When Alfred Met Estelle The Van Cleef & Arpels Jewelry Dynasty Launched

From Left to Right: Emerald and diamond ballerina brooch by Van Cleef & Arpels. Photo Courtesy: Vogue Italia. Gold, turquoise, diamond and ruby ballerina brooch by Van Cleef & Arpels. Photo Courtesy: Christie’s. Ruby, diamond and pink sapphire Lolanta ballerina brooch by Van Cleef & Arpels. Photo Courtesy: The Jewellery Editor.

It was Paris, 1895 and love was in the air. That’s the year that Estelle Arpels married Alfred Van Cleef and it was a marriage that created a jewelry dynasty. Both came from families in the jewelry business — Estelle’s father was a gem dealer and Alfred’s father was a lapidary. It comes as no surprise that in 1906 the Maison of Van Cleef & Arpels was launched in Paris across the street from the Ritz Hotel at 22 Place Vendome, where it still remains. The couple partnered with Estelle’s brother Charles and were later joined in the firm by her two other brothers Julien and Louis. The firm remained a family affair until it became fully owned by Swiss luxury group Richemont in 2003.

Over the years Van Cleef & Arpels (VCA) has been one of the most innovative and prolific jewelry design houses. One of the first artistic directors of the firm was Renée Puissant, the daughter of Alfred and Estelle, who held the position from 1926 through 1942. She and designer René-Sim Lacaze teamed up and created a style and visual direction for the company.

The Art Deco Years

During the Art Deco era of the 1920s and 1930s VCA created sumptuous jewels in platinum and diamonds characterized by the era’s geometric forms. The firm was heavily influenced by the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 as well as Japanese, Chinese and Indian motifs. In 1925 VCA was awarded the grand prize at the Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts Deoratifs et Industriels Modernes for its Roses bracelet comprised of diamonds, rubies and emeralds.

Perhaps one of the best-known creations of that time was the minaudiere — a bejeweled vanity case. The idea to create the cases came about when Florence Gould, wife of railroad tycoon Jay Gould was running late for an appointment with Charles Arpels and tossed all of her essentials into a small metal box and ran out the door. When Charles Arpels saw what she had done, it sparked the idea to create a much more glamourous way to tote those necessities around and the minaudiere — which had compartments for lipstick, powder, cigarettes, lighter and money — was launched into the world.

Mystery Setting

One of the most famous signature styles for Van Cleef & Arpels is the Mystery Set, which is a way of setting stones so that no metal is seen. The stones, usually sapphires or rubies, which are square with a groove on the bottom — must be cut very precisely to slide into a “rail” that holds the stones in place so that the metal is completely hidden.

A masterpiece of jewelry engineering, the Mystery Set, is a very exacting process that requires each stone to be specially cut. It also entails tremendous skill, time and patience on the part of the setter to make sure that the gems don’t break while they are being placed. The technique was patented by VCA in 1933 and the iconic setting is still being made today.

The Zipper necklace, another amazing feat of jewelry engineering, was first designed in the 1930s and was finally perfected in the 1950s. As the name implies, the design replicates a zipper that you would find on any piece of clothing, but glams it up with precious metals and jewels. The working zipper, does double duty — unzipped it’s a striking necklace, zipped it’s a chic bracelet. 

Ballerinas and Fairies

Van Cleef & Arpels has created a fanciful bejeweled world filled with ballerinas and fairies. The first fairy clip debuted in 1941 as a symbol of hope. The Ballerina Brooches came out around the same time and are perhaps one of VCA’s most renowned jewels. They were inspired by Louis Arpels’ love of ballet. The ballerinas frequently have a rose-cut diamond face and each one gracefully depicts a dancers pose, while wearing a costume of precious jewels. The vintage ballerinas are quite rare and are highly prized by collectors.

The Ballerina Brooches were also the inspiration behind the New York City Ballet’s “Jewels”, a three-part work, each dance is named for a precious gem — Emeralds, Rubies and Diamonds. The idea came about when Claude Arpels met New York City Ballet co-founder and artistic director Georges Balanchine in 1965. Balanchine was so taken with the Ballerina Brooches that he choreographed “Jewels”, which is still performed by the company.

Alhambra

Another iconic design from VCA is the Alhambra necklace. First launched in 1968, Alhambra, one of the firms best known and most popular designs, is a beautiful symbol of luck based on a four-leaf clover. According to the company, Jacque Arpels, who was the nephew of the Maison’s founders, would pick four leaf clovers in his back yard and give them to his staff for good luck. Created with various gemstones, the style remains a jewelry wardrobe must-have for daytime wear and casual evenings out.

Throughout its history, Van Cleef & Arpels has been on the forefront of design appealing to celebrities and royalty including Grace Kelly, Barbara Hutton, Empress Farah Pahlavi of Iran, Wallis Simpson and many others. Today the firm continues its heritage of creating innovative jewelry designs to appeal to new generations.

Authored by Amber Michelle

Creating a New Story

Raymond Yard Golfer Rabbit Brooch featuring a collection of Scott West Argyle Blue Diamonds set in platinum with diamonds and a ruby. Photo Courtesy: LJ West.

Colored diamonds are among the rarest and most sought after of all precious gemstones and their rarity desires to be showcased in special jewelry. Recognizing those facts, Scott West, executive vice president of colored diamond company LJ West, began to create jewelry using its vast inventory of extraordinary colored diamonds. But not just any design will do for these special sparklers. “Coming from a firm that specializes in colored diamonds, we wanted to make jewelry,” comments West. “We started looking at auctions and fell in love with different designers and eras. It’s not just about the look – it’s about how the piece is made and why it’s special.” 

The Raymond Yard Connection

West began searching for the right jewelers and partners to create jewelry inspired by the past, but made for the present. Enter the iconic Raymond Yard Rabbit pins. The rabbits were first introduced by Raymond Yard in 1928 and were composed of all white diamonds with colorful enamel details. As the series of rabbits evolved, Yard began adding in colored gemstones. Today those rabbits are being reimagined with colored diamonds in a collaboration between Raymond Yard and Scott West.

“We started working with Raymond Yard on the rabbits about three years ago,” recounts West, who is the third generation in the family business. “We used pink or blue diamonds from the Argyle Mine for the jackets on the rabbits. It’s an iconic piece with iconic stones.”

The colored diamond rabbits have gained even more importance since the Argyle Mine closed this past year and with its closure comes the end of a small, but steady supply of pink, blue and violet diamonds. “With Argyle closing, it’s impossible to find those stones,” says West, noting that LJ West is an authorized Argyle partner.

Design Fusion

West does create some pieces that are “inspired” by Art Nouveau or Art Deco designs. He does not try to make replicas of vintage pieces, but instead creates pieces in a modern way for today’s consumer.

Creating Art Nouveau inspired pieces in today’s world comes with its challenges. “You have to find the right jeweler with the right skills to make these pieces,” explains West, who has a background in engineering and also completed a diamond cutting program in Florida and earned his GD from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). “We have pieces made in New York City, Hong Kong and London. We searched the world for people with the right skill set to make these pieces.”

Art Nouveau jewelry tends to use quite a bit of enamel and West notes that getting the right colors of enamel was not always easy because some colors just aren’t made anymore and whatever is available is left over from many years ago. “Jewelry has always danced between an artisan showing beautiful sculpture or trying to showcase a stone,” says West, who notes that it took two years to create one pair of Art Nouveau earrings. “We build around the color of a stone, it’s a balance. We made a pair of Art Nouveau style earrings with a pink diamond. We wanted the pink diamond to stand out in the Art Nouveau earrings so we created an enameled pink sun.”

When it comes to Art Deco inspired pieces, West calls those designs a fusion. “We can be inspired to make an Art Deco piece the way it was made before, but we changed it some. Art Deco has angles, we softened the angles,” concludes West. “You can see the Art Deco inspiration, you can see how the elements of Art Deco, fashion and other components from today fuse.”

Authored by Amber Michelle

Tiffany & Co: An Iconic American Jeweler

Morganite brooch wrapped in diamonds and platinum, signed Tiffany & Co. France. Photo Courtesy: Spectra

Beyoncé croons Moon River to a rapt Jay-Z in the recently released “About Love” video from Tiffany & Co. that features the chanteuse wearing the famed Tiffany Diamond. The video showcases an iconic singer, wearing an iconic diamond from an iconic jeweler. So, how did Tiffany & Co. gain its status as one of the foremost American Jewelry Houses?

The story began in 1837 when Charles Lewis Tiffany and his business partner, John P. Young, opened a stationery store in lower Manhattan specializing in luxury goods including some jewelry. Originally named Tiffany & Young, the store was renamed Tiffany & Co. in 1853 when Charles Lewis Tiffany took over the business.

The retailer introduced American consumers to luxury when the firm sent out its first direct mail catalog in 1845 featuring a selection of upscale products. That catalog was the predecessor of the firm’s Blue Book, which to this day showcases extravagant gift ideas each holiday season.

However, what really put Tiffany & Co. on the map was diamonds, but not just any diamonds. In 1848, Tiffany & Young traveled to Europe. While on the Continent, they purchased a very large quantity of diamonds from the aristocracy and brought them back to New York. So many of the sparkling gems were purchased that the store had enough diamonds to supply the industrial barons and other wealthy Americans with a steady source of stones. It was the first time that Americans could easily purchase diamonds in the U.S. and the store became known as a diamond buying destination.

The Tiffany Diamond

Another big diamond milestone for the jeweler came when Tiffany & Co. bought a 287.42-carat rough yellow diamond that came from the famed Kimberley Mine in South Africa. Discovered in 1877, Tiffany purchased the rock in Paris the following year. The company’s chief gemologist George Frederick Kunz was in charge of cutting the diamond. The gem was transformed into a 128.54-carat cushion-cut diamond with 82 facets and is known for its spectacular sparkle and depth of color.

The Tiffany Diamond is currently on permanent display at the New York City Flagship store. For most of its life, the Tiffany Diamond has been in a showcase to be seen, but not worn. In fact, it has only been worn by four people: The socialite Mary Whitehouse who wore the jewel to a Tiffany Ball in 1957. It was next worn in 1961 by Audrey Hepburn as part of the press tour for her role in the film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. The gem went back into a showcase, until Lady Gaga donned the bauble 58 years later for the 2019 Academy Awards. Now in 2021, Beyoncé is adorned with the sparkler in the “About Love” video.

Tiffany Setting

As the diamond experts of the era, the company wanted to showcase the sparkling stones to maximum advantage and the Tiffany Setting was born. Introduced by Charles Lewis Tiffany in 1886, the Tiffany Setting is one of the most renowned designs from the firm. At the time that it was introduced the Tiffany setting was very innovative. The diamond is set high and is held in place by six prongs allowing maximum light to flow through the stone to amplify its sparkle. To this day, the Tiffany Setting remains one of the most popular settings for a diamond engagement ring.

Soon after the introduction of the Tiffany Setting, the firm once again made headlines when Charles Lewis Tiffany bought the French Crown Jewels and made them into Tiffany pieces.

The headlines didn’t stop there, Tiffany & Co. won the grand prize for jewelry at the Paris Exposition in 1900, the first American company to be given that honor.

In 1902, Charles Lewis Tiffany passed away. His son, Louis Comfort Tiffany took over the firm. An artist in his heart and soul, Louis Comfort Tiffany became the company’s first design director, where he remained until his death in 1933. Inspired by nature with a particular passion for dragonflies, he was an influential designer and leader in the Art Nouveau movement. His jewelry, lamps and glass windows are showcased in museums and can occasionally be found for purchase.

In 1979, John Loring was hired as design director and he shaped the design direction of the firm for the next 40 years. During those years several jewelry designers brought their talents to the company including Jean Schlumberger, Donald Claflin, Angela Cummings, Elsa Peretti, Paloma Picasso and architect, Frank Gearhy.

Introducing Colored Gemstones

In addition to its diamond expertise, Tiffany & Co. has been responsible for the introduction of a few colored gemstones. In 1903, the lovely pink stone kunzite was brought to market by Tiffany & Co. It was named after George Frederick Kunz, Tiffany & Co.’s staff gemologist. Several years later, the company introduced morganite, a peachy colored stone that is part of the beryl family. Kunz named the gem after the financier J.P. Morgan for his contributions to art and science and his donations to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and the Museum of Natural History in Paris.

In 1968, Tiffany & Co. launched Tanzanite, a blue-violet gemstone from Tanzania, found in the foothills of Mt. Kilamanjaro. Soon after, the retailer debuted tsavorite, a type of green garnet. The gem was named in honor of the Tsavo National Park on the border of Kenya and Tanzania where the stone was found. Thanks to Tiffany & Co. these gems can be found in a wide array of jewelry from various firms.

The Next Chapter

Throughout its history, Tiffany & Co. has been a leader in design and innovation. And with its storied history and global name recognition, Tiffany & Co. remains one of the most successful and prestigious American jewelry houses today. On January 7, 2021, luxury product group LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, completed its acquisition of Tiffany & Co. marking the beginning of a new chapter in the story of the venerable retailer.

Authored by Amber Michelle