Van Cleef & Arpels

French jeweler. The creations of the Parisian maison — founded in 1906 by Alfred Van Cleef (1873-1938) and his cousins Charles, Julien and Louis Arpels, experts in precious stones — genuinely wrote history. The headquarters was in the Place VendÂme, but within just a few years, they were joined by the shops in Nice, Deauville, Vichy, and Cannes. In the early 1920s jewelry from Van Cleef & Arpels was timely in its interpretation of the oriental and neo-Egyptian styles that were popular in the salons of France. Art Deco was at the gates. In 1929 the company opened its New York store, and in 1935 it opened the Monte Carlo store. In the 1930s, the house style was defined, proposing totally innovative creations by adopting a type of setting that had never been used before: the invisible serti. This technical device, which made it possible to present the gems without seeing the metal beneath, led to a production that focused on models with a floral inspiration — roses, camelias, crysanthemums, ivy leaves — and an animal inspiration. Dating back to the same period is the invention of the Ludo Hexagone bracelet, constructed with geometric mesh in a honeycomb shape. Also highly considered were the clips, including the famous Passe-partout (1938), to be worn separately on the lapels of the jacket or mounted on “colliers chaïne-serpent.” It was especially to the credit of Louis Arpels, with his numerous contacts in the world of the jet set, that the maison enjoyed such success around the world. Perceptive in identifying trends and developments, the maison launched various innovative creations such as the zip necklace (or “fermeture éclairé”), inspired by the zipper, and the “collier coriphée,” composed of a close-knit line of golden ballerinas with diamond tutus. In the 1950s, the company triumphed with its lacework production of braided metal wire, twisted and knurled. Then came the snow-crystal clips. The company made history in the field of precious accessories. The minaudières of the 1920s, little evening bags disguised as golden cases studded with gems, are still famous. The company, which rose to international renown with jewelry, perfumes, and watches (and remarkable expansion in Asian markets), is currently under the management of the third generation of Arpels who preserved 20 percent of the ownership, while in 1999 60 percent ownership was purchased by Cartier.