Many good things can come out of love. In the case of Estelle Arpels and Alfred van Cleef, what took form was larger than anyone could anticipate: Van Cleef & Arpels, a legacy of the world’s most famous and luxurious jewelry houses.
The brand demonstrates a tradition of jewelry-making that uses timeless materials, which in turn has carried the brand in continued relevance throughout the years. The whole “people will always be attracted to diamonds” saying, plus the current trends today are leading people to learn more about gem stones and their personal and spiritual associations.
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The son of a stonecutter and as the daughter of a stone dealer, respectively, Van Cleef & Arpels shared a common passion for precious stones deeply ingrained in both of their families. In 1906, they started working together.
Three of Arpels’ brothers helped build the brand together with Van Cleef, picking up from where their father has left when he died. They started out with a jewelry boutique in Place Vendôme in Paris with the greatest luck of acquiring a location across from the Ritz Hotel, a tourist attraction in its own right. The boutique celebrated 100 years in 2006. The second most iconic location the brand would have for years is the 744 Fifth Avenue branch in New York which has seen some busy business days.
Reinvention & recognitions
Only the jewelry house’s masterpieces could embody how much of a creative and visionary brand Van Cleef & Arpels is. It may have been lucky to have the strong familial history and shared passion for a business foundation, but the brand has done many things right since the first step of building it to take the world of jewelry-making forward. One of which was the signature it has made out of the most purely romantic figure, a flower, to be juxtaposed to their flashy stone and diamond accents.
The brand took home the grand prize from the International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts back in 1925 for their red and white roses bracelet made of rubies and diamonds. It was followed by the successful Paris’ Exposition Coloniale, where they showcased the Chapeau Chinois collection inspired by the culture in Asian colonies back in the day, which garnered millions of visitors. This would set the tone for many more experimental collections the brand would take on, moving forward.
Van Cleef & Arpels patented the Mystery Set, a technique to set the stones on the jewelry without having any visible prong holding it. This is still used today, but it takes experts to execute the technique and takes 300 hours for just one to be finished. Very few pieces made using this technique is created every year but the simple beauty and rarity of it will draw you in more.
The Arpels brothers traveled a lot between the Western and Eastern sides of the world and those trips usually brought new inspirations or new gemstones to work with. These are evident in the very cultural Egyptian, Indian, and Far-East collections.
Throughout the duration of the world war, the brand wasn’t halted but only expanded more with new pieces and collections designed to uplift people at a grim time full of difficulty for some. The Ballerina and Fairy clips collection involved ballerina poses shaped with diamonds, rubies, and emeralds. The idea for it came from Arpels’ fascination with the art of dance.
Most of the other collections are as wild and inventive. The La Boutique collection consisted of a wide range of clips with cartoon-like characters made of various metals and stones. It’s especially attractive to the animal lovers for the dog, rabbit, and bird figures that feature beautiful, colored eyes and other stones and diamonds for their parts. For the more classic approach, the brand also has brooches, clips, necklaces, and bracelets in the shape of flowers, particularly the Camellia brooch and earrings. Its design was taken from the Camellia flower and has diamonds and sapphires all over it.
A royal favorite
One of the brand’s most iconic patrons is Grace Kelly, who brought the love for the brand into the royal family when she became Princess of Monaco. Van Cleef & Arpels soon became the “Official Supplier to the Principality of Monaco.” The brand was also the one to create Grace Kelly’s diamond crown which she wore to her daughter’s wedding. Like what they have become in Monaco, Van Cleef & Arpels was also designated to create jewels for coronation ceremonies in Iran for Farah Pahlavi.
Another less than royal but just as iconic patron of the brand is Jackie Kennedy Onassis. As a fashion icon, her choice of brands is never questionable and Van Cleef & Arpels just so happens to be one of those that she wore quite proudly.
The school of jewelry arts
As a way of sharing the craft and honing the next generation of jewelry-makers, Van Cleef & Arpels offers workshops, courses, and lectures at L’École in French and English. They share about the Art History of Jewelry, gemstones, and “Savoir Faire” to beginners, hobbyists, and professionals alike. They also conduct workshops for kids and teenagers to start them young on this artistic path.
From a small boutique in Paris, the brand has widely expanded to become a major global player in the world of jewelry-making. As long as Van Cleef & Arpels tries to spread the craft and share the knowledge, we see no end to women and some men being attracted to their exquisite jewelry. As the wife of the youngest Arpels brother, Hélène Arpels says, “After all, diamonds go with everything.”
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