Van Cleef & Arpels new Haute Joaillerie ?meraude en Majest? collection or The saga of emeralds. Part 1. A bit of history
“…There is something in emeralds that adorns even the sheets of paper on which the word is written" (Luis Kornitzer, English trader in gems and an expert of pearls, from “The jeweled trail”, issued in 1955).
Emerald is a royal stone, a symbol of kingliness and power, which calls to mind imaginations of splendid richest treasuries of Aztec emperors. It conjures up seductive power of Cleopatra, who put on jewellery of finest emeralds before meeting Antony; the wealth of medieval Venetian doges and sophistication of Russian Imperial Court ladies.
Authors, who write about emeralds, carefully list their "magic" properties and tell about amusing superstitions. Emeralds are closely associated with heart affairs. For example, in Colombia, emeralds and love go hand in hand, when men and women involved in selling and purchasing of precious stones find themselves in the power of green magic.
Romanticism, love confessions, magic and fairy-tale are Van Cleef & Arpels world too. For those not in the know, I will recall that the history of the jewellery house began with the love story of Estelle Arpels and Alfred Van Cleef. In 1896, Alfred Van Cleef offered his hand to Estelle Arpels, the daughter of a jewellery merchant, and they got married. Perhaps it was then that the idea to create family business was ripe. Salomon Arpels - Estelle's father and Alfred's father in law, traded in precious stones, Alfred Van Cleef - the son of a diamond merchant from Amsterdam, was a gem cutter. It may be assumed that the two young people loved gems the same way they loved each other, therefore, jewellery business was fated for them. In 1906 they were joined by one of Solomon's son, Charlie, an expert in gemology. On June, 16, 1906 they collectively opened the first branded Van Cleef & Arpels boutique on Place Vendome in Paris.
Ampersand sign - "&" - became the symbol of unbreakable bond connecting Estelle Arpels, Alfred Van Cleef and the art of jewellery.
Since then, Van Cleef & Arpels has been the symbol of High Jewellery, craftsmanship and exceptional gems. Then, in early twentieth of XX century, in glorious palmy days of art, the toilette of a wealthy woman was considered incomplete without brilliance of jewellery; large gems and plenty of jewellery were in trend.
“I stood in wonder before this treasure, this profusion of precious stones,” - Pierre Arpels (1919-1980) could not believe the riches that lay before his eyes! Hundreds – if not thousands – of emeralds, of all shapes and sizes, were gathered on the glass shelves of a display case.
There were too many to count! And besides, he did not have time. The Iranian government had commissioned Van Cleef & Arpels to create several jewellery sets – including the Empress’s crown – for the coming coronation. “In November 1966, the governor of the Bank of Iran came to see us,” Pierre Arpels would explain. “He asked us if we could prepare several designs for a crown.”
On December 16, 1966, Pierre Arpels was informed that when making choice out of fifty variants of imperial crown offered by the biggest jewellers of that time, the Empress set her heart on Van Cleef & Arpels' design.
According to Iranian traditions, the crown was to be decorated with jewels from national treasury reserves, deposited in the Central Bank of Iran. As invaluable treasures could not be delivered to Paris, Pierre Arpels accompanied by jewellers immediately left for Tehran to start the work at the earliest: it was less than 11 months left before the celebration, scheduled for October 1967.
On this first trip, he intended to make a rapid but precise selection of the major stones to be used for the Empress’s crown. Very quickly, the jeweller settled on two of the treasury’s most beautiful emeralds: a shell-shaped stone weighing over 50 carats and a hexagonal one of 150 carats, both of them engraved. In all, 143 emeralds were chosen, along with thousands of diamonds and several colored stones.
Next six months, Pierre Arpels was working on historical implementation of the special order, spending long days in the basement of the Central Bank of Iran, which he equipped as jewellery workshop.
The initial order was supplemented by a second one for several complete jewellery sets – necklaces, diadems and earrings – also set with emeralds and diamonds and destined to be worn by the princesses of the imperial family.
Finally, in September 1967, a third order – a necklace and a pair of earrings for the Empress – was received: it was to be created in the space of two months. The design was produced in record time, centered on a hexagonal emerald weighing 200 carats. In all, nearly 2,000 carats of emeralds were set in the imperial jewels.
On October 26, 1967, the ceremony was broadcasted across the world. The Shah of Iran placed the crown created by Van Cleef & Arpels on Shahbanu Farah’s head. The event marked the high point of the remarkable relationship that has always existed between emeralds and Cleef & Arpels.
Among Van Cleef & Arpels's clients, there was a certain Daisy Fellowes, a well-known society lady of that time, the granddaughter of Isaak Zinger, the inventor of sewing machine. She became renowned as one of the most stylish and elegant women of the twentieth century. Her refined and ingenious taste was aptly describes by photographer Cecil Beaton as "planned casualness". Looking for beautiful gems, she used to travel to India and always brought home plenty of ideas for her jewellery. Daisy Fellowes had a rich collection of jewellery. Among jewellery pieces by Van Cleef & Arpels in her posession, were Manchette bracelets of incredible beauty with a fringe of emerald beads and diamonds. Initially, Daisy Fellowes asked for creation of an additional twin bracelet, however experts of the house took the initiative and created an innovative transformable jewellery. Two bracelets were transformable into an enchanting necklace.
In 1929 another diamond and emerald necklace – which still exists in its original form – was acquired by one of Van Cleef & Arpels’ illustrious clients: Princess Faiza of Egypt, the sister of King Farouk. A woman of great elegance who owned a highly original collection of jewellery, she appreciated the combination of old stones with more contemporary settings.
The necklace that she bought in 1929 was modified in the late 1930s. It takes the form of a highly flexible choker, whose diamond droplets are set with nine old emeralds. A tenth emerald is positioned at the back of the jewel on a particularly ornate clasp.
Princess Faiza often wore her emerald necklace at balls held in Paris and Cairo or on the C?te d’Azur. Having been acquired by a new owner, the piece reappeared at auction in November 2013, at Christie’s in Geneva. It was purchased by Van Cleef & Arpels for its private collection.
The Duchess of Windsor (1896-1986) was also one of the famous clients to illustrate this special bond between emeralds and Van Cleef & Arpels. In 1936 she lived in London, where she was one of the British capital’s most prominent socialites. Above all, she embarked on an extraordinary love story with one of the most famous men on the planet – King Edward VIII (1894-1972). The king was madly in love with this elegant American and showered her with sumptuous gifts. They were often purchased in Paris, at Van Cleef & Arpels, whose innovative style was much appreciated by Mrs Simpson. One of the first dates from 1935: a double-strand necklace of rectangular diamonds, set with 17 emeralds weighing a total of 70 carats.
In 1946, Jacques Arpels (1914-2008) – Pierre’s brother – became the hero of another episode in the emerald saga, when he received the first order from a woman who was without doubt the Maison’s most extraordinary client: H.H. the Maharani of Baroda (1917-1989).
A woman of seductive beauty, Princess Sita Devi was a legend in India. Following an extraordinary to-and-fro of marriages, divorces and changes of religion, she married one of the country’s richest men, the Maharaja of Baroda. The Maharani elected to live in Paris. Although she dressed in the Indian style – in magnificent saris – she preferred to wear European jewellery.
Nicknamed “The Indian Wallis Simpson”, the Maharani of Baroda – wife of the Maharaja of Baroda – had an insatiable passion for jewellery and a fabulous collection of over 300 pieces stretching back to the Mughal era including Van Cleef & Arpels creations. The Maharani particularly enjoyed having gems from her husband’s Crown Jewels converted into contemporary designs.
Over the course of 20 years, she had practically her entire collection reset by Van Cleef & Arpels. Within it, emeralds occupied a prominent place.
The first jewellery created for her was a brooch set with a large engraved emerald, incrusted with rubies in typically Mughal style. In 1950, Jacques Arpels designed a legendary jewellery, known as Baroda necklace, also known as the Lotus necklace or the Hindu necklace. It consists of 13 pear-shaped Colombian emeralds – weighing a total of 154.70 carats – suspended from a lotus flower set with pav?-set diamonds. The body of the necklace sparkles with dozens more emeralds and diamonds. Most remarkably, the gems were all supplied by the Maharani and belonged to the Baroda Crown Jewels.
With its lotus motif, this necklace is regularly exhibited at Van Cleef & Arpels retrospectives. To accompany it, Jacques Arpels went on to create three pairs of ear pendants set with diamonds and emeralds.
Twenty years later, in 1971, another treasure worthy of the Arabian Nights arrived at Van Cleef & Arpels’ premises in Place Vend?me. Princess Salimah, the first wife of the Aga Khan IV, entrusted the Maison with an extraordinary set of 58 ribbed emeralds: fabulous green stones with grooves engraved on every side. They were used to create a long necklace and a pair of earrings. The long necklace is transformable. Its rear portion can be worn as a bracelet and its pendant as a clip. Unique gems gave exclusivity to the jewellery: 44 XVIII- century emeralds of 478 carats and flawless round cut diamonds (52 carats in total). In 1995, Princess Salimah auctioned this piece at Christie’s in Geneva; it now belongs to Van Cleef & Arpels’ private collection.
To be continued in the next article...