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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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