpels creations ever since the company’s founding, following the love story of Estelle Arpels and Alfred Van Cleef,” says president and CEO Nicolas Bos. But if you have followed the house’s more recent history (or if you read this magazine), you will note that the new Legend of Diamonds high jewelry collection seems like a bit of a departure. There is not the intricate narrative we have come to expect from Van Cleef High Jewelry—no French fairytale inspiration such as the 2014 Peau d’Ane collection had, or the eclectic references of last year’s Sous les Etoiles pieces, which included classical author Lucian of Samosata imagining a voyage in space and Camille Flammarion’s illustrated Astronomie Populaire from 1880, plus Cyrano de Bergerac’s tales of failed trips to the moon, 1970s comic books, and Barbarella. Nor is there the rare colored stone saturation or specificity of 2019’s Treasure of Rubies or 2016’s ode to emeralds. Don’t look for a turquoise skirt on the ballerina brooches.

legendary Van Cleef piece

Inspired by another legendary Van Cleef piece, the brooch they call the New Haricot (string bean) was née the Flame clip in 1934. Look closely and you notice the intricate work here: the gradation of two golds, the three stones at the center set with two-tone bezels, the last stone in the closed setting. Or you can ignore all this and just marvel at the beauty.


But also, don’t be fooled by the simplicity on display. “Even though it could seem a more minimalist design at first, this collection has challenged our teams in both creativity and know-how,” Bos says. “From the initial drawings through to stone-setting and the final polish, every detail has been designed to instill the creations with brilliance and life. Each diamond in the collection has been carefully selected by Van Cleef & Arpels’s expert gemologists with the strictest criteria, and they possess a diversity of cuts, from the classic ones to the most fancy,” he continues. “The combination of white and rose gold results from an extremely complicated technique achieved by our craftsmen in our Paris workshops. The pieces’ designs are inspired by different art periods, from the 1920s to the 1980s—architecture, painting, but also interlacing movement echoing couture symbols. One of our main challenges was to maintain the ability of some creations to transform, offering up to eight different possibilities for how to wear them.”


This one is named the Eva, and yes, Evita had one just like it. The upper band of diamonds here is what gives the necklace structure. The lower bands are more supple, both for comfort and perfect positioning.


Van Cleef & Arpels

Van Cleef & Arpels — A collector’s guide

Van Cleef & Arpels

The Van Cleef & Arpels story is founded in romance. The story starts with the founders Alfred Van Cleef, the son of a stone cutter, marrying his love Estelle Arpels, the daughter of a precious stone dealer. Together they took their passion for exquisite jewelry and precious stones and went into business in 1896. Van Cleef & Arpels opened their first store in 1906. The Parisian jewelry and watch maison has many famous designs including the Alhambra, a four leaf clover design that is supposed to bring the wearer luck, as well as butterfly and floral jewelry designs inspired by nature. FASHIONPHILE is home to a beautiful collection of authentic, preowned Van Cleef & Arpels necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings.

The history of Van Cleef & Arpels

Alfred Van Cleef (1872-1938), the son of a diamond cutter, married Estelle Arpels, the daughter of a dealer in precious stones, in 1895. The following year Van Cleef and his father-in-law, Salomon Arpels, formed Van Cleef & Arpels.

After Salomon died in 1903, Alfred and two of his brothers-in-law, Charles (1880-1951) and Julien (1884-1964), officially founded Van Cleef & Arpels with the opening of their shop in 1906 at 22 Place Vendôme, where the firm remains today. The third Arpels brother, Louis (1886-1976), joined the firm in 1912, no doubt to cope with their expansion, as branches had been opened in Nice, Deauville, Vichy, Lyon and Cannes, all between 1910 and 1920.

Alfred’s daughter, Renée Puissant (1897-1942), took control of the company’s artistic direction in 1926, and for the next 12 years worked closely with the talented designer René-Sim Lacaze.

An Art Deco multi-gem desk clock

An Art Deco multi-gem desk clock, by Van Cleef & Arpels, 1928. 13.5 x 13.5 x 15 cm. Sold for CHF 1,032,000 on 10 November 2020 at Christie’s in Geneva

Always at the forefront of innovation, Van Cleef & Arpels patented its ‘Mystery Set’ — a technique that allows for the setting of stones so that no prongs are visible — in 1933. Originally used for adorning minaudières, the Mystery Set allowed for swathes of colour unbroken by the flash of metal. 

Rare ruby and diamond Mystery Set necklace

Rare ruby and diamond Mystery Set necklace, by Van Cleef & Arpels. Sold for CHF 387,500 on 10 November 2020 at Christie’s in Geneva

In 1935, the three sons of Julien Arpels — Charles, Jacques and Pierre — joined the firm. At the end of the 1930s, for a time, Van Cleef & Arpels transferred most of its business to the United States — it had opened a branch in Palm Beach in 1940, and a shop in New York was acquired in 1942 at 744 Fifth Avenue, where the jeweller still trades today. 

Retro sapphire and diamond

Retro sapphire and diamond Ludo Hexagone bracelet, by Van Cleef & Arpels. Old and calibré-cut sapphires, old and single-cut diamonds, gold (French marks), circa 1936. Sold for £50,000 on 27 November 2019 at Christie’s in London

ollowing the Second World War the firm continued to expand, creating jewels for royalty, film stars and wealthy entrepreneurs. A growing emphasis on a more relaxed type of jewellery, however, led Van Cleef & Arpels to introduce an accessible range in 1954 that became well-known for its naturalistic forms and light-hearted themes. Diamonds were still used, but only as highlights. These attractive and wearable jewels were very popular in the 1950s, as confidence returned to a world that had been ravaged by war.

Van Cleef & Arpels is now owned by the Richemont Group.

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