Van Cleef & Arpels

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Minaudière (1930)
Cadenas (Padlock) wristwatch (1936)
Zip necklace (1950)
Alhambra necklace
Necklace from the Jardins (Gardens) collection (2008)

Van Cleef & Arpels is a French jewelry, watch, and perfume company.[1] It was founded in 1896 by Alfred Van Cleef and his uncle Salomon Arpels. Van Cleef & Arpels are known for their expertise in precious stones and intricate, whimsical pieces that often feature flowers, animals, and fairies. Their pieces have been worn by style icons such as the Duchess of Windsor, Grace Kelly, and Elizabeth Taylor.[2] The company has garnered particular acclaim for a groundbreaking gem-setting procedure known as the Mystery Setting.


In 1895, Esther Arpels, the daughter of Salomon Arpels, married Alfred Van Cleef, whose family were sheet merchants living in the 19th arrondissement of Paris, France. The couple shared a pioneering spirit and a passion for precious stones. Alfred and his father-in-law, Salomon Arpels, created a company specializing in precious stones in 1896.

In 1906, following Arpels’s death, Alfred and two of his brothers-in-law, Salomon and Julien, acquired a space for Van Cleef & Arpels at 22 Place Vendôme, across from the Hôtel Ritz, where Van Cleef & Arpels opened its first boutique shop. Place Vendôme attracted Russian and European aristocrats and American businessmen; it was a symbol of Parisian luxury and the benchmark for international elegance. The third Arpels brother, Louis, soon joined the company.

Van Cleef & Arpels grew quickly, opening boutiques in holiday resorts such as Deauville, Vichy, Le Touquet, Nice, and Monte-Carlo. In 1925, a Van Cleef & Arpels bracelet with red and white roses fashioned from rubies and diamonds won the grand prize at the International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts.[3]

Alfred and Esther’s daughter, Renée (born Rachel) Puissant, took over the company’s artistic direction in 1926. Puissant had an unbridled imagination, and although she couldn't draw, she had an excellent partner, draftsman René Sim Lacaze.[4] The two led a twenty year wave of innovative and unusual creations.

Van Cleef & Arpels became the first French jewelers to open boutiques in Japan and China. The firm had always been managed by a descendant of the Arpels family until it was acquired by the Compagnie Financière Richemont S.A. in 1999. The company’s prestige stems from a long list of prominent commissions issued by royal and imperial courts, financiers, and industrial magnates, which have enabled Van Cleef & Arpels to be active today not only in Europe and the United States but also in Asia and the Middle East.

In 2009, the company released a line of luxury perfumes called Collection Extraordinaire, comprising six fragrances.

In 2010, a new high jewelry collection was launched during the Biennale des Antiquaires called Les Voyages Extraordinaires de Jules Verne. Van Cleef & Arpels is owned through Richemont by the South African Rupert Family.

In 2010/2011, the company's estimated sales were €450 million in total sales and €45 million in watches.[1]


Currently Van Cleef & Arpels has a major presence throughout much of the world, including the Middle East and South East Asia, with standalone boutiques, boutiques within major department stores, and by having its merchandise sold in high-end independent stores.

Standalone boutiques can be found in major international cities, such as Geneva, Milan, Shanghai, and Paris, where the company has multiple locations, including its flagship at Place Vendôme.

In the United States, standalone boutiques can be found in New York City, Beverly Hills, Chicago, as well as travel destinations like Naples, Palm Beach, and Aspen, with the Aspen location being seasonal. The Chicago boutique was expanded and relocated to the Drake Hotel in November, 2011 while the New York City Flagship Maison was redesigned in 2013.

Van Cleef & Arpels is also found at select Neiman Marcus department stores across the country including in Atlanta, San Francisco, Dallas, and Washington D.C..

Van Cleef & Arpels creations[edit]

Van Cleef & Arpels Exhibition in New York

The history of Van Cleef & Arpels has been marked by a number of milestone creations including these:

  • a bracelet depicting red and white roses in bloom, made with diamonds, rubies and emeralds, which was awarded the Grand Prix de l’Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes de Paris – First Prize at the International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts (1925);
  • the Minaudière, a small precious box that can hold a powder compact, lipstick, lighter, or keys, inspired by Florence Jay Gould (1930);
  • the Cadenas (Padlock) wristwatch (1936);
  • the Passe Partout (Take-me-anywhere) bracelet (1939);
  • the round watch with an ultra-slim case, the P.A. 49 (1949);
  • the Zip necklace (1950), which can be opened and closed just like a zip;
  • the Alhambra necklace (1968);
  • the Millénaire (Millennium) clip (2000);
  • the Lotus “between-the-fingers” ring (2001);
  • the Le Songe d’une Nuit d’Été (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) collection (2003);
  • the Couture collection (2004);
  • the Pierres de Caractère (Stones of Character) collection (2005);
  • the Atlantide and Ballet Précieux (Atlantis and Precious Ballet) collections (2007);
  • the Jardins (Gardens) collection (2008);
  • the Féerie (Fairy) perfume (2008);
  • the California Rêverie collection (2009);
  • the Collection Extraordinaire perfume (2010);
  • the Papillons (Butterflies) collection (2010);
  • the Voyages Extraordinaires - Jules Verne collection (2010);
  • the Midnight in Paris perfume (2010).

The Mystery Setting[edit]

The Mystery Setting is a unique technique that is associated with Van Cleef & Arpels ever since the Maison patented it in 1933. On December 2, 1933, the famous Parisian jewelry company of Van Cleef and Arpels was granted the patent (French Patent No. 764,966) for a proprietary gem setting style. Van Cleef & Arpels named this impressive technological advance the Serti Mysterieux, or “Mystery Setting.” The style consists of setting individual stones in a way that the prongs aren't visible. It requires a high level of expertise who make the Mystery Setting limited to a handful of master jewelers.[5]

The intricacy of the technique is so detailed that producing one brooch would take at least 300 hours of work. Each stone delicately faceted onto gold rails that are so thin that are less than two-tenths of a millimeter thick. Upon completion, the precious stones appear to be free-standing, hence the "mystery setting" because of no visibility. Because of the complexity of the process, the pieces tend to be very rare and the Masion produces only a few of them annually.[6]

Although Van Cleef & Arpels are well-known for using the "Mystery Setting," they weren't the first ones to develop the technique. The company who was the original patent for the technique was another famous French brand, Chaumet in 1904. While Chaumet received the patent for the invisible setting, it wasn't until Van Cleef & Arpels who perfected the "Mystery Setting" because they created many items that appeared to be invisible; Chaumet who didn't make many invisible-set items.[7]


Depression era jewelry— in particular art deco jewelery— has held its value during several economic crises; a 1936 Van Cleef & Arpels custom jewelry piece with a “Mystery Setting” hidden behind the gems was sold for $326,500 by Christie’s at a New York auction in 2009.[8]


  1. ^ a b Chevalier, Michel (2012). Luxury Brand Management. Singapore: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-1-118-17176-9. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Amy Serafin, The Family, The Jewels, The Legend, France Magazine, Fall 2012
  4. ^ Amy Serafin, The Family, The Jewels, The Legend, France Magazine, Fall 2012
  5. ^ Van Cleef & Arpels. "The Mystery Setting". Retrieved April 18, 2014. 
  6. ^ Revy, Stephanie. "The Mystery Revealed – The Invisibly Set Gemstones of Van Cleef and Arpels". Retrieved April 18, 2014. 
  7. ^ Revy, Stephanie. "The Mystery Revealed – The Invisibly Set Gemstones of Van Cleef and Arpels". Retrieved April 18, 2014. 
  8. ^ Hyperinflation Worries? Buy My Jewelry, Richemont’s Rupert Says. (2009-09-13). Retrieved on 2012-10-10.

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