Drawing of a vanity or cigarette box cover, 1925, Van Cleef & Arpels Archives
Spurred on by significant archeological finds, first-hand accounts of journeys around the world, and the rise of Universal Exhibitions, the Western world’s fascination with the East intensified during the 1920s.
To satisfy their clientele’s taste for exoticism, the Maison designed jewelry inspired by the Far East, in particular the Chinese and Japanese cultures.
Jade, lacquer, coral, mother-of-pearl, enamel, pagodas, dragons, landscapes, cherry blossoms, Chinese calligraphy, peonies… These are just some of the Far Eastern forms, colors, materials, themes, and savoir-faire, which have graced Van Cleef & Arpels’ creations from the 1920s to the present day.
Nécessaire au dragon, 1923, Van Cleef & Arpels Collection / Nécessaire au Dragon retail card, 1923, Van Cleef & Arpels' Archives / Articulated Chinese bracelets retail cards, 1924, Van Cleef & Arpels' Archives
For this nécessaire, Chinese culture contributes the emblematic Dragon, along with a contrasting red and black color scheme, and the use of enamel for a smooth lacquer-like finish.
These designs for articulated bracelets alternate Chinese- and Japanese-inspired motifs set with rubies, sapphires, diamonds, emeralds, and onyx.
Portico Clock drawing, circa 1920, Van Cleef & Arpels' Archives
The extraordinary clock design from the 1920s is a Mysterious Clock and is shaped like the portico of Shinto temples. Its dial displays the traditional Japanese savoir-faire of mother-of-pearl marquetry.
Chinese inspired vanity case, circa 1925, Van Cleef & Arpels' Archives / Vanity in colored mother-of-pearl marquetry by artist Vladimir Makovsky, 1925, Van Cleef & Arpels Collection
Vanity cases offered another ideal surface for Japanese mother-of-pearl marquetry. Many of them were adorned with Far Eastern designs and landscapes. The 1925 green jasper creation is signed by the Russian artist Vladimir Makowsky, who created Van Cleef & Arpels’ most elaborate and impressive vanities. Settled in Paris after many journeys to Asia, he had mastered the art of mother-of-pearl marquetry.
Japanese inspired clip pendant, 1924, Private Collection
This 1924 pendant plaque displays a different take on the Japanese art of marquetry and landscape representation. It features a pierced composition set with diamonds, onyx, brightly colored sapphires, rubies, and emeralds, suspended to a long chain made of diamond and onyx.
Turquoise table clock and tobacco case, 1930, Van Cleef & Arpels Collection / Chinese Perfume Bottle, 1925, Van Cleef & Arpels Collection
Far Eastern decoration and craftsmanship were reinterpreted in many objects designed for Western tastes and functions, combining the savoir-faire of both cultures.
This engraved turquoise creation, an 18th century Chinese perfume bottle transformed into a table clock and tobacco case by Van Cleef & Arpels, perfectly illustrates this blend of different cultures.
However, the red lacquer perfume bottle, although very similar, is not an authentic 18th century piece, but created in 1925 by the Maison. Adorned with a phoenix and Chinese-style cloud design, and accompanied by an ivory stirrer, this bottle near-perfectly mimics Chinese bottle design.
Magicien Chinois pocket watch, 1927, Van Cleef & Arpels Collection / Chapeau Chinois necklace, 1931, Van Cleef & Arpels Collection
Over the decades this Far Eastern inspiration continued to fascinate the Maison, living on and evolving as it was reinterpreted in various Van Cleef & Arpels’ creations.
The Magicien Chinois pocket watch from 1927 and the Chapeau Chinois set from 1931 are obvious references to the Chinese culture.
Dragon clip, 1969, Van Cleef & Arpels Collection
This Dragon clip from 1969 is a magnificent tribute to the Chinese mythical creature, which is a positive symbol of power, strength, and good luck. As so often in Chinese culture, the Dragon is depicted chasing a ball and represents the pursuit of wisdom, among other symbolic meanings.
Kikumakie clip, 2004, Lacquered Butterflies collection
Today, Far Eastern inspiration and savoir-faire are still being reinterpreted in various ways for many of the Maison’s High Jewelry collections. This Butterfly clip was created using the traditional art of Japanese lacquer…
Sérénité necklace, 2008, Les Jardins collection
… while this necklace from the collection Les Jardins is inspired by Japanese zen gardens.
Opéra Chinois earrings, 2011, Bals de légende collection
These earrings, from the Bals de Légende collection, offer a very modern interpretation of traditional Chinese Opera singers.