5 Insider Tips to Buying Van Cleef and Arpels at Auction

By Alexia Palmer
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Van Cleef and Arpels Alhambra

Brief History

Since its founding in 1905, Van Cleef & Arpels has maintained a legacy of strong design and superior craftsmanship. The firm’s pieces are some of the most sought-after by collectors, and whether they are vintage jewels or more recent creations they can achieve strong prices in a competitive market. We hope to provide some guidance on what to look for and consider when shopping for Van Cleef jewelry in the secondary market. Our Specialists have provided five insider tips you should consider when purchasing Van Cleef and Arpels in the resale market. At Sotheby's we offer several ways to purchase including Auction, Buy Now and Private Sale.


Van Cleef and Arpels Bracelet Ludo

1. What are the most desirable Van Cleef styles?

Van Cleef & Arpels created some of the most important and groundbreaking designs in the history of twentieth-century jewelry and continues to use these ideas to inspire its newer pieces. Unsurprisingly these “iconic” pieces are some of the most sought-after. ‘Mystery-set’ jewelry with its painstakingly crafted rows of carefully cut sapphires and rubies was introduced in the 1930s. Today it continues to be produced but only in small quantities. Van Cleef ‘Mystery-set’ pieces often create excitement when they come up at auction. The Van Cleef and Arpels ‘Zip’ necklace, also originally designed in the late 1930s but first produced in 1950 is another scarce style that is still being reimagined in small numbers. Inspired by a zipper, it can be converted from a necklace to a bracelet. Other Van Cleef classics include the ‘Ballerina’ brooch as well as ‘Rose de Noël’, ‘À Cheval’, ‘Perlée’, ‘Couscous’, ‘Ludo’, and ‘Chevalerie’ jewels.

Van Cleef & Arpels’ most recognizable and popular design is the Van Cleef Alhambra. First introduced in 1968, the simple and elegant jewels featuring quatrefoil motifs are perennial favorites. The line has grown over the years to include ‘Vintage Alhambra’, ‘Lucky Alhambra’, ‘Magic Alhambra’, and ‘Sweet Alhambra.’ The market for preowned Alhambra pieces is robust, and collectors are particularly eager to find discontinued or rarely produced versions such as those featuring coral, turquoise and jade.


Van Cleef and Arpels Brooch

2. What are the advantages of buying Van Cleef from Sotheby’s?

One of the great benefits of buying jewelry from Sotheby's is that we have a wide and ever-changing selection of important pieces of many styles and eras. We handle some of the great estates that come to auction, and many sellers will come to us when they realize they have something special. We have new items at auction and Buy Now throughout the year, so it can really pay to regularly check for new things. Another advantage is that the jewelry department has a team of experts that carefully vet all our items for condition and authenticity.


Van Cleef and Arpels Lucky Alhambra

3. Is now a good time to buy Van Cleef and Arpels?

We may currently be experiencing a high point in terms of the availability of important vintage Van Cleef jewelry. Many of the estates of important collectors who acquired jewels during the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s when Van Cleef & Arpels was perhaps the world’s preeminent jeweler are just now coming to auction. These pieces are finding eager new owners amidst a resurgence of interest in jewelry from these eras. These older Van Cleef & Arpels pieces are rare and highly collectible since many are no longer made or made in very small quantities.

Van Cleef and Arpels Earrings Diamond and Emerald

4. How important is condition?

Condition is always a critical consideration. A certain amount of wear is considered acceptable on vintage Van Cleef pieces, and minor patination can even add to a jewel’s character and appeal, but damage affecting the structural integrity or authenticity of a piece has a serious impact on value. It is not necessarily a bad idea to buy a piece that has condition issues, but the buyer should be fully aware of them and pay a price that is appropriate. Particular areas to pay attention to include the condition of enamel and materials such as mother-of-pearl and pearls, which can scratch or crack easily. Sotheby's always include a condition report for pieces we sell and encourage interested buyers to request further information and photographs if they have questions.


Van Cleef and Arpels Cosmos

5. How much should you expect to pay?

Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry tends to retain a high proportion of its value on the secondary market. In some cases prices may approach or even exceed retail prices for pieces that are discontinued or extremely rare.

In an auction the final hammer price will depend on how competitive the bidding is. You may bid live in person, by telephone or on the internet or you may leave an absentee bid in a preset amount. It is important to keep in mind that the winner of the auction will also be responsible for paying a Buyer’s Premium in addition to the hammer price. You can see a breakdown of Sothebys’ buyers premiums here. Items purchased at auction can be picked up or shipped after payment has been completed. Sotheby's also sells Van Cleef and Arpels for immediate purchase.

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