Saturday, December 9, 2017

Oh, patents! Van Cleef & Arpels' Serti mystérieux

Copyright © Françoise Herrmann

(Alfred) Van Cleef was to (Estelle) Arpels, what Romeo was to Juliet… (minus the dysfunctional families). Indeed, quite to the contrary, Estelle Arpels was the daughter of precious stone dealers, and Alfred Van Cleef was the son of  stonecutters. The product is a history of some of the most exquisite jewelry ever created, in a spirit that appears always keenly aware of the love that fueled the foundation of the company in 1906, and that continues to ignite all of its activity. Van Cleef & Arpels (originally Alfred Van Cleef and brother in-law Charles Arpels) remain a family jewelry business (including timepieces), albeit of global proportions.

The company quickly established itself as prestigious jewelers, creating award-winning jewelry and timepieces, at major universal craft fairs, in the early 20th century. For example, the Bracelet aux roses (Rose bracelet), won the Grand Prize at the 1925 Exposition Internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels (International Decorative and Industrial Art Fair); and pieces inspired by the Far East, such as the iconic Chapeau Chinois  (Chinese Hat) set, won prizes at the 1933 Exposition coloniale internationale (International Colonial Fair).

Famous people, such as the Duke and Duchess (Wallis Simpson) of Windsor  or Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, also commissioned Van Cleef & Arpels for jewelry, resulting in equally famous pieces, such as the sapphire Jarretière (garter) bracelet. Since then, the company’s most famous pieces have been retrospectively exhibited at major museums such as the Cooper-Hewitt National Museum of Design in NYC, in 2011; and France’s Musée des Arts Decoratifs, in 2012.  

Among the many hundreds of Van Cleef & Arpels (VCA) patents filed in France, in the US, and in international patent families, Le serti mystérieux (Mystery set) is perhaps one the most famous inventions. The French patent, FR764966, titled Dispositif pour monter les pierres précieuses (Device for mounting precious stones) and filed in 1933, disclosed a way of setting precious stones for jewelry, where the setting is completely concealed. The invention was intended to resolve the prior art of small claw paved settings for precious stones, which were not only visible on the surface of the stone, but which also required a lot of material on the back of the stone. Thus, in the prior art of stone settings, the back of the mounting also obscured the stones, making them less brilliant.

Particularly, the invention consists in the parallel notching of a stone, so that it can slide between the small tracks of a setting. In this new inventive way, the setting becomes invisible on the surface of the stone, and far less obstructive in the back of the piece too, allowing light to enter for more stone brilliance.

Figures 2, 4 and 5 of the patent are included to show the tracks of the setting (3, 4) from various perspectives, and the notching of the precious stones, enabling them to slide between the tracks.  A short Youtube video tutorial is also included to show the concealed setting of vintage Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry. 

Chapeau chinois (Chinese hat set)
Bracelet aux roses (Rose brecelet)
(Windsor) Bracelet jarretière (Garter bracelet)
Van Cleef & Arpels. L’Art de la Haute Joaillerie
Van Cleef & Arpels. L’Art de la Haute Joaillerie
Set in Style: Van Cleef & Arpels at Cooper-Hewitt Museum

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