Van Cleef & Arpels Van Cleef & Arpels was a relative newcomer, in comparison to its Place Vendôme neighbors, when it was founded in 1906. Yet, its meteoric ascent into the rarified world of haute joaillerie signaled its acceptance by the international social elite. Guided by Alfred Van Cleef and the brothers Charles and Julien Arpels, the house masterfully blended cutting-edge craftsmanship with elegant design and exquisite gemstones throughout the 20th century. The on-set of the Art Deco movement (1915-1935) witnessed a revolution in jewelry design. Vibrant colors, precious and semi-precious stones and rich enamels within striking geometric borders provided the background for such exotic subject matter as Asian, Egyptian and Persian themes. The necessaire, or vanity case, was of particular importance during this era as it became a staple of the fashion-conscious woman's wardrobe and also provided a larger backdrop on which jewelers could display their skills. Lot 337 exemplifies the high Deco look with the dramatic colors of enamel highlighted by the exotic flowers framing the sides and enhanced by diamonds. Lots 336 and 338 spotlight the intricate inlay work that was so desirable at the time, which was mastered by craftsman Vladimir Makovsky. The intense archaeological excavations that were taking place in Egypt and the Near East presented a wealth of symbolism and images. In lot 335 an image of a peacock is presented in a mosaic pattern and bordered by enamel imitating lapis and gold tiles. Some cases were highly personalized and custom-made, as with lot 341; a highly polished platinum case with lipstick attachment, the lid decorated with a train and car and the interior bearing an inscription. During the 1930's, Van Cleef & Arpels made two significant contributions to jewelry design. The serti-invisible, or invisibly-set technique, was a true advancement in the field. Small stones were cut to exacting measurements and slid onto a metal groove, invisible to the observer. The more complex the design, such as flowers with curving petals, the more challenging the task. Lots 345, 347 & 348 are all exquisite examples of this construction. The second contribution was that of the minaudèrie. Louis Arpels had witnessed Florence Gould using a Lucky Strike box as an evening clutch and he devised a box that held compartments for powder, lipstick, cigarettes, rouge and all the other essentials for a fashionable woman. Lot 346 combines both designs. Here, the simple polished gold lid is set with a panel of invisibly-set rubies and a small line of baguette-cut diamonds, which opens to reveal those key sections. With the advent of World War II, jewelry design endured a dramatic change. Precious stones were no longer plentiful as shipping lanes were blocked. Alternatively, jewelers were forced to use large semi-precious stones such as amethysts, citrines and aquamarines to diminish the military-inspired outlines of women's fashion. The introduction of their ballerina brooches was extremely successful. Lot 343 is that of a dancing ballerina with the typical rose-cut diamond face. Her polished gold skirt is an example of the "Hawaii Flowers" motif, small rubies and cabochon turquoise, that Van Cleef popularized during this decade as well. In lot 342 two cabochon emeralds and a small amount of gold are cleverly crafted into a pair of whimsical "rajah" brooches without a significant or expensive amount of stones or labor. Although platinum was rationed for the war effort, lot 340 represents a rare departure for this period. Here, an exquisite platinum cupid with a rose-cut diamond face holds a bow in one hand and an arrow in the other and is mounted entirely with variously cut diamonds. The 1950's saw a return to glamour and the desire for platinum and diamond jewelry was once again in demand. While Van Cleef & Arpels catered to those wishes, they also discovered a need for lighter gold jewelry that could be worn during the daytime. The textured gold links that make up lot 352 is classic for this era with small, circular-cut diamonds dotting the wide, overlapping motifs. With the close of the 20th century and the arrival of the 21st century, Van Cleef & Arpels continues to fascinate with the unusual and the unexpected.

Of cushion-shaped outline, centering upon a textured blue, green and brown enamelled peacock against a mottled green and mauve enamelled band, within gold brick motif borders, to the blue and gold background, and push-piece, the reverse of similar design, mounted in 18k gold, circa 1925, 3¾ x 2½ x ½ ins., with French assay marks and maker's mark
Signed Van Cleef & Arpels, Paris, no. 22997
Paris Musées, "Van Cleef & Arpels", Diffusion Paris-Musées, Paris, 1992, page 154

Sylvie Raulet, "Art Deco Jewelry", Rizzoli, New York, 1984, page 291

Sylvie Raulet, "Van Cleef & Arpels", Editions du Regard, Paris, 1986, page 269

A. Kenneth Snowman, "The Master Jewelers", Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, 1990, page 213
"A Jeweler's Art: Masterpieces from Van Cleef & Arpels", Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 8 April-17 June 1990
Gem and Mineral Hall of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, 14 July-30 November 1990
Honolulu Academy of the Arts, 17 January-24 February 1991
"Van Cleef & Arpels", Musée de la mode et du Costume, 15 June-30 October 1992, item #244

More from Magnificent Jewels

View All
View All