The evolution of the flower in 20th Century jewelry design has undergone dramatic changes and one firm at the forefront of that development has been Van Cleef and Arpels.
Perhaps one of the most influential and enduring inventions of jewelry design during the 1930's was Van Cleef and Arpels' "serti invisible", introduced in 1935. Small, perfectly matched rubies or sapphires were painstakingly cut to precise measurements and then slid onto a gridwork of gold or platinum, invisible to the viewer. Although many stones were broken during the process, the finished product was a one of wonder, an unparalleled combination of beauty and technical achievement. Naturally, flowers were one of the most popular motifs, their curving petals and leaves a perfect venue for which to showcase this technique.
The symbol of flowers took on even greater meaning during World War II and Van Cleef and Arpels responded with a sense of creativity that is sought by collectors today. Platinum, the metal of choice in the 1930's and now rationed for the war effort, was replaced by gold. Precious stones in large quantity were nearly impossible to obtain due to blocked shipping lanes.
Emerging from these restrictions were two distinct floral lines in VCA's jewelry. "Passe-partout", first appearing in 1938, utilized large Ceylon sapphires in yellow, light blue and pink hues as petals enhanced by polished gold leaves. Usually made into detachable clips, they could be worn attached to large gold tubogas necklaces or bracelets. "Hawaii flowers" used small circular-cut rubies and sapphires to form stylized flowerheads which were then mounted on thin, polished gold stems and gathered at the bottom. Both lines remained popular for decades to come.
With the return to glamour in the 1950's, Van Cleef and Arpels once again responded with their classical creativity and workmanship. Platinum was the desired metal and diamonds, as epitomized by Marilyn Monroe in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes", signaled a new era. Marquise, pear, circular and baguette-cut stones combined to form brilliant bouquets of stylized flowers, whether in necklaces, ear clips, brooches or rings.
The Camellia is another trademark of the firm. Typically set with sapphires, rubies, emeralds and even colored diamonds along with white diamonds, it is arranged naturalistically in a tri-level pattern like the flower itself. Of notable interest is the emerald and diamond example, here further enhanced by elegant baguette-cut diamonds.
THE PROPERTY OF A LADY