Van Cleef & Arpels is a French jewellery, watch, and perfume company that was founded in 1896 by Salomon Arpels and Alfred Van Cleef. They opened their first boutique in 1906 at 22 place Vendôme, Paris. Van Cleef & Arpels are renowned for their expertise in precious stones and have won particular acclaim for a groundbreaking gem-setting procedure known as the Mystery Setting.
In 1896, Esther Arpels, the daughter of Salomon Arpels, a dealer in precious stones, married Alfred Van Cleef, whose family were sheet merchants living in the 19th arrondissement of Paris. That same year, Alfred Van Cleef and Salomon Arpels had already established a company with the aim of “founding and running a jewellery business”. In 1906, they registered the “Van Cleef & Arpels” trademark and opened a boutique at 22 place Vendôme. They were soon joined by Esther’s brothers, Salomon, Jules and Louis Arpels. Alfred Van Cleef died in 1938, leaving his daughter, Renée Rachel Puissant, behind him. From 1909 to 1939, Van Cleef & Arpels prospered and opened boutiques in holiday resorts such as Deauville, Le Touquet, Nice and Monte-Carlo.
Progressively, the second generation joined the business. In 1942, the Arpels family emigrated to America and opened their first boutique in New York, on 5th Avenue. Later, Van Cleef & Arpels became the first French jewellers to open boutiques in Japan and China. Over the years, the firm was always managed by a descendant of the Arpels family, until it was acquired by the Compagnie Financière Richemont S.A. in 1999. The company’s prestige stems from a long list of prominent commissions issued by royal and imperial courts, financiers and industrial magnates, which have enabled Van Cleef & Arpels to be active today not only in Europe and the United States, but also in Asia and the Middle East.
The history of Van Cleef & Arpels has been marked by a number of milestone creations, the most emblematic of which include:
* the first watch with a leather strap, made in yellow or white gold (1923); * a bracelet depicting red and white roses in bloom, made with diamonds, rubies and emeralds, which was awarded the Grand Prix de l’Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes de Paris – First Prize at the International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts (1925); * the Minaudière, a small precious box that can hold a powder compact, lipstick, lighter, or keys, inspired by Florence Jay Gould (1930); * the Cadenas (Padlock) wristwatch (1936); * the Passe Partout (Take-me-anywhere) bracelet (1939); * the round watch with an ultra-slim case, the P.A. 49 (1949); * the Zip necklace (1950), which can be opened and closed just like a zip; * the Alhambra necklace (1968); * the Millénaire (Millennium) clip (2000); * the Lotus “between-the-fingers” ring (2001); * the Le Songe d’une Nuit d’Été (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) collection (2003); * the Couture collection (2004); * the Pierres de Caractère (Stones of Character) collection (2005); * the Atlantide and Ballet Précieux (Atlantis and Precious Ballet) collections (2007); * the Jardins (Gardens) collection (2008);
Faithful to the spirit of their founders, each piece of Van Cleef & Arpels jewellery is designed to enhance the beauty of exceptional stones. Although Van Cleef & Arpels has purchased exceptional pieces, it has also brought rare stones, such as aquamarines, mandarin garnets and rubellites, to light. Van Cleef & Arpels sometimes choose to highlight the poetry of more unexpected materials, such as mother-of-pearl, snakewood and lacquer.
The Mystery Setting
The Mystery Setting is a precious stone paving procedure that uses no visible claws. This setting technique has been continuously perfected by the firm over the years, the latest patent for diamonds being registered in 1990. The stones are set one by one on an extremely fine gold or platinum net. The quality of a Mystery-Set jewel depends on the clarity of the stones and the evenness of their colour. The gem-cutter selects stones based on extremely strict criteria, and chooses the position of each one of them on the jewel depending on their grade. The highly reduced quantity of the precious metals enhances the reflection of light and sets a stage upon on which stones are shown at their most radiant. Brought together, espousing even the most unexpected shapes, they act as a strong and precious whole.
Since their inception, Van Cleef & Arpels have been associated with events that have marked the lives of princely, royal and imperial families around the world, like that of His Royal Highness Don Antonio of Orléans and Grand Duke Dmitri in the 1920s, Princess de Faucigny Lucinge, Baron Thyssen, the Duchess of Windsor and the Duke of Westminster in the 1930s, Queen Nazli and King Farouk of Egypt, Baron James de Rothschild, Countesses de Rohan Chabot and d’Harcourt, the Maharani of Baroda, Princess de Réthy, then King Baudoin of Belgium, Princess von Turn und Taxis, the Marquis of Cuevas, Queen Sirikit of Thailand in the 1950s, and then, in the following decades, Baron Guy de Rothschild, the Princess of Wales, Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco, the Aga Khan family, etc. Numerous actresses have also favoured Van Cleef & Arpels jewels. Examples of faithful clients include Madeleine Carroll, Michèle Morgan, Marlene Dietrich, Ava Gardner, Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, Liz Taylor, Claudia Cardinale, Romy Schneider, Brigitte Bardot, Catherine Deneuve, Charlotte Rampling, Chiara Mastroianni, Sharon Stone, Kristin Scott Thomas, Julia Roberts, Uma Thurman, Zhang Ziyi, Carole Bouquet, Diane Kruger, Scarlett Johansson, Sofia Coppola, and many more. To all of these beauties can be added dancers and singers such as Mistinguett, Zizi Jeanmaire, Maria Callas, Lili Pons, and more recently, Annie Lennox, Mariah Carey, Madonna, Sheryl Crow, as well as exceptional women such as Florence Jay Gould, Barbara Hutton....