One of the most dazzling French jewelry houses is celebrating more than 100 years of brilliant creations with a major exhibition at Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris. Van Cleef & Arpels: L’art de la Haute Joaillerie, which opened last week and continues through February 10, presents more than 400 pieces that have contributed to the house’s acclaim since its founding in 1906.
These spectacular creations will be shown with archive documents and drawings, in an exhibition designed by Jouin-Manku. The history of Van Cleef & Arpels is studded with technical inventions passed down by its craftsmen from generation to generation.
The story began in 1906 when Alfred Van Cleef went into partnership with his brother-in-law Salomon and with his brother Julien Arpels, as jewelers. When they opened their first shop at 22 Place Vendôme their success was immediate. Branches were opened at Dinard, Nice, Deauville and Vichy, catering to a swanky clientele. Following the First World War, the Place Vendôme premises were enlarged and two other shops were opened in Lyon and Cannes.
Van Cleef & Arpels’ flower theme was first expressed in 1925 at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris. These pieces, decorated with diamond and ruby roses with emerald leaves was widely acclaimed and awarded a grand prize. During this period, pieces were inspired by flora and fauna but also ancient Egypt, China, Japan and Persian civilization, which in turn became pretexts for new color combinations of lapis lazuli, turquoise, onyx, jade, coral, enamel, lacquer and precious stones. At the same time the house was exploring abstract, geometric forms in diamond and platinum jewelery that led to the Art Deco aesthetic.
Many more innovations were to follow: The Minaudière, conceived by Charles Arpels to replace the evening bag, had multiple compartments “for the modern woman.” Another innovation, the famous Serti Mystérieux technique, patented in 1933, was a veritable revolution: the stones are set side by side without claws or bezels, so that the mount is invisible. The Boule ring, peony clip, feathers and chrysanthemums were all created through this innovation.
The invention of the Maison’s Zip necklace, patented in 1939, was finally perfected in 1951. Created by Renée Puissant for the Duchess of Windsor, this daring piece, closing into a bracelet with a gold or platinum cord and bobble, became one of the Maison’s most emblematic creations. The ensuing decades were studded with other inventions: the Philippine ring in 1968, is a bangle of hard stones (coral, chalcedony, lapis lazuli) inlaid with diamonds in the middle. The large chain necklaces of the 1970s combine beads of hard stones and openwork beads in cabled gold thread. The popularity of the Alhambra chain, composed of quatrefoil medallions alternating with beaded gold and hard stones, has never waned and it is still one of the Maison’s iconic creations.
For more of Van Cleef & Arpels jeweled history, book a ticket to Paris, or visit the Van Cleef & Arpels boutique at Bal Harbour.