As a jewelry specialist at Christie's, people often ask me: What makes a piece of jewelry iconic? I have thought about this many times over the years and always find myself changing the answer. Is it a jewel that best represents a time and place in history, or is it a jewel that remains as timeless as when it was first created? Is it a one-of-a-kind jewel or something produced in the thousands? Or can all of the aforementioned be filed under iconic?
In 1954 Van Cleef & Arpels made a decision that would forever change the way jewelry from the most sought-after houses was sold. The famous French brand launched 'La Boutique' in Paris, where they began producing more "affordable" jewels featuring semi-precious gems and hard stones accented by diamonds.
Originally conceived as a way to lure a younger clientele, La Boutique proved to be an ideal selling tool. In addition to attracting buyers in their 20’s and 30’s who wished to have a more affordable high-end piece of jewelry, many of their most established patrons soon began buying these lower-price-point pieces for daytime wear, in addition to what they were buying at the house for more formal occasions. From the whimsical jeweled animal brooches to ‘Rose de Noel’ jewels, these pieces have all become instantly recognizable and identifiable with Van Cleef & Arpels. Yet for all of the jewels that the boutique produced, arguably their most important would emerge in 1968.
Designed as a long gold chain set with four-leaf clover shaped stations, the Alhambra was born from Jacques Arpel’s belief in lucky talismans, and it became an instant favorite for some of the world’s most famous women. Major jewelry collectors from Lyn Revson to Elizabeth Taylor could be seen wearing them with kaftans, day dresses, and everything in between.
Long before they were used as a form of identifiable status, Princess Grace of Monaco could be seen wearing examples set with coral, malachite, rock crystal, and tortoiseshell, most often stacked in twos or threes around her neck. Oftentimes, she suspended a larger clover-shaped rock crystal pendant from one of the chains for additional flourish.
As I walked up Madison Avenue one evening after work, I counted no less than 10 women wearing a piece of Alhambra. The feeling among many jewelry collectors and connoisseurs today is that a piece of Alhambra is a starter model in the world of jewelry, and as a result, is often thought of as simple and basic. I wonder
Claibourne Poindexter is a specialist in Christie's jewelry department.
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.