Taking the ordinary and transforming it into the extraordinary; this spirit of ingenuity has resulted in some of the most masterful jewels in history. Perhaps one of the most iconic and truly original jewels created is the ‘Zip’ necklace by Van Cleef & Arpels, a highlight of the Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels sale in Geneva on 15 May. Renée Puissant, the Maison’s artistic director from 1926 to 1942 and daughter of Alfred Van Cleef, was tasked by the Duchess of Windsor in 1938 to create a sophisticated jewel inspired by the humble zip fastener, invented in the late 19th century America.
This challenge required years of technical innovation but the resulting necklace, finally produced in 1951, is arguably the most brilliant example of craftsmanship and design ever created. Featuring a working zipper closure, the highly flexible necklace captures the spirit of 1950s couture by linking ‘Haute Couture’ and ‘Haute Joaillerie’. For the rest of the decade, the Maison designed a limited number of ‘Zip’ necklaces in yellow gold decorated with diamonds or coloured stones.
Celebrated not only for its playful originality, but also for the technical advancements achieved to create it, the ‘Zip’ is a testament to the ingenuity of Van Cleef & Arpels. The versatile necklace converts to a stylish bracelet by removing the upper part of the necklace to ‘zip’ into a bracelet, the gold tassel elegantly dangling on the side of the arm.
In recent years, Van Cleef & Arpels has recreated a modern day ‘Zip’ necklace as very few editions were made during the 1950s, with fewer than 10 appearing at auction. The rare ‘Zip’ necklace remains a highly covetable jewel and is an exemplary example of original design and specialised craftsmanship.