Posts tagged van cleef

The Van Cleef and Arpels necklace made in 1939 for Queen Nazli of Egypt.  It contains 673 diamonds and was sold at Sotheby's in 2015 for over $4.2 million.

Van Cleef and Arpels are currently holding in London a fantastic exhibition of heritage pieces from their archive and in hands of private collectors.  It is not a huge exhibit, but it is a sumptuous one.  The carefully curated pieces take the visitor on a brief yet informative journey of the brand’s history and are a tour de force of ingenuity and craftsmanship which reveal why Van Cleef and Arpels deserves top billing in the luxury industry.

The peony ruby and diamond brooch, a masterclass in invisible setting.

Some of the pieces are monumental, the biggest of these being the diamond necklace commissioned by Queen Nazli of Egypt.  It is an impressive jewel, set with 673 diamonds suspended in almost invisible platinum settings.  The necklace in fact appeared for sale, intact, in 2015 at Sotheby’s, most experts believing it had been broken up.  It fetched over $4.2 million.  The piece had been part of a large parure which had also included a monumental tiara, bracelets and earrings.  The necklace was also an ode to the fact that Van Cleef has long been the go to jeweller to many a royal dynasty- let’s not forget that it was them who created the Empress of Iran’s jewellery for her coronation in 1967.

The firm’s metier, invisible setting, is represented by two objects, the ruby and diamond peony brooch and a ravishing gold and ruby minaudière.   The minaudière was the fashion object of the 1920s; it was a sleek and elegant alternative to the handbag made in precious metals, containing a small mirror, lipstick case, powder compact, pencil and sometimes a cigarette lighter.  By necessity they were nearly always rectangular, a shape that lent itself beautifully to the clean lines of Art Deco.  They were the perfect objects to show off the art of invisible setting as initially they only knew how to set the stones into flat surfaces.  The technology quickly advanced and by the 1940s, stones were seemingly invisibly set into curved surfaces.  The diamond and ruby peony brooch is a masterclass in this type of setting and one can only imagine the thousands of hours it must have taken to assemble it.

The jewel which for me strikes the perfect balance of using an important stone playfully yet elegantly is the stork brooch, which in its beak holds an important yellow briolette diamond weighing 95 carats.  It was made in the 1970s as a special order to a client to celebrate the birth of a son.  The piece also continues the Van Cleef tradition of transformable jewellery, as the wings can be detached to be worn as earrings and the diamond can be worn as a pendant.

There are numerous references to flower inspired jewellery, all executed with Van Cleef’s ususal boldness and panache.  Old classics which continue to provide inspiration to their designers today, such as the fairy brooch and the Cadenas watches and bracelets are also given their due credit.  The pieces are truly set off by the extravagant interiors of the showroom and it is doubtful whether one will be able to see such beautiful jewels in such surroundings for some time.  I highly recommend a visit.


The Heritage Pieces of Van Cleef and Arpels is on until the 15th March 2017 at 9 New Bond Street, London, W1

Ingenious: this stork brooch suspends a 95 carat yellow briolette diamond.  The wings detach to form earclips and the diamond can be worn as a pendant.

The minaudiere: a must have for any 1920s flapper, this extravagant alternative to a handbag contains a lipstick holder, compact, pencil, pill box, lighter and cigarette case.  The surfaces have been embellished with invisibly set rubies. 


A mystery set ruby and diamond peony clip by Van Cleef and Arpels.

In the annals of grand, old jewellery houses, Van Cleef and Arpels is a relative newcomer.  The maison was founded in 1896 by Alfred Van Cleef and his uncle Salomon Arpels and right from the very beginning they were preoccupied with invention and innovation, which became the hallmarks of the brand.  Historically, they are well known for their transformable pieces, their Cadenas padlock wristwatches and their technically accomplished zip necklaces.  But their pièce de résistance and crowning achievement is the setting technique known as the Serti Mystérieux, or Mystery Setting.

Masterclass in setting: Perroque Mysterieuse clip by Van Cleef and Arpels.  They have become so proficient in the art of invisible setting that they can now achieve it with all sorts of shapes and cuts.  Note the rendering of the feathers in cabochon stones.

It is named so because the technique allows large areas to be set with small, square stones with seemingly no metal in between holding the stones.  The theory is relatively simple: a lattice is created which is criss crossed with tiny wires no more than 0.2mm thick.  Grooves are then cut into the sides of stones which are then slid on next to each to each other, creating the illusion of invisible setting.

The practice is more complicated.  It requires quite a large team of craftsmen to put a single piece of jewellery together.  For the best possible effect, the stones must all be evenly matched in colour, so it is up to the gemmologist to assemble the stones.  The lapidary must then cut each stone precisely so that it fits exactly in its allocated place within the jewel- if the stone is out by even 0.1mm not only will it rattle in its setting, but a gap will show too.  The master goldsmith will then set and assemble the piece.  It takes a minimum of 300 hours to construct each piece and for that reason only a limited few are made every year.  The preferred stones for this technique are rubies and sapphires because of their hardness- emeralds are tricky, soft stones, requiring even more labour, and it was only in the 1990s that the technique was perfected for diamonds.

One of the earliest pieces of invisibly set jewellery by Van Cleef and Arpels, the technique now adapted for rounded surfaces.

Gold box from the 1930s by Van Cleef and Arpels.  Initially, the invisible setting technique was only suitable for flat surfaces.

The setting was first used in the 1920s and a patent for the technique was filed in 1933.  At first, it was only used on boxes, compacts, cigarette cases and so on as mystery setting was only really viable on flat objects.  Other forms of the setting had been used by Chaumet and Cartier and patents had been filed accordingly, but they were never used in a widespread manner by these houses.  As Van Cleef and Arpels became more proficient, the technology was adapted to three dimensional objects and jewellery.  Since the beginning of this century, the jewellers have developed the Navette Mystery set, which uses marquise cut stones to cover surfaces, and Vitrail Mystery which plays on the stones’ transparency.  The mystery setting technique remains the pinnacle of achievement in jewellery making.

A skilled VC&A craftsman slides the specially cut stones onto the rails of this brooch to create the illusion of invisible setting.


Meduse Lune brooch from the Atlantide Collection by Van Cleef and Arpels.  Executed in opals, diamonds and natural coloured pearls.

Peacock necklace by Boodles featuring an important black opal in the eye of the feather.

Beautiful, mysterious opals... these beautiful, very unique gems are top of the scale when it comes to superstitions associated with precious stones.  They are traditionally the birthstone for October and their multi colour light refracting properties have inspired devotion and irrational fear in equal measure through the ages. 

First, the science bit... Opal is formed by minute crystals of hydrated silica.  Silica gel fills crevices in rocks; the water then evaporates and leaves behind a crystal structure of miniscule silica spheres which diffract the light into many different colours.  This is why opals are always cut en cabochon, as it is the only cut which can fully show this rainbow display of light to its full advantage.  The orange variety of opal, called fire opal, is mainly orange and does not exhibit the play of colour of other opals, except with the occasional green flash, so I am sticking to the rainbow variety for this article.  Because of the way they are formed, they can contain up to 20% water.  I once saw a fascinating stone at a gem fair containing an unchrystalised bubble of water.

Experts consider black opals to be the finest- against the dark background, the play of colour is much more prominent and therefore a more opaque stone is more highly prized.  With white opals, more transparency adds more value, as the rainbow effect through the translucence of the stone renders the gem almost dreamlike.  As with other gemstones, good quality ones should be blemish and inclusion free and show no sign of the host material.  Exceptional stones should also be symmetrically cut.  The finest stones in the world famously originate from Australia, which produces some 95% of the world’s gem quality opals.  If you are considering buying one, beware of doublets or triplets: this is where a very thin slice of the gem has been backed with something more commonplace and sometimes topped with clear varnish.  It is easy to observe just by turning the stone sideways and seeing the layers.  Opals are also quite fragile.  On the Moh’s scale, they only measure 5-6.5 hardness, the same as emerald.  This fissile quality has done little to dispel the unlucky reputation around them.

Beware of doublets when buying opals.  The backing material underneath the natural stone can clearly be seen here. 

Beware of doublets when buying opals.  The backing material underneath the natural stone can clearly be seen here. 

A very fine uncut specimen of white opal.  Note how the translucence adds beauty to the material.

 A masterful use of cut opal in an Art Nouveau jewel by Henry Vever.

This brings us to the superstition bit... the Romans prized opal above all precious stones as they contain all the colours of the rainbow.  This reverence remained through to the Middle Ages and beyond, as opals were believed to convey the properties of all the stones whose colour was represented in the opaline spectrum.  The unlucky bit came in the Victorian era and was entirely due to Walter Scott’s novel ‘Anne of Geierstein’ in which the gem plays a sinister part.  Opal sales dropped 50% in the year after its publication and remained low for some time after that.

They had a major resurgence in the 1890s with the coming of Art Nouveau.  The movement appreciated materials for their artistic rather than intrinsic value.  Artist jewellers such as Henry Vever and René Lalique were highly preoccupied with rendering nature with their pieces and opal’s translucence and play of light were ideal in the representation of gossamer like insect wings, feathers, water patterns and flower petals.  In conjunction with the opalescent qualities of enamel, moonstone and labradorite it was a winning combination and a refreshing antidote to the platinum and diamonds of the Garland Style of the Belle Epoque.

Opals fell out of favour again, but with the resurgence the new naturalistic movement in jewellery in the last 10 years, they have found favour with established maisons and artist jewellers alike.  Boodles produced a stunning peacock feather necklace recently with an important black opal set in the eye of the feather and Van Cleef and Arpels used them extensively in their Atlantide collection; Wallace Chan finds them the perfect material for some of his more dreamlike creations.  I hope that their new found popularity goes a long way in dispelling the unfair reputation of this misunderstood stone.

The gold and opal cobra bracelet made for by Fouquet for the Belle Epoque actress Sarah Bernhardt in her role as Cleopatra.