Van Cleef & Arpels has long been one of the finest jewelry houses with its distinctive feminine, glamorous, refined creations. Inspired by nature, couture and fantasy, its jewelry is a portal into a world of beauty and harmony. In this article you will learn all you need to know about collecting vintage Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry.
Brief History of Van Cleef & Arpels Jewelry
The beautiful daughter of a dealer in precious gems married the handsome son of a diamond cutter, and together they built a kingdom of gold, platinum and jewels that would reign for more than 100 years. A fairy tale? Not at all. It is the story of Van Cleef & Arpels (VCA). Alfred Van Cleef married Estelle Arpels in 1896, and in 1906 VCA opened in Paris’s fashionable Place Vendome directly across from the Hotel Ritz where royalty, celebrities and prosperous businessmen from around the world gathered. VCA jewelry soon represented Parisian elegance and luxury, and boutiques were established in the playgrounds of the rich and famous, including Monte Carlo, Nice and Vichy. They were also the first French jeweler to open boutiques in Japan and China.
Throughout the 1920s, VCA designs were influenced by the popularity of Egyptian and Asian designs. Also, their designs were influenced by the styles of the Roaring Twenties. Sautoirs, long necklaces worn front or back by the flappers, bold bracelets for the newly bared arms, and delicious dangling earrings for the bobbed hairstyles.
In 1933, VCA invented Serti Mysterieux (“Mystery Setting”), a setting technique without visible prongs. Each stone was placed onto tiny gold rails. Because the technique required 300 or more hours per piece, very few pieces were produced each year.
During World War II, VCA moved their operations to New York City. In the early 1950s, they saw a market for less expensive, more accessible jewelry. Women in their 20s and 30s wanted high-end, but affordable, jewelry with semi-precious gems. Established patrons enjoyed the lower-priced items for daytime wear, saving their precious gems to formal wear.
Of all the jewelry motifs created by VCA, their signature design, Alhambra, was introduced in 1968. The Alhambra Four Leaf Lucky Series is elegant and harmonious The design is symbolic of luck, health, wealth and love—one for leaf. It is also the most recognizable design in the jewelry industry.
Historically the four-lobed, clover-like shape appeared at the tops of Gothic arches, within stained glass and affixed above doorways. And it was the collection’s namesake Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain—with its ornate and scalloped archways—that particularly influenced the final design.
Today, VCA has stores in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Europe. In the United States, you can find VCA in New York City, Chicago, Las Vegas, Houston, Beverly Hills, Naples, Palm Beach and Aspen.
Van Cleef & Arpels Jewelry Designers
- Alfred was artistic director until his and Estelle’s daughter, Renee Puissant, assumed the position in 1926. Renee worked with the draftsman and designer, Rene Sim Lacaze, for the next 20 years. Renee had many imaginative ideas, but she was not an artist. Rene made the sketches, and from there, the two would work together to create works of art. Their pieces were turning points in the history of modern jewelry, both with the inspiration from nature, ballet, fairy tales and fantasy; the technical mastery; and the use of superior gemstones.
- John Rubel was a jeweler in his native Hungary. He moved to Paris in 1915, later moved to New York City and began began creating jewelry for VCA. One of his most famous designs was inspired by a flamenco dancer in a nightclub on the Lower East Side of New York. He sketched her on the corner of a tablecloth. The result was the first of the iconic VCA ballerina brooches.
- Other designers were known collectively as the Golden Hands (“Mains d’Or”), the team of artists and craftspeople who turned gold and precious stones into works of beauty of perfection. True virtuosos, they included some of the best jewelry designers and makers in the world.
- We might even include the infamous Duchess of Windsor as a designer of sorts. Word is that the “Zip” necklace was the Duchess’s idea that she mentioned to Renee during a casual conversation.
All VCA jewelry has a trademark, serial number and metal hallmark. The stamping is clean, legible and free of misspellings.
- The stamp is “Van Cleef & Arpels” or “VCA.” If a piece says, “Van Cleef,” it’s a fake.
- The stamp’s placement differs from piece to piece: on the inside of the shank on a ring; on one or both earring clips; and on the gold edge of the quatrefoil (clover) closest to the clasp for the Alhambra collection.
- The jewelry will be stamped with its respective metal type: Au 750 for 18k gold or PT 950 for platinum.
- Each piece has a unique serial number. The manufacturer can cross-reference the number to ensure it matches their records.
- Precious gems: diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires
- Tiger’s eye
- Malachite (a soft green stone streaked with harmonious light and dark lines)
- Letterwood (prized for its mottled appearance with reddish highlights)
- 18K gold: yellow, white, rose
Most Collectible Van Cleef & Arpels Jewelry
Any authentic vintage piece in excellent condition will be a collectible item from this brand, however there are some pieces that are more iconic, and therefor more collectible than others.
- Any vintage item of jewelry from the Alhambra collection is a collectible find.
- The snowflake collection, which was first popularized in the 1940's.
- Between the finger rings are a trademark of this brand.
- The zip necklace was introduced in 1951. Due to the complexity of this design, only a few are made a year.
- A mystery setting piece - only a few are released each year.
- Philippine Rings.
- The Pierre Arpels watch is known as the ‘pink shirt of watches’ and is a timeless classic.
How to Identify Vintage Van Cleef & Arpels Jewelry
As with any highly collectible luxury jewelry, there are countless fakes on the market, some of which can fool the experts at first. Here is how to identify real VCA jewelry.
- Every single aspect of the jewelry should be flawless, even when magnified. Not a stone out of place, no fading, rusting, stains, or cheap-feeling materials.
- All pieces are made with 18K yellow, white or rose gold or platinum.
- All necklace clasps and earring backings are sturdy and will open with ease.
- The very rare Mystery Set jewelry will have all gemstones perfectly set with no visible prongs or loose gemstones.
- In the Alhambra collection, the stones are cut to fit perfectly, not loose, not with any gap.
- Clasps should be sturdy and well-made- not flimsy or finicky, and should open and close without getting stuck.
- Gemstones are of a very high quality. Abraded and or cloudy gemstones are a big red flag.
- If your jewelry features multiple gemstones, they should be evenly matched for color and size.
- All gemstones will be flush against their setting with no visible gaps.
- Serial numbers, hallmarks and trademarks should be smooth and legible, never crooked or sloppy.
- Sage green is VCA’s signature color and is usually featured on their packaging, inner jewelry box, pouch, and shopping bag.
- The outer jewelry box is typically white or silver with the brand name printed on the lid.
In general, Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry pricing will be consistent among various sellers. If you find a piece that is a budget price - way below other retailers - chances are it is a fake. Jewelry from this brand is painstakingly made, with the finest materials and attention to detail - all reflected in the cost. Don't be tempted by a low price, it most likely means a inauthentic piece.
Call or email the manufacturer and provide them with the serial number that appears near the trademark and hallmark and ask if they can compare it to their records. If you are unsure about a piece, the brand does offer authentication, but it will cost upwards of $2000.
Is it Worth it to Collect Vintage Van Cleef & Arpels Jewelry?
While, Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry is marked up high, it is due to the prestige of the brand. People are willing to pay more for the name because of the reputation and the fact that the jewelry holds its value on the second-hand market. Van Cleef & Arpels is an excellent fine jewelry brand to invest in.
Great condition Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry with its branded box and official paperwork can be worth up to 50% of its purchase price, compared to other jewelry brands that only fetch 15% to 25% back of what you originally paid.
Where to Buy Vintage Van Cleef and Arpels Jewery
There is an exquisite selection of VCA jewelry on Etsy. Etsy is a great place to find vintage jewelry of all kinds. The site is easy to navigate and facilitates communication between you and the vendors. A big plus is supporting small businesses in this “big box” world!
A couple of tips for shopping on Etsy for vintage jewelry:
- Find sellers with lots of positive reviews and happy customers.
- Look for sellers with good photos and close-ups of signature/hallmarks.
- Seek out sellers that have decades of experience and certifications as gemologists.
Here are some reputable sellers we have vetted out to get you started:
Another place to browse online is eBay. There is a large selection of vintage Van Cleef and Arpels jewelry there.
Do you own any vintage Van Cleef & Arpels jewerly? If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below and I will do my best to help you out!
Happy Vintage Hunting!