Praised on both sides of the Atlantic as ‘the quintessence of French elegance’, Hélène Arpels was an ultra-chic and striking Parisian socialite. Born in Monte Carlo to Russian parents, Hélène Arpels née Ostrowska, was regarded as one of the most distinguished women in the world and a leader of Café Society in Paris. In the United States, she made headlines by gracing the world's ‘10 Best Dressed List’ first in 1949 and continued to do so for many years. She was a close confidante to many notable personalities, including Rose Kennedy, Gloria Guinness and Princess Gabriela zu Leiningen, among many others. She was also a frequent guest of the White House during the Kennedy and Reagan administrations.
In 1933 Hélène married Louis Arpels, the son of Estelle and Leon Arpels, a famous precious stone dealer in Paris. In 1906 Louis had left his father's company to join the family firm Van Cleef & Arpels, which had been founded by his mother Estelle and her cousin Alfred Van Cleef. Monsieur Louis, as he was generally referred to by his clientele, established the New York branch of the house in 1940. The couple’s move to America only increased Hélène Arpels’ social calendar, as she spent half her time in New York and half in Paris.
Hélène Arpels was also famous for her unique way of wearing her exceptional jewelry, which consisted of quintessential pieces made by Van Cleef & Arpels. One of her many important pieces by the house was the ‘Cristaux de Neige’ clip-brooch. Designed as snowflake, the piece is an iconic design by Van Cleef & Arpels. This brooch, one of the largest known examples of a snowflake brooch, was likely a special order for Madame Arpels. Christie’s New York proudly offered this brooch from the collection of Hélène Arpels in December 2006, where it was purchased by the current owner.