Van Cleef & Arpels: A Love Story

Antique Van Cleef & Arpels brooch Jogani

A Van Cleef & Arpels brooch from the Jogani collection

Van Cleef & Arpels is one of the most respected high jewelers in history. This world-famous firm was the result of a marriage between two young lovers: Alfred Van Cleef and Estelle Arpels, both of whom had families in the gem industry. Alfred’s father was a well-known diamond cutter in Napoleon era Paris, while Estelle’s family dealt with precious stones. The union between the two brought about a new era of familial success. 

The couple’s budding business started as a small jewelry salon in the ninth arrondissement of Paris, and business thrived. Less than a decade after the company’s start, it found a home at Place Vendome. In the years to follow, Van Cleef & Arpels would open additional shops in Cannes, New York, Monte Carlo, and Palm Beach to suit the needs of their expanding business.

Since its inception, Van Cleef & Arpels has paved the way for multiple jewelry related items coming to market. In 1930, Frances Gould, wife of railroad baron Jay Gould, rushed into Van Cleef & Arpels for a meeting and quickly placed all of her small necessities into a Lucky Strike cigarette case. Arpels adapted the idea into a much more elegant statement and thus, the minaudiere was born. This dainty and elegant case was perfectly designed to hold all of a lady’s small staple items that were taken out with her on a regular basis. The compact perfectly held a comb, lipstick case, and lighter and also contained small compartments intended for powder, change, and cigarettes. This was the perfect accessory for the women of the time and remained popular for decades.

The trend of the minaudiere was followed by many of the great jewelers of the time and many variations exist. In 1933, Van Cleef developed their arguably most significant technological advancement of all time: the Mystery Setting. This creative new way to set stones actually involves interlocking gemstones with grooves cut into them to notch them together - similar to a puzzle or hardwood floor. This technique creates the look of a solid flow of stones, most commonly ruby or sapphire, with no visible metal supporting them in place. With this new style, VCA was able to create many of the signature pieces they are known for today.

The “Zipper Necklace” is yet another creation by the VCA house, originally designed in 1938 and inspired by the Duchess of Windsor. This stunning necklace design creates an actual working zipper comprised of precious gemstones, set in platinum or yellow gold. The movement of the zipper allows the wearer to adjust the look of the necklace with a simple motion. The piece was finally fabricated in 1951 and has remained popular ever since.

Van Cleef & Arpels also has acquired a nice collection of gems and jewelry, most notably a 38.64 carat pink diamond named the Princie Diamond. The Prince Diamond was discovered over 300 years ago in the Golconda mine and is thought to be the third largest pink diamond in existence, following the Darya-ye Noor and the Noor-ol-Ain, both part of the Iranian crown jewels and cut from a 242 carat rough stone. The Prince Diamond sold at Christie’s Auction House in 2013 for a whopping $39.3 million. Another noteworthy VCA collectible was a tiara created by Faberge and worn by Empress Josephine. This tiara was also recently auctioned for just under $2.1 million, after being passed through Josephine’s family for generations.

Many Royals and celebrities have flocked to Van Cleef to create a variety of items; the Duchess of Windsor had multiple items made, including the “Jarretiere bracelet” which was made with a mix of diamonds and sapphires, given by Wallis Simpson to commemorate their marriage contract. Even at the time of their wedding, the new Duchess wore a Van Cleef clip during the ceremony. Van Cleef & Arpels would soon become one of her favorite brands to collect.

Jacqueline Bouvier also was gifted multiple Van Cleef items, including both of her wedding rings. The first, in 1953, was given to her by her first husband John F. Kennedy and then another by her second husband, Aristotle Onassis, in 1968. This was also the first year of the famous “Alhambra” collection, which most identifiably contains a four leaf clover motif, but has also been created in other shapes such as hearts and butterflies in various stones such as onyx, malachite, and mother of pearl.

Van Cleef & Arpels is a historically significant brand whose jewelry items have long been respected and sought after by many collectors from around the world. Their creations will always stand out as some of the most important jewels in the world. The Van Cleef & Arpels families had levels of passion for their business that are simply unmatched and with that, were able to create a brand name that would last for generations. Even though the company is no longer in the hands of the original family, the new owner, the Richemont group, is the largest luxury goods company in the world and continue to assure that the legacy of this brand will live on for many years to come.

Ivory Van Cleef & Arpels bracelet Jogani

VCA ivory bracelet Jogani close-up

An ivory Van Cleef & Arpels bracelet from the Jogani private collection