It is difficult to give an example of a jewelry company that developed as rapidly as it did with Van Cleef Arpels, and whose business was constantly booming. The company flourished even during the crushing periods of the global crisis and the war years. The company has always strived to catch the slightest fashion changes and instantly reflect them in their thematic series. But the most amazing feature of Van Cleef Arpels is that the company’s products have always been out of fashion and time. Jewelry that was popular decades ago is also relevant today. They, old and present, cannot be compared they are equally beautiful and modern.
Van Cleef & Arpels COMPANY ORIGIN
The firm was born from the union of two wealthy commercial families belonging to the Parisian bourgeoisie of Israeli origin. Solomon Van Cleef and Solomon Louis Arpels were related by marrying the daughters of the Parisian clothing merchant Monsieur Mayer. Both were involved in the sale and supply of textiles, fabrics and other goods. Their children, cousins, Alfred Van Cleef and Esther (Estelle) Arpels were married on June 9, 1895. They were a beautiful couple he was 23, she was 18 years old. Handsome Alfred was captivated by a charming petite brunette.
The family joint stock company Van Cleef Arpels was founded in 1896 between Alfred Van Cleef and his father-in-law Solomon Leon Arpels. After the death of his father, Alfred worked for his stepfather’s company, engaged in the supply of precious stones. And so the business of the Van Cleef and Arpels family business was the sale of jewelry. Perhaps it was just brokerage, that is, intermediary supplies. After the death of Leon Arpels in 1903, his son Solomon (1880-1951) took his place, who took the name Charles in 1926. But the true appearance of Van Cleef Arpels is considered 1906, when the first jewelry store of the company was opened on the Place Vendome. Alpres’ two other brothers Julien (1884-1964) and Louis (1886-1976) joined the company in 1914.
The story of the management of numerous branches, and the transfer of shares by inheritance, is rather long and confusing.
It should only be mentioned that in the marriage of Alfred and Esther, the only daughter, Rachel Reni (1896-1942), was born, who had no children. After the death of Alfred VanCleef in June 1938, all his shares in Van Cleef Arpels were bequeathed to his daughter. A secular lady and a great fashionista, widowed, she has been actively involved in the affairs of the company since 1926, in fact she was the artistic director of the VCA from 1926 to 1940, had a considerable influence on the selection and creation of models. Even the great VCA designer Rene Sim Lacaz believed so and was not the only one in such a statement. Rachel was the sole heiress from the Van Cleefs. After her death, the shares were distributed among members of the Arpels family, including Esther.
Estelle VanCleef was undoubtedly an outstanding personality, fulfilling more than just the role of a wife. She was actively involved in social activities. She worked as a nurse during the First World War, participated in the anti-fascist resistance during the Second World War, was awarded the French Red Cross Medal in 1916, the Gold Medal for the fight against the epidemic in 1918, the Military Cross in 1919, the Legion of Honor in 1921. But in the affairs of the company, she most likely did not participate and did not conduct accounting, as many publicists claim. There was no verbal confirmation of the staff and no written mentions among the archives. She was always referred to as Esther in all documents.
Van Cleef Arpels became one of the first jewelry stores located on Place Vendome. The place was then a symbol of Parisian luxury, an international landmark of French elegance. Vendôme united the most prestigious banks, the best restaurants, the most exquisite shops and salons. Opening a boutique here was an excellent strategic decision. Room 22 was located directly opposite the luxurious Ritz Hotel, where Russians, European aristocrats and American millionaires stayed.
1912 The Deauville branch is opened. It was already a fairly well-known resort and car racing center. Since 1912, construction began on new stands on the race track and several luxury casinos. The firm’s shop was located in the famous La Potinière café and was open during the holiday season since spring.
In 1916 a branch was opened in Vichy. In 1913 Louis Arpels joined the company and settled in this resort town to head the department, 1927, a branch in Le Touquet.
A fashionable resort favored by world celebrities.
One of the city’s finest hotels is becoming an international meeting place for the business elite. After the war, the city is rapidly being built up with magnificent hotels, villas, palaces. Unfortunately, this beach paradise did not survive the 1929 crisis.
In 1935, a brand store was opened on the territory of the Opera Garnier casino in Monte Carlo.
Claude, the eldest son of Jules Arpels, who studied at Harvard for several years, represented the firm’s stand at an exhibition in New York in 1939, after which he stayed in the United States and founded the company’s first office in Rockefeller Center. It was not safe to stay in Europe, and Jules, the Solomon Arpels and most of the family moved to the United States. Louis Arpels, Claude’s uncle, joined later, at the beginning of the war, actually fleeing the persecution and oppression of the French Jews by the Nazis. He seized 10 kilograms of gold and a large batch of precious stones, the majority of the company’s shares remained in Paris. It was Claude and Louis Arpels who started a successful business in America. In 1840, a branch office was opened in Palm Beach.
As soon as Paris was liberated from the Nazis, Claude rushed to France to restore the family business.
Other branches in London, Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Hong Kong will start after the war.
Legendary products, collections, innovative inventions of the company
The splendor of the jewelry is created by craftsmen, talented jewelers and artists. The best specialists have worked for Van Cleef Arpels at different times. This is, first of all, Rene Sim Lacaz, who has devoted his whole life to working for the company, the author of many jewelry technologies and projects patented by VCA. Langlois, whose workshops only worked for Van Cleef Arpels. Workshops “Peri and Son”, brothers Sellier Dumont and Dumont Bouchard, Freres. Companies “Strauss Allard and Mayer”, “Rosenfeld and Rubel”, Orchard. Craftsmen Albert Mirra and Peri Semnar, who worked for the Zip series.
In Paris at the beginning of the 20th century, exhibitions of Japanese, Chinese, Indian works of art, Egyptian antiquities were held. The expositions aroused keen interest, admiration, and had a significant impact on European art and fashion. Europe was fascinated by travel, the exoticism of distant countries, the romance of archeology. This was instantly reflected in Van Cleef Arpels’ themed jewelry series of the 1920s and will forever remain the motif for many of the following collections.
The magic of Indian creativity has mesmerized many Van Cleef Arpels customers, as well as the company’s designers and owners. Therefore, exotic motives of this country were repeatedly repeated in products. India is not only a country of inexhaustible inspiration, but also a source of the best precious stones, in search of which the brothers Claude and Pierre Arpels went there many times. From one of these trips in 1956, Claude brought back the famous 114-carat Blue Princess sapphire, which later became an adornment in the necklace of the then famous socialite Florence Jay Goodle.
One of the clients of the firm, the famous secular fashionista of the time Daisy Fellowes, traveled to India many times in search of beautiful gems and brought many ideas for her jewelry. Van Cleef Arpels made the finest pieces for her and for their stores based on the lady’s descriptions and sketches.
The craftsmen and designers of the company so subtly managed to understand and rethink the peculiarities of the culture of this country that the company received numerous individual orders from eminent persons. Impeccable purity of stones, excellent jewelry craftsmanship and successful stylization of traditional motives have attracted many Indian princesses and maharajas to the exclusive clientele. For them, the company has made a lot of jewelry at different times.
Princess Maharani Baroda was one of the most famous Indian VCA customers. She was nicknamed “The Indian Wallis Simpson” for her unquenchable addiction to jewelry. She eagerly sought out, bought up and ordered the most magnificent and rare items with the best stones. Her collection consisted of more than three hundred pieces of jewelry, ranging from items from the Mughal era and including works by Van Cleef Arpels
Indian art has regularly inspired the company’s designers. The topic has remained relevant to this day.
BALLERINAS AND FAIRIES
In the dark war days of the 1940s, a wonderful collection of ballerinas emerged. She has become a landmark for Cleef Arpels, as well as a symbol of joy, hope in difficult times. The series was initiated by Louis Arpel, an avid ballet fan. Under his leadership, the New York branch created a whole troupe of ballerinas. Their poses captured various ballet steps, their costumes sparkled with diamonds and were accented with other precious stones, and rose-cut diamonds defined their faces. And the long ballet performance from Cleef Arpels began, lasting from 1941 to the present day.
Fairy jewelry began to appear in 1940. The source of inspiration was the American comics of those years. Fairies with wings of butterflies and dragonflies did not resemble the female figures fashionable during the Art Nouveau period. These are tiny fabulous creatures living in cups of flowers. The products were very fond of the customers. Ballerinas and fairies were worn in the form of brooches, pendants, hair ornaments. They have become equally a symbol of the company, their motives repeated for numerous collections and individual items.
SERTI MYSTERIEX (MYSTERY SET VITRAGE MYSTERY SET
Jewelers have always strived to create the surface of the product from closely fitted gems, making the fasteners more invisible. In 1933, Langlois first developed the Serti Mysteriex secret fastening technique, but it was patented as a Mystery Set much later. The back of the stones, in which tiny grooves are made, are held by a net of precious metal, visible only along the contour of the object. This method of fastening was the beginning of a new aesthetic in jewelry design. The company has created unparalleled pieces that shine with a solid surface of precious stones. In 1938, the technology was refined for use on curved surfaces and patented as the Vitrage Mystery Set.
Two peony flowers, open and closed, make up the Pivoine set (1937) and are a masterly example of Serti Mysteriex technology. This exceptional set is crafted with 706 rubies (71 carats) and 239 diamonds (29.72 carats) enclosed in platinum. Mahmoud Fakhri Rasha, the Egyptian ambassador to Paris, bought it in 1946 for the sister of the Egyptian king Farouk, Princess Fauzia. The closed peony is now among the collection of Cleef Arpels masterpieces, the open one is contained in a private collection.
Products in the Serti Mysteriex technique from the private collection Cleef Arpels, shown at the Galliera exhibition in 1995. The exposition, organized by the president of the company, Jacques Arpels, presented more than 350 branded jewelry from different years. Then the show took place in 2011 in New York, in 2012 in Shanghai, and again in Paris, the Museum Les Arts Decoratifs in 2012.
A special technique that allows you to make several pieces of one piece of jewelry has always attracted the company’s customers. The process of transforming the product itself is like a creative game and allows you to diversify your wardrobe. If brooches have one pin, then there are two of them in the clips, and special attachments are required for pendants. Many Van Cleef Arpels jewelry contains all the necessary devices for three different types of products, they can be used as a brooch, pendant, hair clip.
A similar technique, which is not uncommon in jewelry, has been used since the 19th century. But it is the brooches from Van Cleef Arpels that are most often made in this way. They are called clips, and it is difficult to find a similar Russian-language definition for them. Clips have always been present in every collection of the company. Some could be converted into a hat belt or belt buckle. Almost all decorations in the form of fairies, ballerinas, birds, flowers, animals are clips. Over time, Van Cleef Arpels began to make items with removable parts that can serve as earrings or clips, pendants, complementing the main product. Not only brooches can be transformed, but also bracelets, necklaces, tiaras.
In 1938, the company patented Passe Partout products, which can be modified into items for several purposes. It was with a floral gemstone decoration a flexible gold cord that was rigidly fixed in the position that the owner wanted to give it. A special technology allows you to roll the chain into any shape of a necklace, choker, bracelet, belt, and the flowers-clip can be removed and also multi-functional.
The Passe Partout became the most famous and sought-after product from the late 30’s and throughout the 40’s. In the 1930s, the zipper began to be used on military equipment, naval and flight uniforms. She was not yet popular for civilian clothing. In one of her frequent conversations, Earl Spencer Winfield asked Rachel Renee Van Cleef to come up with some kind of flexible zipper collar.
The future Duchess of Windsor saw such a fastener on the clothes of her first pilot husband. Rachel’s fantasy went further, and in 1938 a sketch of a Zip product appeared, at the same time a bracelet and a necklace. But the project was realized only in 1951. The design was always considered very original and became a very famous product of the company. The number and style variety of the model during the 50s was limited and therefore such copies appear at auctions extremely rarely, for the entire time no more than ten of them were exhibited.
JARRETIÈRE LEGENDARY BRACELET
Numerous products of the company are associated with the names of titled and famous persons. It is an endless line of impeccable products that Van Cleef Arpels has used to adorn many of the world’s most famous and wealthy people. But if one had to choose the most remarkable item among such jewelry, this would certainly be the Marlene Dietrich Minaudière bracelet.
Around 1937, the film star ordered a bracelet from the company’s Paris boutique. The actress was friends with Louis and Helen Arpels. Marlene’s distinctive image inspired Louis to create a special piece of jewelry, and the result was the Jarretière jewelery piece. The bracelet was too large for the fragile wrist of the actress and therefore became even more noticeable, catchy, effective, especially emphasizing the sophistication of Marlene.
Jarretière has become a part of Dietrich’s life, she is often photographed with him, wears it for the filming of Hitchcock’s film Fear of the Stage in 1950, and prefers other jewelry. It was a kind of mascot for the great actress. The last 17 years of Dietrich’s life were difficult, gradually she had to sell her jewelry. But the bracelet was the only item that the actress did not want to part with. However, in 1992 the jewelry was sold at Sotheby’s for 990,000 and has been in a private collection ever since. The actress died shortly thereafter.
The Platinum Jarretière is composed of several structural fragments. The cushion-shaped rows of rubies are framed with baguette-cut diamonds, the clasp is formed by a petal of large diamonds, and the hinge belt contains round and baguette-cut diamonds.
These items do not fully convey the Van Cleef Arpels style. This is an insignificant grain of the company’s products. But it is these individual items, collections, innovative technologies that have become milestones in the history of the company.