VAN CLEEF & ARPELS THE ZIP NECKLACE REVIEW
Last week during a preview day of Masterpiece, I had a rare opportunity to try on and chat with Nicolas Bos, Van Cleef & Arpels Creative Director and CEO, about one of Van Cleef’s iconic and much sought-after design: the Zip Necklace. Every zip necklace is unique, and the one on show here was crafted from white gold, diamonds and rubies. Invented in late 19th century America as a fastening for boots, the humble zipper seems far removed from the realm of sophistication, high jewellery in particular! Yet despite its humble origins, it has inspired one of Van Cleef & Arpels’ most iconic pieces. The Zip necklace blends humour and craftsmanship.
In 1938 Duchess of Windsor challenged Renée Puissant, the Maison’s artistic director and daughter of Alfred Van Cleef, to design a high jewellery zipper. She was inspired by Elsa Schiaparelli, whose biography I have just read and one of her favourite designers and the first couturier to use visible zippers in the early 1930s.
The finished high jewellery piece is an outstanding feat of jewellery engineering. The seemingly simple transformative function of a zipper hides within an extremely complex jewellery architecture and technique. It took Van Cleef & Arpels roughly 15 years to realise Duchess of Windsor’s request. Zippers we use on handbags and clothes work because the steel teeth are attached to elements that do not change shape and spaces between teeth are always the same. However gold is malleable and soft, so you cannot create a gold necklace in an industrial manner. Instead, such necklace has to be made by hand, adjusting each teeth one by one, and there is only one workshop in the world that has the knowledge and skill to do so. The Zip necklace was revisited in various forms throughout the 50’s and is still a distinctive element in Van Cleef & Arpels’ collections today.
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