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Decoding the Famed 50-year-old Alhambra by Van Cleef & Arpels

By Guan Tan

 In the Workshop

From left, an artisan carves an Alhambra dial; diamonds set in the dial.  

In the Workshop

From left: an artisan polishes the gold chain and its dials; setting a grey mother-of-pearl dial.

Sautoir Alhambra Cristal de Roche

A double-tiered Alhambra necklace in crystal rock.

Sautoir Alhambra

From left: the necklace in white gold, diamonds, and onyx; the necklace in yellow gold, diamonds, and lapis lazuli.

Bracelet Alhambra

From top left, clockwise: the bracelet in crystal rock; lapis lazuli and diamonds in yellow gold; grey mother-of-pearl and diamonds in rose gold; onyx and diamonds in white gold.


"To be lucky, you must believe in luck." This phrase embodies the divine heart of the 122-year-old French jewellery house of Van Cleef and Arpels. In 1968, the house stood by this notion and debuted a long, slinky yellow gold necklace punctuated with four-leaf clovers. Of all metals, the brand chose 18-carat yellow gold, which is 75 percent gold, for its sacred significance: "Associated by numerous civilisations with the sun and divinity, yellow gold has been used by mankind since the most ancient times, notably for royal and sacred objects," the brand expressed. 

The long necklace was christened Alhambra — an ancient name of the 13th-century Alhambra palace located in Granada, Spain. The Spanish word is loosely translated to mean the red one.  The reddish exteriors camouflages the palace into the mountainous landscape which surrounds it. Yet, on the inside visitors will find exquisite, opulent and meticulous carvings and design. Beyond its historical importance, the Alhambra stands for unparalleled design and craftsmanship — probably why the French jeweller decided on this name. 

Shortly after in 1971, a second and third iteration of the Alhambra was released — now in an ocean-blue lapis lazuli, and the intense green Malachite, bringing the four-leaf clover to life. Over the next few decades, Van Cleef and Arpels designed this piece of luck in many ways — in onyx, Tiger's eye, turquoise, mother-of-pearl, carnelian, blue agate, watches, rings, bracelets, stud earrings, and shorter necklaces. 

Despite having had numerous variants, the brand never let the divinity and luck leave the Alhambra. In its most recent iterations from the past couple of years, the Alhambra was punctuated in Brazilian onyx — a deep, black stone which found popularity in the 1920s Art Deco movement. In Biblical times, the onyx was embellished on the High Priest's breastplate of judgement. 

That aside, the brand used white diamonds: "Whether as a symbol of heroism or a talisman to reconcile couples or bring a long life, this precious stone has often been associated with protection, purity and immortality."

The grey mother-of-pearl is "one of the Maison's favourite materials," and it represents "feminity, gentleness and protection." The brand made sure to include the blue lapis lazuli from 1971, a stone which is now commonly known to attract luck and fortune. 

This year, the brand has plunged itself in a celebratory of the 50th-year anniversary of the Alhambra. This very simple and unassuming four-leaf clover has found itself in almost all corners of the world — be it a genuine or counterfeited piece. It seems that people need a piece of luck in their lives. And as Van Cleef and Arpels like to quote from the French poet René Char,  luck is all around. All we need is to open our eyes, spot the little four-leaf clover that sits amongst us, and seize it.