Van Cleef & Arpels, a story of love and family
The history of Van Cleef & Arpels is first and foremost a love story, that of the union of Estelle Arpels and Alfred Van Cleef, in 1895. The young couple evolved in the world of jewelry22, Place Vendôme.
Love was the first source of inspiration for the new jewelers - and remains today one of its markers. Thus, as early as 1906, a first piece of jewelry appeared in the sales register, and it was a diamond heart.
The family of associates quickly opened other stores in Deauville and Vichy, Le Touquet and Monte Carlo. But it was in 1925 that Van Cleef & Arpels received the recognition that would cement its reputation: the grand prize at the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts, with its rose bracelet.
The history of the House continues to be written in family. When Renée Rachel Puissant, daughter of Estelle Arpels and Alfred Van Cleef took over as artistic director in 1926, her cousin Claude Arpels inaugurated a branch in New York in 1939. After the war, the second generation of the family took over the reins of Van Cleef & Arpels and this transmission would continue until the 1980s.
The inspirations of Van Cleef & Arpels
Love we say, but also nature - with the floral style and birds - and travel are among the primary inspirations for Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry. The family's exile to the United States during World War II would evolve the House's style from the geometric forms of Art Deco and the oriental inspirations of the 1920s, to a poetic jewelry with, for example, the first Inséparables and Love Birds clips.
In New York, Louis Arpels' passion for dance inspired pieces featuring ballerinas and fairies. The Parisian House's link with classical dance was never broken. In 1967, choreographer Georges Balanchine created the Jewels Ballet in New York after meeting Claude Arpels, who was inspired by fine jewelry. Forty years later, the jeweler created the high jewelry collection The Precious Ballet for Jewels' anniversary.
But Van Cleef & Arpels also knows how to invoke chance: "to be lucky, you have to believe in luck," said Claude Arpels. It has in fact inspired iconic creations of the Place Vendôme House, including the famous Alhambra collection and its four-leaf clovers.
These inspirations and the company's expertise in the selection and cutting of diamonds would make Van Cleef & Arpels a House appreciated and recognized by the greatest, from the reigning family of Monaco as early as the 1950s to Elisabeth Taylor via the singer Maria Callas or Empress Farah of Iran, whose crown the jeweler created.
Boldness and creativity, Van Cleef & Arpels innovations
Another Van Cleef & Arpels "trademark" is the House's sense of innovation, constantly seeking solutions to sublimate its precious stones and allow each woman to adapt her jewelry to her outfit. The Mysterious Setting technique and then the pass-through necklace and its flexible chain contribute greatly to the House's reputation in this field.
To Van Cleef & Arpels, French jewelry also owes the Zip Necklace, inspired by zippers, in 1950 - although the original idea dates back twenty years earlier. Able to be worn open as a necklace or closed as a bracelet, the jewelry quickly became a signature piece for the Parisian House, and has been the subject of various variations.
Van Cleef & Arpels' creativity extended to the field of watchmaking, notably with the Galileo Mystery Clock with its invisible mechanism, and more recently the Midnight Planetarium watches and their celestial ballet animated by a mechanical movement.
The haute horlogerie has indeed been part of Van Cleef & Arpels' expertise since the 1930s. Its takeover in 2000 by the Swiss luxury group Richemont, however, would push it into other adventures, in particular the launch of a perfume line. The Parisian House nonetheless remained faithful to its favorite areas, with high jewelry collections such as L'Atlantide, Les Voyages extraordinaires or California Rêverie.
While expanding its network of boutiques around the world, from the Middle East to Australia, Van Cleef & Arpels remains firmly rooted in France, opening in Paris both Le Temps poétique, a boutique dedicated to its watch collections, and L'Ecole des arts joailliers.