Inspired by the four-leaf clover, Van Cleef and Arpels’ iconic Alhambra collection, which turns 50 this year, hasn’t lost any of its charm and appeal.
Founded in 1896, French luxury watch and jewellery Maison Van Cleef & Arpels has built a solid reputation as the jeweller favoured by royals and the rich and famous — such as Princess Soraya of Iran, Princess Grace of Monaco, the Duchess of Windsor, Barbara Hutton and Elizabeth Taylor.
Its breathtakingly beautiful high jewellery creations marry the finest gemstones with exquisitely intricate designs, and expert craftsmanship across disciplines such as enameling, watchmaking and gem-setting — especially its famed Mystere setting where multiple gemstones are seemingly held in place without any visible prongs — a technique so ingenious, and requiring so much skill, that the Mystere even has its own patent.
Another key element embedded into Van Cleef & Arpels’ DNA, is the idea of luck. Four-leaf clovers made their first appearance in the company’s records in the 1920s. Story has it that Jacques Arpels (VCA co-founder Estelle Arpels’ nephew, who worked at the Maison) used to say “To be lucky, you have to believe in luck,”. He would hunt down hard-to-find four-leaf clovers (only one in 10,000 clovers have four leaves; most have three) in the garden of his house in Germigny-l’Évêque, and gift them to staff, together with a poem entitled “Don’t Quit”. It’s no wonder that the many of the Maison’s most iconic creations feature symbols that represent good fortune.
In 1968, the Maison created the first Alhambra long necklace, inspired by the shape of the four-leaf clover, and by the beauty and splendour of the Alhambra, the historic 13th-century Moorish palace located in Granada, Spain. Comprising a chain punctuated by 20 Moorish-inspired quatrefoil motifs in creased gold, delicately edged with golden beads, the necklace could be worn long, or double- and even triple-looped, and proved to be such an instant hit and such a longstanding bestseller, that it became an iconic must-have for jewellery lovers, and the emblem of the brand.
Fifty years on, the collection hasn’t lost any of its allure, with celeb fans such as Mariah Carey, Cameron Diaz, Reese Witherspoon spotted sporting pieces. “The Alhambra long necklace captured the spirit of the age and introduced new ways of wearing jewels in everyday life. Fifty years later, it stands as a reference that has profoundly influenced the history of jewellery,” commented Nicolas Bos, President and CEO of Van Cleef & Arpels.
Offered at the Maison’s Paris La Boutique, which stocked easy-to-wear pieces that were more accessible than high jewellery, it reflected the zeitgeist of that era: the democratisation of fashion, the relaxed breeziness of bohemian/hippie style, the glamour and exoticism of far-flung destinations in the golden era of commercial air travel, the pleasure of jewellery that you could wear every day, as opposed to only on special occasions.
Another appealing characteristic of the Alhambra collection is how it boldly combines various precious materials in a rainbow of colours — for example, the rich red of carnelian, warm brown tones of letterwood, mysterious bronze sheen of tiger’s eye, the rich azure of turquoise, the iridescence of mother of pearl, the glitter of diamonds, the gold-flecked cobalt blue of lapis lazuli and the vivid green of malachite — in various stylised forms.
In celebration of its 50th anniversary, Van Cleef & Arpels has released new pieces to the Alhambra collection, such as a Vintage Alhambra long necklace and bracelet, and Magic Alhambra ear-rings, all featuring gray mother-of-pearl and diamonds set in pink gold. There’s also a Vintage Alhambra long necklace and bracelet embellished with onyx and diamonds, on white gold. There are also four limited edition Vintage Alhambra long necklace and bracelet designs in yellow gold, showcasing lapis lazuli and diamonds on the one hand, and rock crystal on the other.