NEW YORK — Luck has long been one of the core values at Van Cleef & Arpels. From the beginning, the company incorporated symbols of luck into its jewelry designs, such as talismans, charms and, of course, four-leaf clovers, which first showed up in its archives in 1906.
The French jewelry house was founded in that year by Alfred Van Cleef and his wife Estelle Arpels, and opened its first location in Paris at 22 Place Vendome, where the firm is still headquartered today. Arpels’ nephew, Jacques Arpels, would sometimes pick and press four-leaf clovers and give them to employees when he became owner. He is famously quoted as saying, “To be lucky, you must believe in luck.”
“The Maison explores this theme and its associated symbols through lucky motifs and materials,” according to the jeweler’s website. In 1968, the first Alhambra long gold chain necklace debuted, and it is said to have been inspired by the look of four-leaf clovers. This motif has been a constant for the company and one that has appeared in nearly all of its jewelry forms since then, including earrings, bracelets, rings, necklaces and watches.
Named for the Moorish palace of kings in Granada, Spain, which is famous for its use of a quatrefoil pattern in its architecture and on tiles, Alhambra jewelry has become a favorite style for many. Actress-turned-princess Grace Kelly was photographed extensively throughout the 1970s at public and private events wearing Alhambra necklaces; she owned several. These distinctive necklaces featured a delicate gold chain set with quatrefoil-shaped elements described as being “stationed” around the chain at equidistant points. Commonly used materials for the stations were stones such as lapis lazuli, coral and malachite. Elizabeth Taylor was also said to be a fan, and current celebrities such as Mariah Carey and even Kate Middleton have continued the love affair with the effortlessly chic Alhambra look.
Celebrating its 55th anniversary in 2023, the Alhambra has also been reinterpreted many times, including in niche collections within the larger line. Sweet Alhambra pieces feature miniature-sized quatrefoils while Magic Alhambra mixes up the proportions for its stations, pairing bigger elements with smaller ones. There are also Lucky, Pure, and Byzantine Alhambra collections.
Most were released in limited editions, such as the Sweet Alhambra watch, which features lapis lazuli and pavé diamonds. It came out in 2018 in an edition of only 100 pieces, and one sold for $35,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2021 at GWS Auctions Inc.
For those who adore the power color red, there is a Magic Alhambra 16-motif necklace in carved carnelian with alternating clovers in tiger’s eye quartz in varying sizes. The 40in-long necklace earned $20,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2022 at Fortuna.
While necklaces often command the highest prices, a pair of Van Cleef & Arpels Magic Alhambra 18K coral earrings took $16,000 plus the buyer’s premium at GWS Auctions Inc. in April 2022. The earrings comprise two clovers in white coral bordered by gold beads.
Fashionistas and serious collectors especially covet vintage Alhambra pieces, and these continue to perform well on the auction market, encroaching on the low six figures. A limited edition vintage Alhambra necklace set with turquoise and diamond clovers attained $170,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2021 at GWS Auctions Inc. Never worn and evidently bought as an investment, the 20-motif necklace featured alternating pairs of clovers in white diamonds or turquoise. It could be worn as a single strand or doubled up.
Diamonds are said to be a girl’s best friend, but rock crystal looks spectacular and pairs well with gold, as seen in a vintage 18K gold and rock crystal Alhambra necklace, also with 20 clovers, which brought $50,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2021 at GWS Auctions Inc. When it comes to vintage Alhambra, apparently some types of stones were rarely used, reserved only for VIPs or the most affluent buyers, and rock crystal evidently was in that category. The clear translucent nature of the rock crystal clovers, balanced by the gold beads, ensures a timeless look that can be worn with any outfit.
The number of clovers a piece has varies, and typically depends on the size and nature of the piece. An 18K white gold and diamond women’s watch boasts a single Alhambra charm. The 18K white gold watch realized $18,000 plus the buyer’s premium at GWS Auctions Inc. in April 2021. The watch’s dial also has a quatrefoil cut-out in its center also.
Examples with bold colors are also collectible, such as a 20-motif Alhambra necklace in malachite that went out at $16,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2022 at Ahlers & Ogletree Auction Gallery. Lapis lazuli is another popular stone with Van Cleef & Arpels, prized for its coloration and symbolism. A Magic Alhambra lapis lazuli necklace, measuring 31½in in length, in 18K gold with 10 clovers, sold for $20,000 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2023 at Farber Auctioneers.
Even contemporary Alhambra pieces perform well at auction, such as a 2010s mother-of-pearl and onyx wristwatch having seven clovers, which brought $10,000 plus the buyer’s premium at Hindman in September 2021.
The four-leaf clover is a simple yet striking design, and one that has become a signature look for Van Cleef & Arpels and the many who don Alhambra jewelry. While pieces from the famed line might not bestow luck upon their wearers, they do give them confidence and they add the perfect finishing touch to their outfits.