Van Cleef and Arpels: Imagination and Opulence

Van Cleef and Arpels “Pierres du Caractere Variations” High Jewelry Collection S/s 2013 Campaign features models Du Juan and Bonnie Chen, photographed by Richard Ramos. Image VAN CLEEF AND ARPELS

I love jewelry. I have loved jewelry ever since I was a little girl and now it’s one of my favourite things to collect. I may have mentioned a few posts ago that I love flipping through magazines to look at the jewelry advertisements- and one jewelry house whose ads I particularly look out for is Van Cleef and Arpels.

The Van Cleef and Arpels ‘Pongal’ ring in yellow gold from the 2005 ‘Pierres de Caractère’ Collection is studded with rubies and diamonds and features a 27.81-carat Colombian emerald. Image VAN CLEEF AND ARPELS

Van Cleef and Arpels is a French design house specializing in jewelry, watches and perfumes. It was originally founded in 1896 as a company specializing in precious stones by Alfred Van Cleef and his father-in-law Salomon Arpels. In 1906 it became primarily a jewelry design house when, following Salomon’s death, Alfred Van Cleef was joined by his brothers-in-law Salomon and Julien Arpels.

The company has become famous for its intricate and whimsical gems, its particular expertise in precious stones and its use of the groundbreaking gem-setting procedure known as the “Mystery Setting”. Their designs often feature flowers, animals, fairies, dancers and mythological creatures and their collections draw inspiration from literature, ballet and nature.

Van Cleef and Arpels bird clip (1963) in platinum and yellow gold, set with turquoise, sapphires, white diamonds and coral. Image VAN CLEEF AND ARPELS/BOWERS MUSEUM

Van Cleef and Arpels’ first store opened in 1906 at 22 Place Vendôme, Paris, across from the Hotel Ritz. Place Vendôme was a symbol of Parisian luxury and elegance and attracted international businessmen and aristocrats. The business grew quickly and Van Cleef and Arpels opened boutiques in resorts such as Deauville, Nice, Monte-Carlo, Le Touquet and Vichy.

The Van Cleef and Arpels flagship store in Palace Vendôme, Paris. Image VAN CLEEF AND ARPELS

The Van Cleef and Arpels company continued to grow in fame and prestige as they opened stores in Geneva, Milan, and Germany, eventually becoming the first Parisian jewelry brand to open boutiques in Japan and China. There are now standalone boutiques in major international cities worldwide such as Abu Dhabi, Shanghai, New York, Tokyo and Berlin. There are also boutiques within shopping centres and major department stores worldwide, as well as a seasonal store in Aspen, Colorado in the US. The company today holds a major international presence, stemming from a long history of producing fantastic jewelery, commissioned by prominent international luminaries. Van Cleef and Arpels has created jewelry for royalty, public figures and celebrities, with their pieces having been worn by style icons like Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor and Jaqueline Kennedy-Onassis.

Actress Eva Mendes wore the Van Cleef and Arpels yellow gold and platinum ‘Panka’ necklace to the 2009 Golden Globe Awards (her gown is Dior). The necklace is set with turquoise and diamonds and was produced in 1974, it is in the company’s private collection. Image STEVE GRANITZ/WIREIMAGE

In 1978 Van CLeef and Arpels forayed into the fragrance market with their premier scent ‘First for Women.’ ‘First’ quickly became a best-seller and remains as a popular scent today. The continuing success of ‘First’ (1978 – present) has paved the way for other fragrances such as ‘Gem’ (1987), ‘Féerie’ (2008), ‘Oriens’ (2010), as well as their scent collections ‘Collection Extraordinaire’ (2009), ‘Collection Les Saisons’ (2004). The house’s best-selling colognes include “Tsar” (1984), ‘Zanzibar’ (2001) and ‘Midnight in Paris'(2012).

The 2013 Van Cleef and Arpels Haute Parfumerie Campaign for the scent ‘Fèerie Spring Blossom.’ Image Van Cleef and Arpels

Yet, Van Cleef and Arpels’ claim to fame has and will be for for its stunning jewelry. The company has produced many innovative pieces such as the ‘Passe Portout’ (Take-me-anywhere) convertible bracelet (1939), the ‘Zip’ necklace (1950); which can be open and closed like a zip and can be converted into a bracelet, the iconic ‘Alhambra’ necklace (and subsequent design motif-1968) and the ‘between-the-fingers’ collection of rings which was launched in 2001 with the ‘Lotus’ ring.

The Van Cleef and Arpels ‘Zip” necklace (1950) in yellow gold is set with white diamonds, rubies and pearls. Shown here in it’s semi-zipped necklace and it’s fully-zipped bracelet forms. Image VAN CLEEF AND ARPELS

The company has also been producing jeweled timepieces since the 1920s, but it was not until the 1936 release of the ‘Cadenas’ (Padlock) wristwatch bracelet, that Van Cleef and Arpels garnered notable acclaim for its inventive watches. The ‘Cadenas’ was followed by the ‘Tourniquet’ bracelet watch in 1937 and 1939’s ‘Montre Clipfleur’ timepiece; a brooch with a small watch mounted beneath a jeweled cover. Jeweled ladies’ watches and chronographs have since been included in the company’s seasonal jewelry collection.

In celebration of it’s centenary in 2006, the company released it’s first full collection of haute horlogerie, ‘Quantième de Saison,’ a compilation of limited-edition watches designed specifically for women. These gorgeous timepieces featured details such as beautifully enameled watch-faces, moving bejeweled watch hands and mechanical movements that tracked the passage of the seasons. This collection was such an enormous success that new editions are now produced each year under the label of ‘Complication des Amoureux Poetic’ (Poetic Complications).

Examples of the 2006 Van Cleef and Arpels ‘Quantième de Saison’ Ladies watches: (from left) The Lady Arpels Centenary, the Tourbillon Cadran Unique Colbri and the Lady Arpels Fèerie. Image VAN CLEEF AND ARPELS

Another notable Van Cleef and Arpels innovation is the 1930 introduction of the Minaudière, a small precious box or handbag, originally made of precious materials and just large enough to fit in a woman’s palm on a night out. Apart from these small handbags and boxes, the company’s Minaudières also include jeweled money clips, pill boxes, lipstick cases and compact mirrors.

The 1926 Van Cleef and Arpels ‘Roses Minaudière’ precious box. Image VAN CLEEF AND ARPELS

The company’s perfection of the Mystery Setting, a ground-breaking technique for mounting gems, is an achievement considered to be design evolution. The Mystery Setting involves individual stones being hand-grooved onto a mesh form of gold or platinum wire and results in the stones being set without any visible prongs. While this method was introduced by Parisian Jeweler Chaumet in 1904, it was perfected by Van Cleef and Arpels in the 1930s, and it is now used with propriety ownership by the company.

An example of the Mystery Setting is seen in this clip from the Van Cleef and Arpels 2010 ‘Papillions’ Collection; it is platinum and set with rubies and diamonds with a hanging baroque pearl. Image VAN CLEEF AND ARPELS

Van Cleef and Arpels has grown into one of the world’s most successful and prestigious jewelry companies with more than 40 stores worldwide and and huge international revenues (it’s 2010/2011 sales revenue was estimated to total €500 million). It was formerly managed by different members of the Arpels family until being acquired in 1999 by Compagnie Financière Richemont S.A., a luxury-holdings group based in Switzerland.

A carved ivory and yellow gold bangle set with rubies, emeralds and white diamonds from the Van Cleef and Arpels 2005 ‘Pierres de Caractère’ Collection. Image VAN CLEEF AND ARPELS

Stunning. Here’s to many more years of fabulous jewelry!

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