The Enchanting History Behind Van Cleef & Arpels’ Heritage Collection

5 min read

Unveiling a world of creativity and savoir-faire, Van Cleef & Arpels’ Heritage collection proves high jewellery has always been a woman’s best friend. Boasting both romantic history and character in spades, MOJEH explores the beauty of investing in vintage pieces

Be it a statement necklace, cascading pair of earrings, mesmerising bracelet or dazzling ring, the air of luxury that comes with buying a beautiful piece of high jewellery can hardly be denied. However, add to that a creation that has a story to tell, something that was made in a different era using the real techniques and materials of the day? Priceless. Comprising everything from elegant floral brooches inspired by a post-War shortage of fabric to the renditions of the iconic Zip necklace dreamt up by the Duchess of Windsor, nowhere does antique jewellery shine brighter than in Van Cleef & Arpels’ legendary Heritage collection, where each and every piece boasts both romantic history and character in spades.

Van Cleef and Arpels

Lace earrings, 1943

“We started the Heritage collection in New York around 12 years ago, in response to demands from clients who were looking for older creations from the Maison,” Natacha Vassiltchikov, international deputy heritage director at Van Cleef & Arpels tells MOJEH. “It’s a curated collection and each piece is chosen very carefully to ensure it reflects a particular moment in the history of Van Cleef & Arpels.” Not to be confused with its Patrimonial collection, which reflects the exceptional savoir-faire of the House’s expert craftsmen but is used as a ‘museum ’ to tell the history of the brand, the Heritage collection focuses on pieces which are still wearable today, acquired from and sold onto avid collectors looking for a piece of history. From the roaring ’20s to the colourful ’80s, these timeless estate jewels – which made their way to Dubai at the end of last month with an enchanting display at both The Dubai Mall and Les Salons Van Cleef & Arpels Dubai Opera – are as original as can be.

Fleurs Flames earrings, 1967

“We don’t want to remove small signs of wear as we feel it’s because of these that the pieces become small works of art. It adds to their charm, and if we were to completely overhaul them, the creations would lose their soul,” Natacha explains. Case in point is one of the earliest pieces found in the collection, a small clock produced in 1929 from yellow gold, turquoise, rose quartz. lapiz lazuli and blue enamel, frequently used in the Oriental arts at the end of the 19th century. It features Chinese iconography – on one side a goat and a crane surrounded by budding chrysanthemum, traditional symbols of longevity and harmony; on the other side a graceful Buddha of feminine appearance, named Guanyin Pusa in Chinese, lifting her right hand in a slight peace gesture – and is as spectacular today as it was back then.

Van Cleef and Arpels

Ornamental Clock, 1929

From the Duchess of Windsor Wallis Simpson to Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco, many of the House’s most treasured pieces – a number of which are part of the Heritage collection today – were once inspired or even owned by royalty, adding an extra layer of unrivalled legacy to already renowned pieces. Natacha draws our attention to a special commission for the Maharani of Baroda Sita Devi, known as ‘the Indian Wallis Simpson’. A stunning necklace set with 13 luscious cabochon-emerald drops became part of Devi’s famed jewellery collection, with this same Eastern culture going on to inspire a necklace and earrings crafted in 1975 and 1972 respectively, which stun with a number of materials including yellow gold, rubies, emeralds and diamonds. A much-loved part of the Heritage collection and a beautiful transformable piece – now a hallmark of Van Cleef & Arpels designs, which are made to take the wearer from day to night – the long necklace can also be worn short and without the tassel, often seen as a symbol of power and prestige.

Van Cleef and Arpels

A 2019 transformable set inspired by Heritage pieces, photographed by Greg Adamski for MOJEH’s July 2019 issue

As with the transformable piece, many of the pieces found in the Heritage collection inspire new iterations in the 21st century. When asked if any particular heritage piece has most inspired today’s collections, Natacha is quick to answer, “Definitely the Ludo bracelet,” she tells us. Bestowed with the nickname given to Louis Arpels and formerly owned by American heiress Barbara Sutton, the bracelet is crafted from yellow gold, turquoise, black enamel and diamonds, and today its design maintains the architectural Art Deco feel that reached the height of its popularity in the mid- 1930s. “It was created in 1935 and sold until the ’50s, but then we stopped producing it,” adds Natacha. “We relaunched it again in 2019, and it has proved an extremely popular piece once more.”

Van Cleef and Arpels

The Ludo bracelet, 1935

On the contrary, another reason buyers may consider heritage jewels over more modern-day pieces is the fact they are unique and many cannot be duplicated using modern production methods, a key example being the lace earrings produced in 1943 during World War II. Creations mimicking lace were found in Van Cleef & Arpels collections from an early date and continued to be popular throughout the decades, yet today they are almost impossible to replicate. “The gold was beautifully worked to simulate lace, piercing and polishing it to create its very delicate motif, while curving the material to create the impression of a ruffle,” says Natacha. “Unfortunately this is one of the techniques which is impossible to do today. That know-how just doesn’t exist anymore, and the workmanship would take so long that it would prove too costly to replicate.”

Necklace, 1975, one of the house’s first transformable designs

Although we’re unlikely to turn down a brand new piece of jewellery straight from the boutique, there’s no denying that for those after something extra special, antiques are the way forward. For a piece that has survived wars, travelled continents and comes with stories and character that add something to your wardrobe that new jewellery never could, Van Cleef & Arpels’ Heritage collection ticks each and every box. Discover the Heritage Collection

Featured image photographed by Greg Adamski for MOJEH July 2019

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