Claude and Pierre Arpels in India, circa 1950, Van Cleef & Arpels' Archives
The Arpels brothers were possessed by a genuine passion for stones and a curiosity for the cultures of the world. The journeys they made between the 1950s and the 1970s were rich in fabulous treasures and remarkable encounters.
Claude Arpels - the eldest of the three - was a particularly indefatigable traveler, referred to in the press of the time as the “Diamond King of Bombay” or the “Friend of Maharajas”. His travels, sometimes accompanied by his family, took him to Egypt and the Lebanon, but also to China, Thailand, Cambodia and Japan. He went round the world several times and made a dozen visits to India, which he referred to as his “jewel safaris”. The High Jewelry Maison's reputation, along with Claude's charm and expertise, served as an introduction to the courts of the Maharajas, where he discovered an abundance of magnificent stones and jewels.
Baroda Necklace special order book page, 1950, Van Cleef & Arpels' Archives / Claude Arpels
“To get to the "Palace of the White Tiger" we had to cross a lake by boat which brought us to another fairy-tale castle, surrounded by a lovely Moghul flower garden. We were led to a courtyard and there, the scene that greeted us was truly the most fabulous I have ever seen” wrote Claude in an account published by the magazine The Social Spectator.
“The courtyard was covered with jewels of every hue. They lay glistening in the sun against the background of the old velvet cases in which they had lain for hundreds of years. I was momentarily blinded by their brilliance. Emeralds of every shape and size lay side by side with diamonds that reflected the colours of the sapphires and rubies,” he added in wonder.
Byzance necklace, 1972 / Medaillons earrings, 1969 / Medaillons necklace, 1966, Van Cleef & Arpels' Collection
From these extraordinary journeys, Claude Arpels brought back a large number of cut, polished or sculpted stones, pearls and pieces of jewelry from the Maharajas' private collections. Sometimes displayed by the Maison, they contributed a far-off inspiration to its creations.
“Now as I look at the Rewa jewels and the Golconda diamonds and the oriental pearls which I brought back from other places, I can feel all the oriental poetry symbolized by the magnificence of the “Thousand and One Nights” legend and the romance of the Taj Mahal.”, Claude Arpels confided at the end of his account.
Drawing of a necklace, circa 1960 / Drawing of a long necklace, circa 1970 / Valadon Necklace, 1973, Van Cleef & Arpes' Collection
During one of his voyages, Claude Arpels met his future wife Mherulisa – known as Malou – who was born in Pakistan but had lived in India since she was 20. They were married in 1970. Her personality and taste exerted a strong influence on the Indian inspiration which made itself felt in the High Jewelry creations of Van Cleef & Arpels New York.
In the 1960's, another episode marked Van Cleef & Arpels' imagination. In 1966, the Maison was chosen to create the jewels for the coronation the Empress of Iran Farah Pahlavi. This unique experience resulted in the Empress's crown – set with 1,541 stones (diamonds, emeralds, rubies and pearls) - along with sets for the daughter and sisters of the Shah of Iran. It also provided the Maison with a lasting source of inspiration by exposing it to Persian decorative motifs and style.