A delightful accoutrement or an empowering talisman, a lucky animal clip is not just a conversation starter but a companion for life. Such creations are the domain of Van Cleef & Arpels, says Yanni Tan, who reports on the maison’s poetic expression of the creatures we love most.
Admirers of Van Cleef & Arpels would certainly know that the French maison has the Midas touch when interpreting beautiful things into precious jewels. Be it a twirling gold ballerina wearing a diamond for her face, mystery-set gemstone flowers or a diamond-encrusted feather that looks like it floats in the wind, there is an exquisite joie de vivre to them all.
While Van Cleef & Arpels is a master in awe-inspiring expressions of flora and fauna, it also has a great affinity for the zodiac theme. In 2017, it launched its Lucky Animals collection, which is based on our favourite creatures from lore and legend. Exclusively available to order, the range combines the two main sources of historical inspiration for the house into one unique showcase of imagination and savoir faire.
For a maison as historic as Van Cleef & Arpels, surely all creatures great and small have made a debut in its archives. However, one characteristic the brand has imparted to its animals is a sense of humour. To enrich its repertoire with more accessible daywear jewellery, it created the La Boutique range in 1954 featuring wildlife as playful and light-hearted clips – collectively known as “young jewels”.
In the following decades, the house produced funny and touching animal clips inspired by the first American cartoons. Lion Ébouriffé (Ruffled Lion), Chat Malicieux (Winking Cat), Canard Frondeur (Sling Duck) and Souris Curieuses (Curious Mice) were some of the pieces, which were indeed a hoot with their mischievous poses, adorable faces and evocative names.
Beyond these characters, the maison has ceaselessly pursued its devotion to nature. Tapping into its rich design universe, deep technical know-how and wealth of materials at hand, Van Cleef & Arpels presented jewellery lovers with the exceptional – from butterflies set with mother-of-pearl, in wood or enamelled gold, to rainbow-coloured phoenixes and birds of paradise. In 2016, more than 60 animal couples from Noah’s Ark – escorted by three imaginary creatures – were brought together in its first high jewellery collection entirely dedicated to the animal kingdom
Meanwhile, zodiac-inspired pieces were first created as lucky medallions in the 1950s. Originally made of gold, they later grew in size and were adorned with wood or ornamental stones. Different variations of the medallions found enduring success through to the 1990s. The zodiac theme was revisited in Van Cleef & Arpels’ watchmaking collection since 2014, with models flaunting astrological constellations and symbols on bejewelled dials.
Follow the sign
Continuing to uphold the maison’s tradition today is the charming and versatile Lucky Animals collection. In 2017, fans of Van Cleef & Arpels gushed over the inaugural family of little creatures that seemed to walk right out of our childhood bedtime stories: the frisky cat and dog, the wise barn owl, the dignified lion and the clever hedgehog from the forest. In 2019, a new ensemble of animals with great symbolism was unveiled: the giant panda, horse, mandarin duck, turtle and pig.
This year’s Lucky Animals release showcased five characters from the Chinese zodiac: the snake, monkey, ox, rooster and mouse. As always, the motifs are astonishingly vivid and lively, and evoke the endearing qualities of the animals. This collection has also established itself for the ingenious combination of materials and textures: Smooth ornamental stones are contrasted against the maison’s signature gold beaded border.
The monkey sports a mischievous posture, while the rooster retains its pluckiness and the ox stands noble yet curious. The snake is graceful while the mouse just seems a tad cheeky. All are mini masterpieces of the harmonious composition of hard stones such as striking orangey-red carnelian and brilliant yet intense onyx. On the snake, malachite’s evenly spaced veins bring to mind reptile scales, while the new material of mahogany obsidian makes an appearance as smooth fur on the monkey or luxuriant feathers on the rooster.
Van Cleef & Arpels’ incredible savoir faire shines through in the precision and intricacy of the gem preparation. Due to their small size and the required thinness, cutting and polishing them are delicate operations. The marquetry of stones with gold is also another painstaking process.
The fine gold beads that outline the animals’ silhouettes and the flat gold surfaces on the ox’s horns, mouse’s ears and rooster’s comb are also individually polished by hand, imparting an intense radiance. For such small dainty creations to possess such vitality and beauty, they are indeed mini masterpieces. The person who owns one is lucky indeed.
(All images: Van Cleef & Arpels)
This story first appeared in the December 2021 issue of Prestige Singapore.