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A Peek Into the Past Through an Archive-Inspired Ring

By Lynette Kee

Courtesy of Van Cleef & ArpelsArthur Hoffner, among other artistic directors who also collaborated with Van Cleef & Arpels, interpreted the curves and light of the Perlée collection in a playground of geometric shapes as part of its joyful campaign.
Arthur Hoffner, among other artistic directors who also collaborated with Van Cleef & Arpels, interpreted the curves and light of the Perlée collection in a playground of geometric shapes as part of its joyful campaign.

The clover has been the leitmotif of jewellery house Van Cleef & Arpels for more than half a century. Named Alhambra, the amulet-like design came onto the scene in 1968 as the accents on a yellow gold sautoir, converging harmoniously with a modern exoticism that won over celebrated women of the era, like Princess Grace of Monaco and French singer Françoise Hardy. Aside from its shape, one of the most recognisable emblems about the jewelled motif is the tiny, hand-polished golden beads that run along the curves of its leaves, lending a level of intricate detail that elevated the Alhambra to become the singular representation of Van Cleef & Arpel’s style.

For that, the French maison delved deep into its decorated past to rediscover a technique that predates the Alhambra’s appearance by decades. Van Cleef & Arpels had been using the gold beading technique since the 1920s, an era when natural sciences and the Art Deco movement emerged as popular themes for traditional jewellery brands. It was then a commonly used form of decorative art within the house, used widely to soften the edges of precious stones while enhancing the warmth and fluidity of its designs — its incandescent effect evoking the glitter of morning dew drops. The golden beads eventually found its way onto notable heritage pieces like the Bagatelle ring and the Couscous collection from the 1940s.

Courtesy of Van Cleef & ArpelsFrom the Van Cleef & Arpels’s archives, a 1948 retail card of a signet ring emerges, echoing the centuries-old technique traditionally used for the arts of the table.
From the Van Cleef & Arpels’s archives, a 1948 retail card of a signet ring emerges, echoing the centuries-old technique traditionally used for the arts of the table.

Fast forward to 2008, the precious beads reincarnated into an entirely new collection. Named after the French word Perlée, which translates to “pearls,” the range crystallised the spirit of the times in which they were created, emitting joyful freedom within its graphic form. Over the years, the collection evolved and presented pieces in various combinations — a cascade of diamonds, flecked with coloured gemstones or set in tinted rose gold. Despite being one of the newer collections, Perlée is redolent with old world charm simply because of the level of craftsmanship involved — the golden beads are individually crafted, polished and threaded by hand while diamonds and hard stones are carefully chosen to meet the rigorous standards of the house.

This year, Perlée introduces a new diamond pavé ring, billowed out of its usual lithe proportions, that pays tribute to its archival Tartelette ring, created in 1948. This original ring features an oval body of gold gadroon encircling a vaulted surface set with diamonds. Created during a time when Van Cleef & Arpels looked to ethereal, moving forms — ranging from nature, to art forms like dance and couture, to fantastical motifs like fairies — for sources of inspiration, the Tartelette ring depicted the undulating textures of haute couture in generous volumes of gold. Its iconic form was patented in 1949 and reinterpreted in a variety of shapes, which included men’s and women’s accessories like lighters and powder cases.

Courtesy of Van Cleef & ArpelsFor each ring, craftsmen rework the gadroons by hand from start to finish, perpetuating the maison’s tradition in craftsmanship.
For each ring, craftsmen rework the gadroons by hand from start to finish, perpetuating the maison’s tradition in craftsmanship.

Today, recreated to join the Perlée collection, the new ring showcases a boldly voluminous silhouette through a body composed of similar gold gadroons (elongated beads) and a diamond-paved dome. Fashioned in yellow, white and rose gold versions, the new Perlée ring bears similar appearance to a signet ring, which was traditionally known to be a masculine symbol of class. But in current times, the house moves with the cultural shift in which young women assimilate a conventionally masculine emblem into their new imaginings of femininity.

As with the rest of the Perlée family, the new ring undergoes thorough and minute craftwork, from the shaping of the golden gadroons by hand to studied proportions, to individually lining 37 diamonds onto an openwork structure. Designed to interact with the movement of light, the ring dances with an effervescent grace alongside the other pieces within the collection.