Luxury jewellery Maison Van Cleef & Arpels is romance incarnate.
Whimsy and wonder are at the very core of their aesthetic: butterflies and blooming flowers, twinkling gems, and designs that seem to move with the breeze. There’s fairies and princesses, wondrous planetarium watches with six miniature planets roaming a golden sun. There’s a pair of diamond Birds-of-Paradise, joined at the lips with a blushing pink sapphire. And of course, there’s the famed collection of charms inspired by Charles Perrault’s dreamy 1695 fairy tale Peau d’Âne.
And what modern day fairy tale would be possible without Van Cleef & Arpels? It was, after all, their rubies that Richard Burton chose to seduce his empress Elizabeth Taylor, and their emeralds that John F. Kennedy proposed with to one Jackie Bouvier. It was their diamonds that Barbara Hutton gifted her nearest and dearest for Christmas 1946, and their ‘Blue Princess’ sapphire that hung on the neck of opera star Florence Jay Gould.
Van Cleef & Arpels have been the jeweller of choice for real life princesses, too – coronating Empress Farah Pahlavi, adorning (almost royalty) Wallis Simpson, and gifted to Hollywood royalty turned actual royalty Grace Kelly, by her husband Prince Rainier of Monaco. Decades later and the modern starlet remains under their spell. Cate Blanchett, Catherine Zeta Jones, Blake Lively, Reese Witherspoon and Adele are all fans of the brand; and who could forget Margot Robbie wearing the iconic Van Cleef & Arpels Zip necklace to the 2015 Academy Awards? Coinciding with her big break in The Wolf Of Wall Street, that red carpet truly was Robbie’s fairy tale moment. But before Elizabeth Taylor, or Grace Kelly, or Margot Robbie, there were the original stars of Van Cleef & Arpel: Alfred Van Cleef, and Estelle Arpels. At the heart of all the best fairy tales is love, and the story of this visionary house is no different – this is a tale of romance and enchantment from the city of love itself.
Our story begins in 1895, when Alfred Van Cleef married his sweetheart Estelle Arpels. It was a warm summer’s day in Paris: she wore a delicate crown of jewels, he a handsome moustache. Alfred was the son of a diamond merchant from Amsterdam, and Estelle the daughter of a precious stone wholesaler. And while they could hardly have known it at the time, this was to be a love that sparked a 121-year-old legacy of luxury jewellery design.
Together, they found a passion not only for each other but for also for beautiful jewels, and in 1906 they launched their eponymous label Maison Van Cleef & Arpels at 22 Place Vendôme, Paris; where the store remains to this day. They were soon joined by Estelle’s brothers Charles, Julien, and Louis; who sailed the precious jewels across the world. They were the first French jewellery house to open in Japan and China, and in the years since have expanded into Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Italy, Ukraine, America, and many more far flung locations. But one thing has always remained the same: at the core of the Van Cleef & Arpels ethos is not fame, nor fortune – but rather love.
What other luxury jeweller can boast beginnings born solely from the union of love? Cartier and Chopard were timekeepers, their beginnings in watches. Bvlgari, an Italian house inspired by the myths of Ancient Greece. But Van Cleef & Arpels? Love, always love.
Even today, the spirit of the brand is carried through in their reverie for all things beautiful. On staff is a full time treasure hunter, Catherine Cariou, whose job as Heritage Director sees her circle the globe to find the world’s most precious jewels to add to their heritage and private collections. This is a brand that constantly refers to the past for inspiration, as they move onwards into new chapters of design. Cariou speaks of the company ethos being about constant change, movement, metamorphosis. “At Van Cleef & Arpels nothing is static,” says Cariou. “Flowers are blooming, birds are flying, everything is in motion.”
And now, Van Cleef & Arpels has fluttered right onto our antipodean shores.
Image courtesy of Jimmy Cohrssen© Van Cleef & Arpels SA.
The Maison opened their first flagship store in Australia in October of 2016 with their Collins Street boutique in Melbourne, with Sydney following shortly after in February this year with their Castlereagh Street store. There is a fearlessness to Van Cleef & Arpels that compliments the Australian woman. They are unapologetically romantic and beautiful, and celebrate the raw beauty of the jewel better than any other. There is a joie de vivre to the Van Cleef & Arpels designs, an unabashed celebration of the stone, that suits our people.
“There is no denying the beauty of a jewel,” says Nicky Oatley, brand manager for Hamilton Island. “What I particularly love is that they’re real, they’ve come from nature. It takes a special jeweller to build on the natural beauty of a gem and turn it into art – and that’s exactly what Van Cleef & Arpels do so well.”
Oatley, who attended the Van Cleef & Arpels launch in Sydney earlier this year, often collaborates with international high-end brands on behalf of Hamilton Island’s luxury resort, Qualia. She knows the homegrown princess better than most, and says that it is our understated nature that is drawn to Van Cleef & Arpel’s classic legacy.
“Luxury here in Australia in done so differently to anywhere else in the world,” says Oatley. “The people who own statement pieces of jewellery will use them and wear them in an understated way – Van Cleef and Arpels is for the elegant, not arrogant, woman.”
Already, the romance of the Van Cleef & Arpels legacy has begun to shine. In May of this year they announced their sponsorship of the Australian Ballet, an ‘emblematic source of inspiration’ for Van Cleef & Arpels.
“This union with one of the world’s premier ballet companies further extends the maison’s relationship with the arts and their enchanting universe of dance,” said The Australian Ballet at the time, noting the long-standing association Van Cleef & Arpels has shared with the ballet, even in their earliest days.
The French Maison has always been enchanted by the ballerina. Louis Arpels was often caught sneaking out of his office in Paris to watch a ballet at the nearby Opéra Garnier; and over a century later, the maison’s glorification of the beautiful and the romantic persists. And yet, for the timelessness of their beauty, Van Cleef & Arpels are not afraid to try new things. They were the first jewellery house to experiment with the sharp lines and bold styling of the Art Deco movement in the 20’s, and their ongoing commitment to exotic materials, unexpected gemstone combinations and perpetual innovation have kept them at the forefront of the modern market. They are, after all, most famous for pioneering the 1933 ‘Mystery Setting’, in which the gems appear to float above the skin; no prongs, clasps, or bars visible….like magic.
So, do you believe in fairytales? Ask a woman who has been presented with a jewel from Van Cleef & Arpels, and she might just say yes. Men are transformed into a handsome prince, they the princess; their twinkling trophy sprinkling just a little magic into a world that can often feel so deftly devoid. Van Cleef & Arpels, born from love, made with love, for lovers.