Patented in 1938, the Passe-Partout is one of the first examples of the transformative pieces pioneered by Van Cleef & Arpels. Designed to adapt to its wearer’s mood, it was the perfect accessory for modern women who wanted to be able to match their jewelry to different clothes and different situations. It was one of the Maison’s best-known pieces throughout the late 30’s and 40’s.
The Passe-Partout is based on an ingenious technical innovation. Hidden by two flower clips, a system of metal rails enables a flexible yellow gold snake chain to slide in and out, transforming the piece into a necklace, a choker, an opera-length necklace, a bracelet or a belt. The flowers can also be worn alone as clips and in some cases, can even be worn as earclips.
Passe-Partout retail card, 1938, Van Cleef & Arpels’ Archives
Passe-Partout necklace, 1939, Van Cleef & Arpels Collection
Passe-Partout advertisement, 1939
Passe-Partout worn as a bracelet, 1939, Van Cleef & Arpels Collection
Hawaii brooch retail card, 1938, Van Cleef & Arpels’ Archives
Hawaii brooch, 1940, Van Cleef & Arpels’ Archives
The piece evokes the aesthetics of its time. It was always accompanied by the floral designs of the Hawaii collection, as in this example from 1939 whose contrasting blue and yellow flowers are composed of rubies and different colored sapphires.
Other examples used the motif of knots in the chain.
Both practical and imaginative, the Passe-Partout showed that a fashion accessory could also be a dazzling piece of jewelry.