Case Study: Van Cleef & Arpels
Van Cleef & Arpels: It Began with a Wedding
Van Cleef & Arpels is a French luxury jewelry, watches and perfume company known for their elegant, high-quality wares. The history of the company began in 1895 with the marriage of Estelle Arpels, the daughter of a precious stones dealer, and Alfred Van Cleef, the son of a stonecutter. Following the death of Estelle’s father Salomon Arpels in 1906, Alfred founded the Maison of Van Cleef & Arpels with his brother-in-law Charles Arpels. As chance would have it, Van Cleef and Arpels were able to secure a prime location for their original boutique–right across the street from the Hôtel Ritz–where they could easily cater to the luxury hotel’s wealthy elite which included European aristocrats and successful American business and industry tycoons. Place Vendôme soon grew to become an international symbol of elegance and Parisian luxury, opening boutiques in holiday resorts such as Deauville, Vichy, Nice, and Monte-Carlo. In 1925, Van Cleef & Arpels won the grand prize at the International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts with a diamond and ruby bracelet designed with white and red roses.1 In 1926, Estelle and Alfred’s daughter Renėe Puissant became the Maison’s artistic director, creating iconic jewelry pieces such as the Japanese-inspired Panier Fleuri brooch and the dazzling ruby and diamond Collerette. Puissant’s creations helped establish Van Cleef & Arpels as a leader in cutting edge pre-war jewelry design.2 It was also during this time that the Maison introduced luxury châtelaines and bracelets with hidden watch dials and tabletop clocks into their lines.3
In 1933, Van Cleef & Arpels patented their now-famous “Mystery set” technique, where the stones are placed in such a way that the prongs are disguised, creating a seamless line of stones. This intricate technique is still practiced in a limited capacity to this day and has only been adopted by a small number of master jewelers as the technique can take more than 300 hours to create. As such, Mystery Set pieces are extremely rare and highly sought after. In 1942, the renowned New York City location on 744 Fifth Avenue was opened and it was there that the Maison broadened their range to include gold, semi-precious stones, and other luxury materials. In 1954, the “La Boutique” jewelry line was introduced at their Paris location. The collection included playful, cartoon-like animal clips at a more affordable cost which effectively appealed to a younger generation of clientele. In 1968, the Maison created the first long necklace from the now-iconic Alhambra collection. The sleek quatrefoil form has been incorporated since then into a variety of jewelry pieces and remains a popular staple to this day.
Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry has been collected by a number of esteemed figures, one, in particular, was Princess Grace of Monaco. The retired actress was such an avid devotee of the Maison’s jewelry that it was named the Official Supplier to the Principality of Monaco in 1956. Other high profile collectors have included Jackie Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor, the Duchess of Windsor, and other members of royalty.4
The Secondary Market Rundown
With locations now across the globe, pieces by Van Cleef & Arpels are highly sought after in both first and secondary markets. Exceptional pieces with large and plentiful stones including diamonds, rubies, and sapphires can easily hit six figures at auction. For those who want to collect a more pared-down, modern example, such as an Alhambra necklace with multiple quatrefoils, can find themselves spending four-to-five figures at auction, often not far from the original retail price. The La Boutique clips, while not as popular today as the Alhambra collection can still find a buyer at the lower end of four figures. If you own a Van Cleef & Arpels piece that is not part of an iconic collection, do not worry. Simple forms adorned in stones can still find auction results in the four-to-five figure range. In
Case Antiques’s July 2020 auction, an 18 karat gold bracelet studded with diamonds was sold for $12,000 and a pair of 18 karat white gold and diamond drop earrings were sold for $7,200, both surpassing their pre-sale estimates (buyer’s premium included).
As for the watches, secondary market prices can greatly vary depending on materials and the amount of ornamentation. An unadorned gold watch with a simple leather strap may sell for three figures, whereas an intricate, bejeweled example could fetch up to five.
Though designs may have changed in its 114 year-long history, Van Cleef & Arpels’s stellar reputation and steadfast popularity certainly have not. Their lasting legacy proves owning a piece is a worthwhile investment as their strong secondary market value, like their quality, should stand the test of time.
1. Laurel Fay, “A Dazzling History: 110 Years of Van Cleef & Arpels Jewelry,” InCollect, December 02, 2016, accessed July 15, 2020, https://www.incollect.com/articles/a-dazzling-history-110-years-of-van-cleef-arpels-jewelry)
2. Van Cleef & Arpels, “Home,” Legends of Van Cleef & Arpels – Van Cleef & Arpels, accessed July 15, 2020, https://www.vancleefarpels.com/us/en/la-maison/icons/legends-of-van-cleef—Arpels/renee-puissant-rene-sim-lacaze.html#:~:text=Renée Puissant, the daughter of,joined the company in 1922)
3. Van Cleef & Arpels, “The Beginnings of Watch-making,” The Beginnings of Watch-making – Historic Pieces – Van Cleef & Arpels, accessed July 15, 2020, https://www.vancleefarpels.com/us/en/la-maison/icons/historic-pieces/the-beginnings-of-watch-making.html)
4. Laurel Fay, “A Dazzling History: 110 Years of Van Cleef & Arpels Jewelry,” InCollect, December 02, 2016, accessed July 15, 2020, https://www.incollect.com/articles/a-dazzling-history-110-years-of-van-cleef-arpels-jewelry)