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The Varuna: one of the Maison’s first special orders
Celebrated for its High Jewelry savoir-faire, Van Cleef & Arpels also won renown early on by creating precious objects. This tradition of combining rare materials and functionality is especially seen in beauty compacts, Minaudières, table clocks and smoking accessories.
Some pieces were specifically commissioned, such as the scale model of the Varuna Yacht, created in 1906[JS1] , which stands out as one of the first orders placed with the Maison. It is said to have been requested by M. Eugene Higgins, owner of the actual schooner “Varuna of New York,” considered the most modern ship of its time. A leading figure in late 19th century New York high society, this seasoned skipper hosted King Christian IX of Denmark, Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich of Russia and even Emperor Wilhelm I of Germany aboard his yacht.
On this scale model, the Varuna is portrayed sailing in rough seas, amid waves delicately sculpted from a block of solid jasper and edged with a golden band. The oval base is made of ebony, while the yacht itself is fashioned in gold, as well as white, green and red enamel, this last representing the portholes. On each side of the jasper block, gold, silver and enamel life buoys are adorned with the inscription “Varuna, NYC,” while the American flag flies from the stern. Designed to grace a table, this sculpture was initially equipped with an electric butler’s bell incorporated into the funnel. Today, the Varuna is one of the most remarkable pieces in the Van Cleef & Arpels Collection.