The Most Popular Van Cleef Necklaces

The Most Popular Van Cleef Necklaces

Few jewelry brands are as steeped in artistry and history as Van Cleef & Arpels. So, what are its most iconic necklace designs, and how can you buy one?
Few jewelry brands are as steeped in artistry and history as Van Cleef & Arpels. So, what are its most iconic necklace designs, and how can you buy one?

A Short History of Van Cleef and Arpels

From the moment the Van Cleef & Arpels boutique opened on Place Vendôme, in 1896, the Parisian maison attracted the best of society with a blend of exceptional gemstones, ingenious techniques, and magical design. The conception of the company dates back to the marriage in 1895 of Estelle Arpels, daughter of a gem dealer, and Alfred Van Cleef, son of a lapidarist (stone cutter) and and diamond broker. It was a love match, and it was the couple’s shared passions for precious gems that led them to work with Arpels’ three brothers to create the Maison Van Cleef & Arpels.

That background in gemstones is at the heart of much of Van Cleef’s most desirable jewelry, with innovative setting techniques, clever use of hardstones such as malachite and agate, and a signature style that is defined by the colour of gemstones and enamel.

While Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry collections feature everything from bold diamond earrings to incredible hidden timepieces, its necklaces and collars are statement pieces that combine the best of Parisian artistry with a level of craftsmanship that, even in the high jewelry world, is hard to match. Here are some of the most collectible necklaces by Van Cleef & Arpels.


The Van Cleef & Arpels Passe-Partout

The Passe-Partout necklace was first created in 1938 – an early example of the ingenuity for which Van Cleef & Arpels would become famous. This stunning piece consists of a tubogas chain, or snake chain, that slides on a hidden rail system through detachable flower clips, made in sapphire, ruby and diamond, allowing it to be worn as a necklace, choker, bracelet or even a belt.

The original version was presented at the New York World Fair, with the phrase ‘Dawn of a New Day’ – expressing the spirit of innovation that still defines Van Cleef & Arpels today. And while it has been made many times over the years, each clip is one of a kind, with perfectly set precious gemstones creating a sparkling focus for the sinuous chain.

The Van Cleef & Arpels Zip Necklace

Probably the most famous and technically innovative of the Van Cleef necklaces, the 'Zip' necklace was first conceived in 1938 by Renée Puissant – the Artistic Director and daughter of Estelle Arpels and Alfred Van Cleef – inspired by the newly popular zippers used in fashion at the time.

But it was not until 1950 that the design was perfected. An ingenious design in gold or platinum, with a ‘fabric’ made of woven gold chevrons, exquisite gemstones on the border, and a lavish tassel acting as the zip pull. In true Van Cleef style, it is multifunctional: when zipped up it can be worn as a bracelet, and when unzipped it becomes a necklace. This iconic design has appeared in many a Sotheby’s sale and is always popular among collectors – in 2023, this gold and diamond example sold for 355,600 CHF.

The Van Cleef & Arpels Alhambra Necklace

Today, the Alhambra necklace is not only one of the most loved designs at Van Cleef & Arpels – it is arguably the most popular fine jewelry necklace designs in the world. Available in a vast array of finishes and lengths, it is characterised by repeating lucky four-leaf clover motifs separated by fine chain, and set with semi-precious hardstones such as malachite, mother of pearl, onyx and tiger’s eye, framed by gold beading.

The four-leaf clover, a symbol of luck, had been a regular motif at Van Cleef since the 1920s, part of the brand’s long association with magic and myth – Jacques Arpels, the nephew of Estelle and Alfred, even used to give freshly picked clovers to his staff as good-luck charms.

Van Cleef Necklace
Catherine, Princess of Wales, wearing a Van Cleef & Arpels Alhambra Necklace and earrings.

But it was not until 1968 that the Alhambra made its debut, with a long sautoir of 20 clover motifs inspired by the quatrefoils of the Moorish tiles at the Alhambra Palace in Granada. And it was an instant hit, immediately adopted by the likes of Princess Grace of Monaco and Elizabeth Taylor.

Today, the Alhambra is as popular as ever, bringing discreet and instantly recognisable glamour to any outfit, from dressing up simple jeans and T-shirt to adorning the red carpet, and is beloved of celebrities including the British royal family, Margot Robbie, Heidi Klum and so many more.

And the motif is used on everything from long chains to collars to bracelets, earrings and rings, reworked in new fabrications including metal chain links and diamond-encrusted clovers, and even reshaped into butterflies and leaves.

The Alhambra comes up regularly at Sotheby’s, and is always popular, whether at auction or in our Buy Now selection.

Necklaces in Van Cleef & Arpels’ Signature Techniques

As well as its most iconic necklaces, Van Cleef & Arpels has made countless stunning high jewelry necklaces and collars that are instantly recognisable for the innovative setting techniques and motifs that define the brand. One technique to look out for is the famous 'Mystery Setting', a unique way of setting faceted stones that hides the metal claws or collets normally on show. The effect is like a sheet of gleaming ruby or sapphire, and the style has been used in Van Cleef & Arpels’ high jewelry for decades. An especially dramatic example was sold at Sotheby’s in April 2024 for $673,100.

Another characteristic of Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry is the creation of fluid styles that replicate fabric. The 'Zip' is of course the most famous example, but bejewelled tassels and ties are a signature style too. A stunning and rare 1929 ‘Tie’ necklace dripping with diamonds sold for three times its estimate in June 2024, reaching $3.6million.

Whether it’s snowflakes, flowers, fairies, ballerinas or butterflies, the defining motifs of Van Cleef & Arpels appear regularly in its necklaces, but perhaps the most collectible pieces are those that feature what the brand calls ‘pierres de caractères’ – stones with character.

Only the most magnificent gems will be used in the high jewelry collections, as befits a maison with a history in gemstones. And the second most expensive Van Cleef necklace ever sold at Sotheby’s is one of the finest examples. Glowing carved emeralds are surrounded by diamonds, onyx and rubies, in a setting that is – typically for the brand – transformable into two pendant brooches.

It has everything that makes Van Cleef necklaces exquisite, and it sold for more than $2.1million – proof that this is one of the most collectible jewelry houses in the world.
For an ever-changing selection of Van Cleef & Arpels necklaces, keep an eye on Sotheby’s Buy Now.

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