Van Cleef & Arpels: The Making of 25 Mystical Rock Legends

by Susanah Cheok

Van Cleef & Arpels’ dalliance with diamonds speaks of a passionate century-long quest for the best and the most beautiful of relationships between men, women and their precious stones. VCA’s exquisite 25 Mystery Set Jewels are bright testaments to that.

One could say that the past, present and future stories of Maison Van Cleef & Arpels have been carved in solid precious stone since the marriage of Estelle Arpels, daughter of a gemstone merchant, to Alfred Van Cleef, son of a lapidary in 1895. Besides their perfectly complementary backgrounds and interests, the young couple shared the same values: a spirit of enthusiasm and innovation, a sense of family and a passion for precious stones.

As a result of their blessed union, in 1906, the Maison of Van Cleef & Arpels was born at 22 Place Vendôme, uniting these two names in a common, bejewelled destiny. As the best of real-life fairy-tales would go, Estelle and Alfred had a daughter, Renée Puissant, who became Artistic Director of the Maison in 1926. With audacity and imagination, not unlike her parents, Renee forged a distinctive, eminently recognisable style for Van Cleef & Arpels, one that is bold, exuberant, original and eternally contemporary.

The Van Cleef and Arpels match made in earthly heaven marked the start of romantic acquisitions for the Maison the fabled couple founded and built together, along with Estelle’s brothers, Charles, Julien and Louis – exquisite pieces that were taken to auction and written up about, with particularly historic stones that travelled from Golconda in India to the Place Vendôme in Paris, France. From the very start, it was to be that Van Cleef & Arpels’ princess-like jewels became acclaimed by both royalty, stage and screen luminaries.

Chasing Rock Stars

Historically, Van Cleef & Arpels has been exceedingly intrepid when it came to procuring the best and the brightest that nature could produce in terms of gemstones.

Van Cleef & Arpels’ tradition of collecting, pampering, enhancing and then passing on some of the world’s most significant and important gemstones began in the late 1930s, when an order was placed for the wedding of Princess Fawzia of Egypt to Prince Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the future Shah of Iran. It took the Maison 6 months of searching in every reputable diamond market to find just the right stones – 90 large, brilliant diamonds, which have a total weight of 115 carats – worthy of her parure. Her mother, Queen Nazli of Egypt also dazzled alongside the princess in a collarette necklace – now in Van Cleef & Arpels’ patrimony collection – totalling over 200 carats of round and baguette diamonds.

In 1953, Van Cleef & Arpels acquired The Blue Heart, a 31-carat heart-cut blue diamond discovered in South Africa in 1908. The stone was topped by a pear-cut pink diamond and a triangular blue diamond, which together formed the pendant of a sparkling river of diamonds. The piece – which then travelled to Paris by registered mail – was the pride and pleasure of renowned French ballerina Zizi Jeanmaire, who wore it to the Ball of Versailles, which was organised in the Orangerie by the Cancer League in June 1953.

There was also a 34.64-carat cushion-cut pink diamond that connoisseurs claimed had been owned since the 18th century by the Nizams of Hyderabad, the state of India, where the famous Golconda mines were located. It was eventually named Princie, in honour of the son of the Maharani of Baroda, one of the Maison’s illustrious clients, the young Prince Jagat Singh.

On April 1, 1971, Van Cleef & Arpels also purchased a 96.62-carat briolette-cut yellow diamond that was part of an auctioned collection of celebrated Polish opera singer Ganna Walska. It would then be mounted on a Bird clip made entirely of precious stones—now also in the patrimony collection—that carried the sparkling faceted drop in its beak.

In the 1990s, the historic 30.99-carat Arcot 1 white diamond was acquired and used as the pendant of a Van Cleef & Arpels necklace. The diamond was a gift to Queen Charlotte of England by the Nawab of Arcot at the end of the 18th century. Later on, along with other diamonds of lesser weight, it went from crown to tiara, was remounted several times and even re-cut, before being sold as a set by the Maison in 1993.

The Making of a Bejewelled Mystery

Fast forward to 2018 and a new discovery saw Maison Van Cleef & Arpels embark on an exciting new adventure. It all started with the rough diamond, the Lesotho Legend, presented to the Maison  by diamond dealer Taché, a long-time partner, which measured 910 carats, the fifth largest rough diamond in both size and quality ever mined. It combined a perfect D colour, beautiful crystallization, and a highly sought-after Type 2A chemical composition. It was this perfect rough-cut rock that would become Van Cleef & Arpels’ 25 Mystery Set Jewels collection.

Making the Cut

Specialist diamond cutters Diamcad analysed the Lesotho Legend, which proved suitable for producing large diamonds. Working their way around the stone’s inclusions, the experts used state-of-the-art technology to envision the position of each gem in the heart of the rough stone. This was a unique opportunity for the Maison to choose a combination of cut stones that matched its wishes, both in shape and size. Their wish-list included a 79.35-carat specimen and others weighing 51.14, 31.24, and 25.06 carats.

Van Cleef & Arpels worked hand in hand with the various experts involved in the project to choose the cuts most likely to awaken the designers’ creativity. Every shape, whether oval, pear, emerald, or Asscher, echoed the Maison’s history and taste for “fancy” cuts. The gems were then given the ideal proportions, meticulously studied to best enhance their brilliance and beauty while meeting the aesthetic criteria of the Maison. Van Cleef & Arpels also had the rare opportunity to create perfect matches, combining stones of identical size and weight.

Designing the Mystery Set

Post-cutting of the exceptional Lesotho Legend, Van Cleef & Arpels’ Design Studio was then committed to upholding the Maison’s highly recognisable style through 25 pieces of utterly stunning pieces that is the Mystery Set Jewels collection. Each imaginative setting created through the collaborative approach between the expert gemologists and the High Jewellery Workshops was designed to reveal the intense brilliance of the stones and magnify their cut, while emphasizing the Maison’s style and essence.

Van Cleef & Arpels opted to combine each of the gems with the Mystery Set: one of the most complex signature techniques mastered by the Place Vendôme Workshops. Bringing together curved lines and the intense interplay of colours in rubies, sapphires, and emeralds, the Design Studio worked to infuse lightness and movement into the most precious materials. Within the collection, bows are three dimensional, ribbons softly come undone, and asymmetry gives certain pieces a subtle energy. “The challenge was to design harmonious pieces that brought all these elements together without one overshadowing the others,” remembers Thomas Pozsgai, Director of the Van Cleef & Arpels Design Studio of the immensely delicate endeavour.  

The entire collection, the result of more than 30,000 hours of work, comes to life thanks to the Mains d’Or (literally “hands of gold”), the artisans of the Van Cleef & Arpels Workshops on the Place Vendôme, who carry on the tradition of expertise that is constantly being perfected. To meet each new challenge, the jewellers, setters, lapidaries, and polishers communicated and shared their experience to produce a collective work. Links, invisible fasteners, and discreet articulations express the Maison’s distinctive high standards, and the artisans’ meticulous attention is apparent on both the front and the back of the pieces.

The creations of the Legend of diamonds – 25 Mystery Set Jewels collection – allow up to six different ways to wear some of them. From rings to pendants, from necklaces to earrings, each transformation reflects the Maison’s perpetually renewed creativity.

Presenting…The Legend of Diamonds – 25 Mystery Set Jewels collection

Atours Mystérieux Transformable Necklace: A 79.35-carat diamond, the largest in the collection, is given pride of place in this exquisite design. The diamond, magnified in this way, sparkles among Traditional Mystery Set and Individual Mystery Set rubies.

Couture Mystérieuse Ring: The ring’s airy structure allows the gem’s purity and whiteness to be admired from every angle. The piece’s asymmetrical lines — a Van Cleef & Arpels signature — are enhanced by refined details: a border of baguette-cut diamonds around the ribbon and lines of round diamonds on the ring’s body, the inside of the ribbon, and the central diamond’s bezel.

Corolle Mystérieuse Earrings: They feature a swirl of Traditional Mystery Set rubies encircling a pair of 1.60 and 1.59-carat oval diamonds. The concave shape of the design and the gradation of the rubies add depth to the creations, with the Mystery Set seeming to wrap around the diamonds in a cone.

Volutes Mystérieuses Transformable Necklace And Earrings With Detachable Pendants: The tight lines of its bow echo diamond clips from the 1920s, while the diamonds on the ribbon’s border evoke the Art Deco style. The Traditional Mystery Set rubies give the earrings a velvety appearance.

The earring adornments are two oval diamonds of 15.52 and 15.50 carats that form a harmoniously-sized and proportioned ensemble. These diamonds can be detached and added to the ribbons on the necklace.

Satin Mystérieux Ring and Satin Mystérieux Earrings: The Mystery Set seems to encircle the finger and earlobe with the same fluidity as a satin ribbon, delicately emphasized by a row of square-cut diamonds. Each creation is adorned with a round “triple EX” diamond in a raised setting.

Ornement Mystérieux Clip: The clip features 21 triple EX round diamonds totalling 12.09 carats. With their raised setting, they punctuate the surface paved with rubies. The knotted part of the ribbon and its two ends are adorned with Traditional Mystery Set rubies, while lines of baguette-cut diamonds accentuate the whole piece’s shape.

Chemin Mystérieux Bracelet: The bangle is punctuated by six round diamonds, which are also triple EX with a raised setting. They contrast with the rubies and baguette-cut diamonds, creating a gentle flow along the bracelet.

Chevron Mystérieux Necklace And Earrings With Detachable Pendants: Three majestic pear-cut diamonds of generous size drip from this colourful composition. The first, which measures over 31 carats, hangs in the centre of the piece, flanked by the other two, weighing 12.18 and 12.07 carats respectively. Their balanced shape — neither too long nor too deep — multiplies reflections. These brilliant gems complement each other in size and illuminate the entire composition of sapphires and Mystery Set emeralds.

Liseré Mystérieux Ring: It features rows of emeralds and sapphires in reverse symmetry, along with a DFL Type 2A pear-cut diamond of 2.50 carats. On each side of the ring’s body, a set of round diamonds highlights the coloured gems, gracefully finishing this colourful ballet.

Draperie Mystérieuse Clip: The Mystery Set emeralds and sapphires meet the snow-set diamonds adorning the fold on either side. Suspended from one end of the clip, three pear-cut diamonds gracefully illuminate the piece.

Tissage Mystérieux Ring and Asymétrie Mystérieuse earrings: This precious trio is echoed by the pear-cut diamonds of the Tissage Mystérieux ring and the Asymétrie Mystérieuse earrings. The stones have a balanced length to width ratio, allowing the gems to catch the light and multiply their fire.

Duo Mystérieux Between The Finger Ring: On the Duo Mystérieux Between the Finger ring, this ingenious shape creates an inverted mirror effect, enhanced by the intense reflections of the two emerald-cut diamonds set on either side.

Ganse Mystérieuse Ring: On this multi-dimensional creation reminiscent of a belt buckle, the emerald-cut stone is mounted in a raised setting, topping a ring body that is in buff-topped and Mystery Set with rubies and pink sapphires.

Collerette Mystérieuse Transformable Necklace And Ring: Like a couture-inspired collar, this graphic necklace drapes lightly on the neck. Alternating rows of diamonds and Traditional Mystery Set rubies, it is edged with a line of pink sapphires and square-cut diamonds that evoke delicate lace. The largest diamond can be detached to adorn a ring, while an Individual Mystery Set ruby design can replace the pendant.

Lacis Mystérieux Bracelet and Lacis Mystérieux Ring:

In the centre of the bracelet, the perfect symmetry of the composition contrasts with the curvature of the soft pink bows, each tied in a different way. This attention to detail is also revealed in the way the ribbons sometimes pass above and sometimes below the rubies. The same impression of natural fluidity is expressed in the ring’s structure.

Double Ruban Mystérieux Clip and Passementerie Mystérieuse Ring: The Double Ruban Mystérieux clip and Passementerie Mystérieuse ring provide striking effects of colour and materials. Combining white gold, rose gold, and precious stones, these two creations seem as supple as fabric. While the clip is composed of several layers of gems superimposed in a display of curves and counter-curves, the ring evokes a sense of movement with its gently fluttering end.

Entrelacs Mystérieux Bracelet: Two generous Asscher-cut diamonds face each other and the buff-topped sapphire surface — polished on the visible part — gives the piece a silky look that is enhanced by rows of diamonds snaking across the bracelet. They intertwine, alternating round and baguette-cut diamonds to surprise and dazzle the eye.

Écho Mystérieux Earrings With Detachable Pendants and Écho Mystérieux Ring: The set features three diamonds: a pair of 12.65 and 12.61 carats and a 25.06-carat stone. The latter are assembled using the Traditional Mystery Set technique and their surface is buff-topped, accenting the pieces’ velvety look.

Images courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels, artwork by Curatedition. All rights reserved.

Related Links:

Van Cleef & Arpels: A Spring Flutter

Van Cleef & Arpels: Time to Get Lucky

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