Van Cleef & Arpels created one of its most memorable designs in the 1940s - a jewel-encrusted ballerina brooch! World Ballet Day is taking place on the 29th of October, and is celebrated through exclusive ballet performances streamed live from the best companies around the world. Like jewellery, ballet brings ethereal light and beauty to the world, and in the times of Covid, it is a shame that we cannot see these beautiful performances in person. Nevertheless to celebrate this day, we couldn’t resist turning our attention on Van Cleef & Arpels exclusive and fanciful designs.
Who Are Van Cleef & Arpels?
One of the world’s most famous designers, Van Cleef & Arpels are known for their whimsical and elegant fine jewellery designs. Founded in 1896 by Alfred Van Cleef and Salomen Arpels in Paris (where else!?), Van Cleef & Arpels have established themselves within jewellery couture, with their most famous designs featuring flowers, Alhambra's and fairies.
Photograph of Alfred Van Cleef and Estelle Arpels on their wedding day, c.1895, Source - Van Cleef & Arpels
Van Cleef & Arpels were especially chosen to help create the crown for Iranian Empress Farah Pahlavi in the 1960s and the crown for Queen Nazli of Egypt in the 1930s. These master jewellers captivated the hearts and eyes of the very upper echelons of society, with their pieces leading their way for feminine jewellery designs.
Van Cleef & Arpels weren’t just known for their prancing ballerinas, but they were also believed to have invented the minaudiére. This was a bejewelled case that was inspired by the French Opera singer Florence Jay Gould, and was believed to be able to hold all of a women’s necessities including a comb, lipstick, watch, cigarette holder, lighter, mirror and compact.
Van Cleef & Arpels also championed the “mystery set”, which received its own French patent. The mystery set is essentially where the stones are set with no visible prongs - requiring a talented, highly skilled and steady hand. It is believed that the mystery set can take around 300 hours, which is why only a handful of the most amazing pieces are made every year.
The Van Cleef & Arpels Ballerinas
So, what is the history behind Van Cleef & Arpels ballerinas? These were first created by Maurice Duvalet a designer at the firm and Jean Rubel a manufacturer. Louis Arpel were friends with George Balanchine, one of the world’s most famous ballet choreographers, and this served as their inspiration. Another inspiration was the flamenco dancers residing in lower east side Manhattan New York.
Other ballerina brooches were inspired by the 18th century painting of French dancer Marie Anne de Cupis Camargo and the late 19th century photograph of Anna Pavlova as well as the famous ballerina paintings of Edgar Degas. These pretty brooches were encrusted with precious gemstones and were an enchanting design created in the aftermath of the Second World War, a time when the world needed some light relief!
The most sartorial socialites clamoured after these brooches. Although each brooch would differ in gemstone choice, position and metal, the key unifying factor were the rose cut Diamond faces of the ballerinas. In fact, it is believed that these rose cut Diamonds came from the Spanish Crown jewels. Nevertheless, it gave them extra romance and lovely texture.
One of the more unofficial muses of these jewels was the acclaimed British dancer Alicia Markova, who was having a romantic affair with the married Louis Arpels! Nevertheless, no matter who was the ultimate inspiration, these brooches have fetched high prices, with the most recent vintage pieces selling for £400,000 at an auction.
The Van Cleef & Arpels ballerinas were crafted between the 1940s and 1960s, and since has become a hallmark of mid-century vintage jewellery fashions. Yet, in the past couple of years, a dancer or two has become a rare feature amongst their collections, each bedazzling as the next. The poses of these dancers mimic the most famous shapes and positions in ballet, from the delicate arabesque to an aerial jéte and pirouette, plus the tutus are crafted to possess the fluidity, texture and character of their fabric counterparts, with the shape and colour of each gemstone carefully considered. Since their beginnings, they have created ballerina pins for each famous ballet. So far these include:
- Swan Lake
- La Sylphide
- The Nutcracker
- Sleeping Beauty
Notably in 2018 Fall Haute Couture week, Van Cleef & Arpels released 12 exclusive brooches that were inspired by the Grimm’s fairytale the Twelve Dancing Princesses. Over the years, these rare designs have evolved to accommodate different jewellery trends. For instance the “Olindias” Gold and Diamond brooch made in 2015 is sinuous in shape, fitting in with contemporary abstract jewellery.
It’s not just ballet that has been celebrated and immortalised through their jewellery, but they have also recognised dancers from around the world from the Nikiya ballerina clip to an Isles Dancer, Thai dancers, and Bollywood.
Just looking at these fine pieces brings a well of awe and emotions to the surface. Dance, like jewellery, has the pursuit of perfection and grace at its very centre. This poetry and affinity is beautifully rendered through Van Cleef & Arpels creations, making them the most beguiling jewels we have ever seen! In fact, in this context, jewellery and dance are linked even more, through George Balanchine’s creation of the ballet “Jewels” with three acts “Emerald”, “Rubies” and “Diamonds”. Balanchine was inspired by Van Cleef & Arpels creations and in 2007, with the 40th anniversary of Jewels, Van Cleef & Arpels collaborated with the Royal Ballet to create a limited edition Ballet Precieux collection.
Today, their most recent is the figurative Romeo and Juliet brooches, a ballet and love story that is a tale as old as time! The Romeo and Juliet collection has been brought to life by Benjamin Millepied, with the collection being accompanied by a plethora of beautiful jewellery inspired by both literal and metaphors that pervade throughout. The designs were not only inspired by the play, but also the setting of Verona and Renaissance jewellery. Romance and colour is at the centre of their jewellery narrative, culminating in pieces that are equally as playful as they are pretty.
Another Van Cleef & Arpels reinterpretation of these themes is of Peu D’Anne, a traditional French fairytale by Charles Perreault in 2014. The most famous of these is the Lilac Fairy, and the Princesses Sky, Moon and Sun dresses, each as beautiful as the next.
As previously mentioned, these jewels brought light and love during the dark days of World War II, an affection and need that clearly resonates with us today amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. Each collection shows how these masters can still capture every little girls dreams, bringing the enigma of fairytales to life.
You can find out more about the English Royal Ballet's 2020 World Ballet Day event here!
You can also support the Royal Ballet through the Covid-19 pandemic here.
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