The Evolution of Van Cleef Alhambra

The Evolution of Van Cleef Alhambra

How cherished haute jewelry brand Van Cleef and Arpels went from the Golden Age to the Modern Age.
How cherished haute jewelry brand Van Cleef and Arpels went from the Golden Age to the Modern Age.

History of Van Cleef

Van Cleef and Arpels was formed in 1895 after the marriage of Alfred Van Cleef and Estelle Arpels. Van Cleef and Arpels opened its first boutique ten years later on the Place Vendôme in Paris. Van Cleef quickly established itself for creating innovative and beautiful jewelry given its combined family heritage of jewelry making and gem selection. After the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922, Van Cleef produced several ornate pieces featuring hieroglyphics and other Egyptian motifs to go along with the geometric Art Deco jewelry of that decade and the next. In 1933, Van Cleef and Arpels patented its trademark Mystery Setting — a technique by which gems are fitted into an intricate matrix of slots and “drawers” that keep the setting hidden.

Van Cleef focused on symbols of freedom and rebirth including naturalistic forms such as birds, flowers, fruit and flying insects following World War II. In 1951 Van Cleef introduced the Zip necklace that could be worn as both a necklace or bracelet based on how the zipper was used.

In 1954, Van Cleef and Arpels recognized the need to expand its base and released La Boutique, a collection of whimsical animal brooches made of semi-precious stones to draw in a younger consumer. Not only did La Boutique reach its intended demographic, but it also turned the heads of its longtime devotees—which encouraged Van Cleef to lean in to current trends.

Vintage Van Cleef Alhambra earrings — true to the original clover sautoir in size and symmetry with the gold-beaded perimeter

Enter the Swinging Sixties: The free-spirited decade ushered in Twiggy and Cher, miniskirts and slinky silhouettes, vastly departing from the traditions of the first half of the century. It fast-forwarded a sense of style for independent women who could buy their own jewelry. Women wanted day-to-night versatility to accommodate their bustling careers and busy social lives. Sculptural haute jewelry itself suddenly belonged to the previous generation, and it demanded reinterpretation.

Van Cleef Alhambra Bracelet

Van Cleef Alhambra

The Van Cleef Alhambra was launched in 1968 with twenty gold clovers reflecting an haute hippie aesthetic that was consistent with the times. The Van Cleef Alhambra promised a fresh dose of joie de vivre and revitalized the brand in a decade that had seen tremendous social change. The Van Cleef Alhambra quickly became a coveted piece to adorn the décolletage of top celebrities and tastemakers around the world. The Van Cleef Alhambra was an answer to changing times. Jacques Arpels married the four-leaf clover motif with this new concept of freedom and femininity. Having said “To be lucky, you must believe in luck,” Jacques created the Van Cleef Alhambra as an amalgamation of the clover with the Moorish quatrefoil of the Alhambra Palace for which it’s named. Interestingly the four-leaf clover motifs appear in the Van Cleef archives as early as the 1920s.

Van Cleef Alhambra Necklace

With its lighthearted design, Van Cleef Alhambra jewelry is easily mixed in with modern styles of today. It has been seamlessly styled with everything from jeans and t-shirts to formal gowns. The Van Cleef Alhambra four-leaf clover became a favorite of celebrities such as Grace Kelly. The actress famously collected Van Cleef Alhambra necklaces, often wearing three at once with various gemstone combinations, providing inspiration for multiple ways of wearing the collection to make the look one’s own.

Van Cleef Alhambra Ring

In the years since, the Van Cleef Alhambra has become the perennial of jewelry design, perpetually reinventing itself to the delight of its fans. The variations of the clover motif include nature-inspired themes such as leaves and butterflies. The kaleidoscope of colorful materials feature lapis lazuli, onyx, agate, turquoise and malachite in rings, earrings, brooches, chokers and bracelets. Stroll down 5th Avenue or visit Place Vendôme, and its cheerful silhouette can be spied twinkling in the windows of Van Cleef & Arpels’ famous boutiques.

Modern Van Cleef Alhambra bracelet: Byzantine Alhambra features both openwork and solid clover medallions

The universality of the Alhambra continues to enchant a long list of celebrities such as Margot Robbie and Heidi Klum—as well as a new generation of royals such as Kate Middleton, who was spotted in evening attire accessorized with a shimmering set of the Magic Alhambra in mother of pearl.

Van Cleef Alhambra Ring with diamonds

Buying and Selling Van Cleef Alhambra

Sotheby's offers multiple buying and selling channels for Van Cleef Alhambra. We hold auctions in US, Europe and Hong Kong and most sales will have a selection of Van Cleef Alhambra available. You can contact a specialist in your geographic region on the Jewelry Department page. We also sell Van Cleef Alhambra on our Buy Now platform. The available Van Cleef Alhambra items may be limited since they sell through quickly. We are accepting consignments for both channels so contact a Sotheby's specialist today for estimates.

Jewelry Buy Now

About the Author

Shop Jewelry

More from Sotheby's

Stay informed with Sotheby’s top stories, videos, events & news.

Receive the best from Sotheby’s delivered to your inbox.

By subscribing you are agreeing to Sotheby’s Privacy Policy. You can unsubscribe from Sotheby’s emails at any time by clicking the “Manage your Subscriptions” link in any of your emails.

arrow Created with Sketch. Back To Top