Van Cleef & Arpels: time for good luck
Legendary jewellery house reveals its very first Alhambra pendant watch
Pendant watches are an invention of the 16th century. A predecessor of the pocket watch, they were worn on heavy chains around the necks of European royals as a sign of prestige and power. Today, pocket watches are phenomenally anachronistic but high jewellery watch pendants have retained their allure, adding a sense of intrigue to the artistry of gem-setting and goldsmithing with their minute mechanical gadgetry. Plus, there’s something rather magical about wearing time close to your heart on an exquisite necklace or brooch.
Here are some favourite examples: Catherine The Great, a devoted patron of the arts who supported the gem and jewellery craftsmen of St. Petersburg (albeit for selfish reasons), commissioned a pendant watch festooned with pave diamonds, finessed with a ruby cipher for Catherine II. Hollywood princess, Vivien Leigh, cherished her antique “teardrop” watch pendant which she wore as a brooch. The diamond timepiece, crowned with a large diamond bow, was a gift from her husband Laurence Olivier and was sold at auction in 2017 along with an original screenplay for Gone With The Wind. Another Hollywood heroine, the Parisian-born Claudette Colbert, who once played Cleopatra just like Leigh, loved to attach her watch pendant to her favourite multi-strand pearl necklace. Lacquered in blue enamel and intricately painted with little golden stars, the lipstick-shaped pendant had sliding “windows” to conceal the time and a gold top tassel for an extra chic finish.
High jewellery watch pendants may not be especially pragmatic but it is precisely because they are so whimsical that they are such a delight to behold. Reaching the apex of this niche craft is Van Cleef & Arpels, a jewellery house that specialises in elegance with a modern touch that embraces the playful and the unexpected. Its icons of design are well known: sparkling creations fashioned in the form of animals, fairies and ballerinas; sumptuous transformable jewels that continue to set a precedent when it comes to versatility of wear, and the famous Alhambra collection with its pretty trèfle (four-leaf clover) design outlined by beaded gold.
Indeed, the Alhambra is one of the most recognisable emblems in the world of fine jewels and an enduring symbol of uncluttered, feminine style. Since its inception in 1968, the good luck motif has been shaped in a variety of precious metals with pendant flowers cast in an abundance of textures and colours: with diamonds, blue agate, grey mother-of-pearl, Tiger’s Eye, onyx, chalcedony, guilloché yellow gold... the variety of precious stones and complex surface techniques are too numerous to mention as are the fresh and youthful silhouettes themselves, ranging from simple bracelets and earrings to statement “between the finger” rings and long sautoir necklaces. The latter, a long necklace endowed with 20 trèfle motifs, was popularised by a number of glamorous muses in the 1970s, among them Jane Birkin, Françoise Hardy (pictured below in 1973), Romy Schneider and Grace Kelly, who had such an extensive collection of Alhambra jewellery that she often took to wearing three sautoirs at once.
Inspired by this long stylish model, Van Cleef & Arpels has released an all time first: a collection of Alhambra secret watch pendants presented on an extended chain. Much thought has gone into the watch’s irresistible “peekaboo” design: time is revealed by simply pivoting the precious cover of each pendant, as if you are opening a miniature jewellery box. It’s an action that captures the very essence of playful luxury, one of the main tenets of this historical Maison, which first came into being in 1906 when it first set up home in Paris’ famous Place Vendôme.
Four designs have been unveiled: guilloché rose gold or carnelian, each contoured with pave diamonds and cloaking dials cast in white mother-of-pearl; a yellow gold and diamonds model with a guilloché yellow gold dial and a limited edition turquoise edition, with case sides set with pave diamonds and a white mother-of-pearl dial. In all, some 15 stages of selection, workmanship and checking succeed one another, resulting in a unique piece that will stand the test of time.