Every year Van Cleef & Arpels presents a high jewellery collection, usually based around an evocative narrative. The past decade has brought us Romeo and Juliet, the Grimm brothers fairy-tales, an ocean-inspired Seven Seas, the magical French fairy tale Peau d’Ane and California Dreaming to name a few of my favourites, and often featuring house staples such as diamond-dusted fairies, the evergreen, fully-working Zip necklace or those that reveal hidden surprises such as Le Secret. But for 2020, Van Cleef & Arpels’ Pieces Exceptionelles focuses on the big three gemstones: diamonds, emeralds and rubies with designs based on key pieces made for the house’s most famous clients. Iconic designs for classic stones highlighting the craft of high jewellery would be one way to sum up this collection.
Van Cleef has concentrated on specific stones in the past such as the Émeraude en Majesté (2016) or the Treasure of Rubies (2019) collections as well as wider ranging offerings such as the Pierres de Caractères (2013) which is where the 2020 offering fits in. While other Place Vendôme jewellers are working with unusual stone combinations that shake up the old-school hierarchy in mixing say tourmalines with emeralds, rutilated quartz with colour diamonds, Van Cleef has chosen exceptional examples of emeralds, rubies and diamonds and exalts the age-old appeal of these prized gems.
The Merveille d’émeraudes necklace and earrings are an ode to exquisite craftsmanship and enduring style of Van Cleef that has been going strong since 1906. Fresh out of the rooftop ateliers, the Merveille d’émeraudes necklace is inspired by the 1929 collaret that belonged to Princess Faiza of Egypt. Faiza was the sister of Farouk 1, the last king of Egypt. One of the last royals of a bygone era, Princess Faiza was often photographed wearing her archetypal Art Deco emerald fringe necklace with cool aplomb. The original is now in Van Cleef & Arpels’ collection of jewels.
While the original collaret has nine emerald drops, the newcomer has five Colombian pear-shape emeralds that add up to 70.40 carats. The emeralds were cut in two from old, thicker pendants that were in the house’s gem vault. Though Van Cleef does not specify where the stones were sourced or their age, the deep green and richness of the internal gardens in each stone is indicative of material found in the older mines of Colombia. In Art Deco style, the emeralds are surrounded by ribbons of baguette and triangle-cut diamonds and the clasp is an indulgent detail with a trail of diamonds down the nape of the neck.
Like many of Van Cleef’s jewels the emerald drops can be replaced with other pendants. In this case three pear-cut diamonds can be swopped over and they are of course of the very best quality with tip top credentials. Their details are: a 5.81 carats D colour and a pair of 3.59 carats D colour Internally Flawless Type IIA diamonds. The same stones or indeed the emeralds can also be suspended from the wing-shaped earrings.
The stunning Rubis en scène bracelet is a tribute to one of the great jewellery wearers of the silver screen. Marlene Deitrich wore the outsized, show-stopping Jarretière ruby bracelet to the Oscars in 1951 although she had purchased the jewel from Van Cleef in 1937. As provocative and seductive as the actress herself, this landmark design finds new life in the Rubis en scène bracelet set with 72 cushion-cut Burmese rubies that weigh 84.74 carats. The two semicircles are set with richly coloured rubies that shimmer in shades from bright red to purple. Diamonds add an extra dose of high voltage audacity to this outstanding creation.
Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis was one of Van Cleef & Arpels devoted clients and the Tendresse étincelante earrings echo a pair that were given to her as a wedding gift in 1968 by Aristotle Onassis. The original version featured glossy ruby cabochon pendants below diamond-set flowers. The Tendresse étincelante earrings have a very similar structure but are in white gold with generously-sized detachable pear-shape diamond pendants. The diamonds are both Type IIA, D colour and flawless and weight just over 10 carats each.
Looking at the Pieces Exceptionelles trio, it reminds us that sometimes, old-school is best, particularly when mustering the very best of Place Vendôme heritage with the stones that, for good reason, have captivated us for centuries.