Charmed life: Alhambra is 50 years old

The history of  Van Cleef & Arpels' best selling Alhambra jewels reveals luck streak. 

Van Cleef Arpels Alhambra malachite ring

“To be lucky you have to believe in luck,” said Jacques Arpels. Which is why good luck symbols and charms have been at the heart of many Van Cleef & Arpels creations since the 1920's. The Alhambra motif is in fact a four-leaf clover, of the kind that Jacques Arpels collected in his garden in Germigny-l’Évêque just northeast of Paris. Jacques was fond of giving pressed four-leaf clovers to his staff along with an inspiring poem.

Grace Kelly or H.S.H. the Princess of Monaco wears Van Cleef & Arpels Alhambra necklace with lady-like grace as seen in Edinburgh in 1979. Getty Images Hutton Archive

The very first Alhambra long necklace was made in 1968 and 20 creased-gold four-leaf clovers with beaded edges were strung along an opera-length necklace and added to Van Cleef & Arpels’ La Boutique range of day jewels. Born in the crucible of women’s lib and at the birth of the jet set, the Alhambra spoke of exotic travels and a bright new future for women. Grace Kelly (above), Romy Schneider (below) and Françoise Hardy were just some of the elegant women who draped the Alhambra around their necks.

Romy Schneider in 1974 wearing Van Cleef & Arpels Alhambra necklace on set in Michel Deville's film  'Le Mouton Enragé'.  Credit: Catherine Rotulo

Fifty years on and the Alhambra is more ubiquitous than ever. Variations of the Alhambra soon appeared in 1971 hard stones such as malachite and lapis lazuli were added to the mix followed hot on its heels by onyx, coral, tiger’s eye and turquoise.

Jacques Arpels was known to pick four-leaf clovers from his country house garden, press them and then give them to staff in the Paris workshops. The lucky motif is the inspiration for Van Cleef Arpels Alhambra range that has grown to include malachite and mother of pearl as shown here. 

Ten years later mother of pearl and carnelian adorned the Alhambra and later blue agate and rock crystal. In 1998 the Alhambra watch made and entrance and designers got more creative with chalcedony, Sèvres porcelain and letterwood. The original design with beaded edges is now referred to as the Vintage Alhambra while the Pure Alhambra is a sleeker version launched in 2001 with smooth edges.

Like the original Alhambra sautoir, or long necklace, this Van Cleef & Arpels 50th anniversary Vintage Alhambra necklace features beaded edges and grey mother-of-pearl and diamonds. 

To celebrate 50 years of swinging sautoirs, a new version of the Vintage Alhambra in grey mother-of-pearl and diamonds in pink gold (above) and onyx and diamonds in white gold are being produced. And for those after something exclusive, two versions of the Vintage Alhambra necklace and bracelets have been produced in very limited numbers. One features lapis lazuli (below) and diamonds and the other in rock crystal. Feeling lucky? Add one of these to your wish list and keep your fingers crossed. 


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