Department Specialist


Kate Lawler
Digital Content Manager

Published: 16 August 2017

History of a House: Van Cleef & Arpels


A house rich in whimsy and renowned for its fine craftsmanship, Van Cleef & Arpels has dressed the elite in fine jewelry since its inception in 1906. Its expertise extends from the procurement of rare stones to gem setting, enameling, watchmaking and beyond. This, along with a star-studded client list and a proclivity for reinvention, has carved out a sustainable place for the brand in the luxury marketplace.

Van Cleef & Arpels began as a love story, when the daughter of a precious stone dealer, Estelle Arpels, married the son of a stonecutter, Alfred Van Cleef, in 1895. Their combined passions for jewelry making, family and each other resulted in the maison’s flagship location in Paris’ prestigious Place Vendôme. Youthful enthusiasm and a pioneering spirit continue to pulse through the brand in pieces with hidden functions, modeled after exotic birds, fairies and flowers, as well as through the material selections in more traditional pieces.

One of the most romantic forms the house has recreated over the years is the flower. Around 1957 Van Cleef & Arpels introduced the “Camellia” design, which showcased alternating rows of circular-cut diamonds and sapphires designed after the Camellia flower. A few months ago, Freeman’s featured a “Camellia” brooch and matching earrings in its Fine Jewelry sale (see above). The brooch had an estimated diamond weight of 10.00 carats and was signed “Van Cleef & Arpels N.Y. 40223” on the back. It sold for nearly double its high estimate, for $93,750.

The matching pair of earrings contained an estimated sapphire weight of 14.50 carats, and an estimated total diamond weight of 6.00 carats. These were also signed by the maison. Like the brooch, the earrings soared past their pre-sale estimate and achieved $56,250 at auction.

Van Cleef & Arpels client list includes one of the most prominent fashion icons of the 20th century: Oscar winning actress-turned royal, Grace Kelly. Just a few months after Kelly wed Prince Rainier III of Monaco in 1956, becoming Princess Grace of Monaco, the maison became the “Official Supplier to the Principality of Monaco,” thus beginning Kelly’s life-long love of Van Cleef & Arpels.

From the more traditional to the whimsical, Kelly collected a wide range of Van Cleef & Arpels pieces. In 1954, the maison debuted its “La Boutique” animal clip collection. Kelly was attracted to the playful range of clips depicting cartoon-style animals in various precious metals and stones.

Two fine examples from the “La Boutique” collection were recently offered at Freeman’s. The first was a seated dog with polished gold wire fur set with a green onyx eye and a black onyx nose. It sold for $13,125 against a $2,500-3,000 estimate.

The second example offered from the “La Boutique” collection was an 18-karat gold and gem-set rabbit clip. The body of the rabbit was created from yellow gold rope twist strands. Facing to the side, the rabbit was fitted with a cabochon emerald eye accented with round single-cut diamonds and a faceted ruby nose. The piece was estimated between $1,500-2,000 and achieved $17,500.

Kelly also collected the maison’s Alhambra necklaces. Perhaps one of the house’s most recognizable motifs, the Alhambra collection features a rounded four-leaf clover shape echoing the Moorish quatrefoil found in the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain. Launched in 1968, the symbol became Van Cleef & Arpels’ new emblem.

Still in production, the Alhambra collection utilizes a wide variety of materials; although mother-of-pearl models remain the maison’s bestseller, Freeman’s has had much success selling onyx, lapis, malachite and tiger’s eye versions at auction as well. An 18-karat gold Alhambra “Lucky” necklace set with tiger’s eye butterflies, mother-of-pearl clovers, malachite leaves and carnelian hearts, each framed in 18 karat yellow gold, was recently offered by Freeman's. It sold for $13,750 against a $6,000-8,000 estimate.

Van Cleef & Arpels' iconic styles remain timeless, and the auction house remains a popular place for buying and selling these coveted pieces.

Curious what your fine jewelry will bring at auction?  We are currently accepting consignments for our November 1 Fine Jewelry auction.
Click here for a complimentary auction estimate and for more information.

Get the best stories from Freeman's straight to your inbox


^