Heritage Luxury Brand: Van Cleef & Arpels: The Maison that Love Built

Van Cleef & Arpels

The power of love has always inspired Van Cleef & Arpels and love is the powerful force that brought the Maison into being and drives their passion for jewelry.

There is nothing stronger than the power of love. And love is what built Van Cleef & Arpels, the famous jewelry maison. It all began when Alfred Van Cleef met a young girl named Estelle Arpels. She was a precious stones dealer’s daughter and he was the son of a stone-cutter. They met towards the end of the 19th century and were married in 1895 and together with their youthful energy, creative spirit, strong sense of family unity, work ethic, and a passion for precious stones. This was the start of a special tale of love, and a great adventure beyond imagination.

photos courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels

They were inspired to create something that would last and this inspiration led them to found the Van Cleef & Arpels Maison. Alfred set up the business in 1906 with Estelle ‘s brother Charles, a talented salesman who operated their new boutique in Place Vendôme in Paris, France. Two years later, Estelle ‘s brother Julien joined the firm; her third brother, Louis, joined them in 1912.

Innovation and Know How

There is a vast difference between good and excellent. For over a century, Van Cleef & Arpels has fused unparalleled craftsmanship, technological expertise and innovation in all its creations. From their choice in materials, the gems they select, their settings and mounting methods, no detail is too small. It is their innovation and commitment to excellence, doing all things with love that is a key to their longevity and continued relevance in modern society. When you do things from a place of love, you possess a powerful force.

The Mystery Set, Van Cleef & Arpels, photo courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels

The Mystery Set™: A Feat of Jewelry Making Excellence

The Mystery Set™ is a true achievement in the jewelry-making world and is an iconic example of the unparalleled skills of Van Cleef & Arpels. This technique, patented in 1933, allows the setting of precious stones (rubies, sapphires, emeralds and diamonds) with no visible prong or other metal components. There is a high level of expertise needed to create a Mystery Set™ piece so much so that only a privileged few master jewellers even hold the secret. This technique is so complex that it can take up to eight hours to make the perfect cut. That is a tremendous amount of time and dedication to the process.

Two additional techniques, created subsequently, accompany the standard Mystery Collection: the Navette Mystery Set and the Vitrail Mystery Set.

About the Navette Mystery Set: Using polished marquise-cut stones, The Navette Mystery Collection brings designs to life through a spectacular 3D effect evocative of the plumage of a bird or the petals of a flower. This technique for emeralds and diamonds was adapted by Van Cleef & Arpels in 2018 to produce the Pomme de pin film, a rare piece depicting a delicate cluster of pine cones.

About the Vitrail Mystery Set.: The Vitrail Mystery Collection conceals the mounting of a creation on both sides, playing on the translucency of the stones. Meticulously buffed, they come alive, as can be seen on the Panache Mystérieux High Jewelry shot, in a medley of reflections and nuances.

These techniques create jewelry of unparalleled expertise and beauty.

Renowned Innovations and Famous Designs

Over their long and illustrious past, Van Cleef & Arpels has a vast list of incredible designs and accomplishments, each one more wonderful than the next, and their designs, just as fresh and beautiful today as they were when they were created. Here are a few pieces and partnerships from their collections over time that stand out for us and that feature some of the interesting people and stories behind them.

The Minaudière Precious Case

Inspired by the changing needs of women

photos courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels

With graceful beauty and ingenuity, the Minaudière™ precious case is a tribute to the essence of femininity. A timeless beauty that evokes the spirit of Van Cleef & Arpels. Created in the 1920’s at a time when women began to carry their beauty accessories with them in a vanity case. It was during a visit with a socialite friend Florence Jay Gould, that Charles Arpels was shocked to see her throwing her lipstick, a powder bag, a cigarette and a lighter into a Lucky Strike cigarette box. The design for the Minaudière precious case was born from this moment. The ingenious design of the Minaudière ‘s precious case included compartments for an elegant lady’s numerous items make-up, comb, mirror, dance card, cigarette holder, and even a retractable watch all enclosed in a stylish case.


The Successful Design Duo of Renée Puissant & René Sim Lacaze, 1920’s

A brand-defining partnership that stood the test of time

photos courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels

Van Cleef & Arpels’ pre-war style was defined by a formidable creative partnership. After the death of her husband in 1926, Renée Puissant, the daughter of Estelle Arpels and Alfred Van Cleef, became the Maison’s artistic director. René Sim Lacaze was a talented artist who joined the company in 1922. Together, they have forged an artistic legacy that has endures to this day.

Puissant was not an artist herself, yet had a flood of ideas on the design of jewelry, so she relied on Lacaze to carry them from her head to the page. Working from his original drawings, she would make a contribution to her own thorough detailed suggestions. The resulting creations were born out of this aesthetic dialogue between two complementary personalities. From 1926 to 1939, Van Cleef & Arpels was at the forefront of jewellery design. The pieces they created have had an influence on the history of modern jewellery. The Japanese-influenced Panier Fleuri brochure represents the more figurative style embraced by the Maison in the mid-1920s.


Iconic Designs: Faeries and Ballerinas

Trademark enchanting

1941 Spirit of Beauty clip, once owned by American socialite Barbara Hutton, Van Cleef & Arpels

In New York in the early 1940s, the House developed its first fairies and ballerinas, thus marking the beginning of an iconic Van Cleef & Arpels tradition. These elegant female figures include the 1941 Spirit of Beauty clip, once owned by American socialite Barbara Hutton, depicting a slender fairy in flight with a magic wand in her hand.

Embodiments of the enchanting world of the Maison, fairies soon became the trademark of Van Cleef & Arpels. Distinctive with their rose-cut diamond faces and winged contours – often enhanced by a magic wand – these delicate sprites encapsulate the elegance of dreams by their graceful bearing. Suspended in mid-flight, stylishly contemplative or resting against precious corollas and mischievously wielding their magic wand, these muses accompany Van Cleef & Arpels with their benevolent presence.

Reinterpreted over the decades, the fairies have influenced the designs of High Jewelry and Watch, where they appear set with precious stones, ornamented with enamel or embellished with miniature painted motifs. Spreading their diaphanous wings on watch dials, time appears to be mysteriously suspended.

Symbol of Luck the Alhambra – an Iconic Van Cleef & Arpels Design

Luck is a Van Cleef & Arpels Value

H.S.H. Princess Grace of Monaco is wearing three Alhambra sautoirs, 1979

“To be lucky, you must believe in luck,” Jacques Arpels, nephew of Estelle Arpels liked to say.  An ardent collector, he would pick four-leaf clovers in the back yard of his house in Germigny-l’Évêque, offering them to his workers along with an English poem, “Don’t Quit.”

Luck is one of Van Cleef & Arpels brand values. This now iconic Van Cleef & Arpels design was first produced in 1968, when the Maison produced the first Alhambra® long necklace. The design consisted of 20 clover-shaped motifs in gold-plated yellow gold and trimmed with gold beads.

This symbolic style has achieved instant popularity, known worldwide as a token of luck, emblematic of Van Cleef & Arpels. This signature design is synonymous with the Maison and over the years, has been expressed in a great many ways, styles, stones, metals and other means of artistic expression with jewelry.

The Zip Necklace

A technical feat, the necklace zips and transforms into a bracelet

The Zip Necklace, Van Cleef & Arpels, photo courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels

The design for the Zip Necklace was created in 1938, but it took until 1950 until it was perfected. It’s unique design meant that it could be worn either as a necklace, unzipped, or zipped, as a bracelet.

Crowning Glory: Crown of Empress Farah Pahlavi

In 1966, Van Cleef & Arpels was charged with the task of making the crown of Empress Farah Pahlavi for her upcoming coronation in 1967. A team from the Maison was sent to Iran for the process of choosing the major gems to be used for the crown. It took 11 months of work to create and they presented the empress with a crown made of emerald velvet set with 36 emeralds, 36 rubies, 105 pearls and 1,469 diamonds.

High Jewelry Folie des Prés Watch, Van Cleef & Arpels High Jewelry. Photo courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels

High Jewelry

Ad the years go on, they go from strength to strength with the creation of their high jewelry collections that continue to impress. A new artistic impetus was witnessed by the Maison, crafting the first High Jewelry themed collections. The Complications Poétiques watch range articulated Van Cleef & Arpels’ poetic view of time alongside revolutionary jewellery creations such as Perlée and Frivole. Their designs are pure beauty and treasured thing of dreams for jewelry lovers.

Sharing Knowledge and Jewelry Appreciation: L’ÉCOLE, School of Jewelry Arts

Their know how has lead them to also focus on cultivating talents and sharing knowledge for its preservation and continued development. L’ÉCOLE School of Jewelry Arts was established in 2012 and is the first school to welcome the general public into the jewellery arts. Thanks to Van Cleef & Arpels’ help, the school was built. In an 18th-century mansion which embodies the French artistic tradition, L’ÉCOLE is located on Place Vendôme, where the spirit of jewellery is in the air. The school’s international vocation leads it to travel around the world to share the knowledge of jewellery, where it encounters an increasingly diverse audience. The entrance to the school is located in Paris at 31 rue Danielle Casanova.

Fostering Jewelry Appreciation

L’ÉCOLE also promotes jewellery appreciation through exhibits that are free and open to the public. These exhibits provide a rare opportunity to see private and exceptional works that illustrate the many aspects of jewellery art by partnering with collectors and contemporary artists. Directed tours in French and English, during opening hours and with pre-registration, will be available.


For more information about Van Cleef & Arpels and to locate your nearest boutique, visit https://www.vancleefarpels.com

For more information about L’ÉCOLE, School of Jewelry Arts, visit https://www.lecolevancleefarpels.com


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