For its latest high jewellery collection, Van Cleef & Arpels looks into its archives to recreate three jewels of distinguished provenance. We discover these pieces and the passion behind their creation.
Epic jewels once owned by an Egyptian princess, a Hollywood legend and a former First Lady of the United States inspire Van Cleef & Arpels’ latest high-jewellery pieces, using three of what are perhaps the world’s most revered gemstones. We’ve always admired the manner in which Van Cleef & Arpels would weave beautiful narratives around its collections, and this is no exception.
By tradition, Van Cleef & Arpels has unveiled two high jewellery collections every year. One would revolve around a conceptual theme often inspired by a literary masterpiece, while the other would be focused on gemstones. In the case of this gemstone-oriented collection – called Homage to High Jewellery in Place Vendôme, as the jewels were made in its workshop located in this famous Parisian square – emeralds, rubies and diamonds take centre stage.
Looking back at Van Cleef & Arpels’ archives, the maison has owned some of the most important and remarkable gemstones in history. The Arpels brothers’ journeys to Asia between the 1950s and the ’70s – “jewel safaris” as they called them – in search of gems were the stuff of legend. Claude Arpels’ frequent trips to India, in particular, were widely talked about in social circles, earning him the moniker “Diamond King of Bombay” or the “Friend of the Maharajas”, alluding to his access to royal courts, where it’s said he discovered magnificent stones and jewels.
“The courtyard was covered with jewels of every hue. They lay glistening in the sun against the background of the old velvet cases in which they had lain for hundreds of years. I was momentarily blinded by their brilliance. Emeralds of every shape and size lay side by side with diamonds that reflected the colours of sapphires and rubies,” Arpels wrote, describing one of his visits to a Mughal palace.
One of the extraordinary stones Van Cleef & Arpels would come to own is the Blue Heart, a 30.82-carat heart-shaped blue diamond that the maison bought in 1953. It would later be set on to a necklace and sold to a German baron; today it’s the property of the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. Then there’s the extraordinary Thibaw ruby, named after and once owned by King Thibaw of Burma, which was re-cut into a 24.82-carat cushion-cut gem to be set on a ring. And, of course, the 95-carat pear-shaped yellow diamond once owned by opera singer and socialite Ganna Walska, which was later set on a gold flying bird that’s now known as the Walska brooch.
These are but a few of the numerous precious stones the maison would come to possess, which were set in bespoke pieces and, in more recent years, in its two incredible annual collections.
This year’s Homage to High Jewellery in Place Vendôme collection draws inspiration from three famous pieces made for three prominent historical figures: Princess Faiza of Egypt, Marlene Dietrich and Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis.
First, the Merveille d’émeraudes necklace, which is inspired by a magnificent collaret necklace once owned by Princess Faiza of Egypt that dates to 1929. It features 10 drop-shaped emerald pendants suspended from a geometric mount set entirely with diamonds, and was added to the Van Cleef & Arpels collection in 2014.
This astounding necklace is commemorated in this new piece, which is set with five Colombian emeralds totalling 70.40 carats cut in slender pear shapes. Look closely and you’ll see the emeralds’ tips with subtle notches on the culet – signs of its previous life. These pendants were once split into two pear shapes to show more of the delicate and unique make-up of the emeralds. Van Cleef & Arpels preserves its pear shape, which is now punctuated with diamond- encrusted ribbons. Staying true to the Faiza necklace, where its clasp hangs down at the back, this piece features a diamond train that rests on the nape of the wearer.
The architectural, voluminous design approach and bold setting of the Rubis en scène bracelet, meanwhile, is reminiscent of one of Marlene Dietrich’s favourite pieces of jewellery, the ruby- and diamond-encrusted Jarretière bracelet. Dietrich bought this piece from Van Cleef & Arpels in 1937, and was often photographed wearing it; most famously, she wore it in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie Stage Fright.
A 2020 recreation of this famous piece is set with 72 Burmese rubies weighing more than 84 carats. The rubies are set on two asymmetrical moon-shaped clasps that hug the wrist, and are supported by an openwork structure made from white gold, intended for both aesthetic impact and comfort. The rest of the cuff is encrusted with round, square-shaped and baguette-cut white diamonds.
Remarkably, rarely in the maison’s history has it brought together so many rubies of such quality. Each stone has been re-cut into a cushion shape, and was chosen for its deeply saturated colour, that ranges from
bright red to purple. The result: A synchronised display of intense, vibrant crimson flares.
Last but definitely not the least is a piece made after a pair of earrings Aristotle Onassis gave Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis in 1968 as a wedding gift. These stunning floral-motif earrings set with diamonds and ruby cabochon pendants are recreated through the Tendresse étincelante earrings, with each diamond-encrusted petal – made realistic with veins – unfurling around a pear-shaped diamond. Dangling on these floral earrings are detachable pendants made of two pear-shaped diamonds, each more than 10 carats.
And so with these new high-jewellery pieces, Van Cleef & Arpels perpetuates the passion set forth by the Arpels brothers, as well the house’s mission to honour its past and further enrich its legacy with creations that are faithful to its canons but cognisant of the fact that it must remain relevant.