The Magic of Van Cleef & Arpels

When Estelle Arpels married Alfred Van Cleef in 1895, an extraordinary legacy of the finest jewelry and watches was born. Arpels, the daughter of a gemstone dealer, and Van Cleef, the son of a diamond broker, forged a partnership between their two families. Van Cleef formed a business with Arpels’ brother, Charles, and opened the doors to their jewelry and watch atelier on Paris’ famed Place Vendome in 1906. Van Cleef & Arpels still occupies the same space today, along with stores in major cities around the world.


Creativity and original designs were a hallmark of the brand from the start. By 1933, Van Cleef & Arpels had already adorned many of France’s high society women with made-to-order jewels.

Mystery set jewelry by Van Cleef & Arpels

Pair of Van Cleef Arpels Mystery-Set ruby and diamond earringsEver the innovator, the company received a patent for its Mystery Set gem-setting technique in the same year. The Mystery Setting allows the gemstone to be attached to the jewelry from underneath the stone, rather than on the sides of the stone, so no gold is visible on the outside of the piece.



The Cadenas watch design was the company’s next design triumph: a slender wristwatch whose clasp resembles a horsebit with the watch dial sitting vertically on the wrist. A favorite of the Duchess of Windsor, the Cadenas watch remains in the collection to this day.

Sketch and early example of a Cadenas watch


Gracel Kelly wearing Van Cleef
Stars and Royalty wear Van Cleef & Arpels

In 1942, Claude Arpels opened in New York City at 744 Fifth Avenue, where it still remains. Van Cleef’s reputation had soared in the United States, and the brand counted Barbara Hutton and Maria Callas among their clients. The Prince of Monaco bought his fiancee, Grace Kelly, a full set of pearl and diamond jewelry – necklace, bracelet, ring and earrings – to be worn at their wedding.


Claude Arpels’ creative flair for design put him at the center of New York’s burgeoning artistic community. In 1967, an original ballet by George Balanchine, simply titled Jewels, premiered in New York, the result of a legendary collaboration between Claude Arpels and Balanchine.

The Van Cleef & Arpels Alhambra Collection

The eastern influences of the 60s inspired the introduction of the Alhambra collection of jewelry. A symbol of good luck and harmony, this exemplary design has a worldwide following. Its now-classic design is still popular today.

Van Cleef & Arpels watches

Pierre Arpels Watch

Watchmaking became a focus for Van Cleef & Arpels in the 1970s. In addition to the Pierre Arpels and Cadenas collections, which were chiefly extensions of their original designs, the brand entered the world of complications and greatly expanded the collections for men. In 1979, they introduced a skeletonized version of the Pierre Arpels watch. Next came a dual time zone watch. Following the desires of their devoted clientele, ladies “poetic complications” have become a focus for the brand, with highly decorated dials featuring mother of pearl, enameling, and, of course, precious jewels.