Van Cleef & Arpels
The maison built on gem knowledge and craftsmanship
Van Cleef & Arpels is jewellery royalty. In all matters precious, the iconic maison seeks only to achieve the best. Its prestige today all stems from one alliance and some top-level gem knowledge.
The story began when the Dutch gem cutter Alfred Van Cleef married Estelle Arpels, the daughter of gemstone dealer Salomon Arpels. Combining their industry knowledge and connections, the two families went into business together in 1896. Soon joined by Estelle’s brothers Charles, Julien and Louis, the family’s quick success catapulted them into the high world of Paris’s Place Vendôme in 1906, ready to compete in the same league as some of the most established Parisian maisons.
Van Cleef & Arpels’s quest for innovation soon set them apart, including promoting Alfred and Estelle’s daughter, Renée Puissant, to artistic director in 1926. Together with her uncles, the maison’s strong leads paired with the expertise of their draftsman René Sim Lacaze led to a 20-year partnership that gave us the patented Mystery Setting and the gem-encrusted Minaudière cases. The Mystery Setting, or Serti Mysterieux, exemplifies Van Cleef & Arpels’s reputation for giving attention to detail: after cutting each stone to a unique shape to fit the design, skilled lapidaries mark grooves on the side of every stone to slide them onto gold rails that are part of the jewel; this method gives seamless jewelled colour, without any visible metal. Cutting stones to these exacting particulars, especially when using brittle emeralds, is limit-testing, even for the finest lapidaries. Due to their complexity, only a few Mystery Set jewels are produced every year.
Other celebrated jewels include their masterfully engineered Zip necklaces, first designed in 1938, and their ballerina brooches, some en-pointe, some mid plié, inspired by Van Cleef & Arpels’s longstanding connection with ballet. In 2019, these jewels and other memorable pieces were unveiled at Milan’s Palazzo Reale as part of a glittering retrospective.