A Diamond Love Story: The History of Van Cleef & Arpels
Whenever we invite you into the world of luxury jewelry and the most renowned brands, we usually share stories about the first steps in the challenging profession of a goldsmith or the realm of jewelry business. Not this time. The history of Van Cleef & Arpels begins with… a wedding. Read on to find out what can happen when feelings flourish accompanied by precious stones.
He was the son of a well-known diamond cutter. She was the daughter of a precious stone merchant. Alfred van Cleef picked up the demanding art of gemstone cutting from his father, but he was much more skillful at trading precious stones than processing them. Estelle came from a family of first-rate gemmologists where selling diamonds ran in the blood. No wonder that when the two met at the end of the 19th century, their hearts skipped a beat – uniting them in their love of diamonds. They didn’t wait long to tie the knot. They walked down the aisle in 1895, shortly after they had met for the first time. It took them another 11 years, however, to combine feelings with business.
In 1906, the passion for diamonds and a strong conviction that family is most important, resulted in a family business. Along with Estelle’s brother Charles, Alfred opened Van Cleef & Arpels, a joint jewelry house located in the famous Parisian Place Vendome. Before long, the other two Arpel brothers, Louis and Julien, joined the enterprise. And so the families united not just by marriage, but also by the venture, which became the start of a luxury brand; famous for – obviously – diamonds, but also for more unusual materials and jewelry hidden away in everyday objects. The success in Paris enabled them to launch more Van Cleef & Arpels locations, including Nice, Monte Carlo, Japan and New York.
Perhaps you’ve been wondering what it was exactly that stood the brand apart. Well, it was the unconventional toying with geometry that preceded the popularity of art deco, and their very artistic collections such as Alhambra or Butterflies. Interestingly, Van Cleef & Arpels was not limited to only necklaces or earrings. The studio also yielded decorative make up powder compacts, cigarette cases, combs and even lighters. Customers fell in love with the precious knick-knacks, while Alfred and the Arpel brothers kept coming up with ever new and surprising accessories, such as minaudière, or gold or silver cases for small items. Van Cleef & Arpels were also pioneers in modular jewelry that could be transformed or matched upon desire. Unsurprisingly, the brand’s products were much sought after by celebrities such as Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor.
A Bit of a Mystery
You might associate Van Cleef & Arpels with the emblematic technique of stone setting, the Serti Mysterieux or the Mystery Set. It involves setting stones in a way that hides any visible mounting and makes it seem like the gems are entirely free-standing. The technique was invented in 1933 and although other brands tried to incorporate it into their products, only the Van Cleef & Arpels master jewelers have been able to achieve the most perfect results. The Mystery Set demands immense precision, as well as an appropriate selection and cutting of gemstones, which are then positioned on a special mesh 0.2 mm thick! The technique is so labor intensive that the Maison produces no more than a few pieces each year. Still, the effort pays off, because Serti Mysterieux jewelry never ceases to surprise with its daintiness and delicacy. It is virtually impossible to counterfeit. The precision and delightful results are still Van Cleef & Arpels’ hallmark. You can find their stores all over the world. Some enthusiasts are willing to pay hefty amounts for designs reaching back to the beginnings of the brand. We totally understand it. It is jewelry that can easily captivate your heart!