Deco Design: Fashion and Van Cleef & Arpels

NEW YORK, NY -- Van Cleef & Arpels became the destination for geometric design in jewelry long before the term “Art Deco” was coined. Their origins are rooted in the year 1896, the year the son of a stone cutter and the daughter of a precious stone dealer wed. Alfred Van Cleef and Estelle Arpels formed a natural union, and before long, both families were employed in what would become one of the world's most recognizable jewelry houses. Because of their combined family history in the gemstone and jewelry industry, Van Cleef & Arpels -- officially established in 1906 -- had an inherent understanding of the power of style combined with impeccable workmanship.

The firm became known for its geometric designs. In the 1920s, modern women were wearing simple lines in their fashions, but wanted their accessories to be eye-catching. In keeping with the demand of their clients, Van Cleef produced the jewelry to match. In fact, Alfred Van Cleef designed the fresh minaudière, a type of vanity and a play on the verb minauder, meaning to simper or smile coyly, for his wife. Estelle Arpels was famous for simpering at parties and the vanities became wildly popular. Lot 327 in Doyle’s December 13 auction of Important Jewelry is a perfect example. These accessories had everything a Jazz Age woman needed, a tube for their lipstick, a powder compartment, mirror and even usually a writing pad for leaving notes.

While focusing on clean design, Van Cleef & Arpels produced stylish jewelry and accessories to match the movements of the time. Punches of color with gemstone and enamel accents also catered to the changing style. At the turn of the century, a number of Indian maharajas fell in love with Europe and with France in particular, and did not hesitate of have their ancestral treasures transformed in the European fashion.

In the same way, European exploration into the Indian continent spurred a fascination on both sides. Platinum and diamonds were added to bright carved gemstones and traditional Indian pieces. French Art Deco designs were enhanced with whimsical vases of carved colored stone leaves, entire bracelets were constructed from vines of emeralds, rubies and sapphires, gemmy drop beads became popular pendants for necklaces, and a host of other combinations became popular. This colorful style of Art Deco jewelry with floral motifs was deemed 'Tutti Frutti.' It was spearheaded by Cartier, but all houses caught on to this trend.

An exceptional example of this type of jewelry is Lot 400 in Doyle’s December 13, 2017 Important Jewelry sale. The geometric lines and carved emeralds, rubies and sapphires embody 'Tutti Frutti' jewelry, and is a rare example by Van Cleef & Arpels. The added versatility of the watch on the reverse makes this piece a truly special design.

But where Van Cleef & Arpels really excelled during this time came with the finding of King Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922. The parallel lines of Egyptian Hieroglyphics fit well with their designs already, and it was a natural inspiration. This series is one of their most well known and uses the bright colors seen in 'Tutti Frutti' jewelry, but in a more streamlined design.

Van Cleef & Arpels would continue to produce jewelry that changed with the time – always keeping their customer in mind, while maintaining a fresh look.

Important Jewelry

Featuring a selection of 24 lots by Van Cleef & Arpels spanning the 20th century
Auction December 13, 2017 at 10am
Exhibition December 9 - 12

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Portrait of specialist Martha Garcia
Vice President / Appraiser, Jewelry Department
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