The collection’s pieces takes us through six decades of glorious styles.
Beyond any doubt, diamonds take the spotlight at Van Cleef & Arpels this year – more than ever before, as the French maison has dedicated not just one, but two major high jewellery collections to the king of gemstones. Making history with Legend of Diamonds, its latest oeuvre unveiled over two distinctive chapters, which demonstrates the maison’s deep reverence for the stone and its wealth of expertise in making exceptional creations.
The first salvo made its debut at the Paris haute couture week, introducing jewellery lovers all over the world to a magnificent 910-carat rough diamond named the Lesotho Legend – a one-of-a-kind diamond that is perfect in every way: D colour, beautiful crystallisation, and chemically pure with incredible optical clarity.
From it, Van Cleef & Arpels derived 67 spectacular diamonds of varying cuts and carats to produce 25 unique high jewellery pieces that make up Legend of Diamonds – 25 Mystery Set Jewels. Van Cleef & Arpels’ second act continues in Legend of Diamonds – White Diamond Variations, where 82 phenomenal high jewellery creations will take your breath away as they transport you through the decades down memory lane.
Beginning with the 1920s Art Deco period, the maison traces the evolution of this iconic style, which in fact started out on a more naturalistic path before gradually embracing geometrical influences. This stylistic progression is showcased in the Floraison de Diamants white gold bracelet, whose sumptuous volumes are inspired by Van Cleef & Arpels’ bandeaux bracelets of the ’20s.
Using a variety of details and setting techniques – snow, rail, prong, festooned and closed, Van Cleef & Arpels endowed the piece with overlaying abstract and geometric shapes that would soon give rise to the graphical aesthetic that is so deeply emblematic of the Art Deco style.
Upholding the later definition of Art Deco, the Roaring Twenties transformable long necklace espouses symmetrical lines and strict geometric patterns, while cradling a stunning DIF Type 2A rose-cut pear-shaped diamond of 10.32 carats at its heart.
The white and rose gold creation can be converted from a lariat necklace into three short necklaces, three different long necklaces, or two bracelets. The Art Deco theme continues in the fabulously openworked Chrysler and Dear Liz white gold earrings, which are inspired by a 1920s Bow brooch that belonged to actress Elizabeth Taylor, whose unquenchable love for jewellery was known to all.
Next comes the 1930s, when Van Cleef & Arpels exhibited its legendary Médicis necklace at the International Exhibition of Arts and Techniques in Paris. Heavily influenced by the world of fashion, the necklace evoked a collar crafted out of ribbons using diamonds in baguette, pear and brilliant cuts.
Its modern reincarnation appears in Legend of Diamonds – White Diamond Variations as the Vagues étincelantes necklace, which is modelled after the reticella collar, a popular fashion accessory made of needle lace worn by women in the Renaissance. With diamonds flowing in sparkling concave waves, it resembles clear, limpid ocean water rushing upwards towards the hollow of the neck.
The austerity of the 1940s saw jewellers of the time favouring goldsmithing and crafting over diamonds. Pieces such as the Boogie-woogie rose gold bracelet and New Haricot clip in white and rose gold were designed to elicit joy and delight.
Because they are such a recognisable creation of the maison, vintage Haricot clips are especially collectible today. One of the earliest fans of this jewellery style was Jacqueline Kennedy, who was often seen wearing one.
Another one of Van Cleef & Arpels’ most easily recognised creations is the Envol de Diamants white gold necklace. Its dynamic lines and substantial heft make it a strong statement piece that is also fun to wear. Some vintage Envol necklaces feature a star or an airplane motif, the latter symbolic of the burgeoning air travel industry in the ’50s – and a tribute to the French pilot Jacqueline Auriol, who was the first European woman to break the sound barrier.
Likewise, the Fabulous Fifties necklace pays homage to the glamour of this decade, with radiant lines evoking rivers of diamonds on a fully articulated openworked white gold structure. Taking centre stage here is an emerald-cut DIF Type 2A diamond of 10.06 carats cut to tennis-court proportions, which gives the stone a perfectly harmonious length-to-width ratio.
Next was the swinging ’60s, an era that saw the rise of the hippie movement and when everyday luxury reigned as the operative buzzword. Van Cleef & Arpels raises a toast to its darling La Boutique collection, which although launched in 1954, truly came of age in the ’60s. Capturing this playful aesthetic is the Fée Naïca clip, which presents a charming little fairy sitting on rocks.
Made with the rare wax casting technique, the stunning three-dimensionality of this white and yellow gold jewel, alternating textures of smooth, hammered, and creased surfaces provide all the visual drama one could expect from a Van Cleef & Arpels high jewellery creation.
The maison’s designs soared to ever greater heights in the ’70s, taking full advantage of the decade’s maximalist élan. Pieces created during this period had often been deeply emotive, with powerful volumes and vibrant colours. White diamonds were mainly used for emphasis as jewellers used creative license with precious and semi-precious materials of all kinds. Espousing this “more is more” spirit were Van Cleef & Arpels’ Between the Finger rings co-joining two separate motifs in a single jewellery piece. The house honours this tradition today in the New Rubens Between the Finger ring in white gold, composed of a stylised leaf reminiscent of an Indian-inspired paisley pattern alongside a 3.08-carat DVVS1 Type 2A emerald-cut diamond.
The stellar collection closes with a traipse through the ’80s when high jewellery made its dramatic return to contemporary lifestyles, pushing the prices and value of exceptional stones to an all-time high. This era’s fashion conventions changed from wearing many smaller pieces to fewer, but more significant, creations to make a bold statement. This trend has continued well into the 21st century, and one that Van Cleef & Arpels gladly celebrates in Legend of Diamonds – White Diamond Variations.