What's the secret of this long-lasting success?


Françoise Hardy wearing the Alhambra necklace

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The iconic Alhambra collection by French jewellery house Van Cleef & Arpels has just turned 50!

Princess Grace of Monaco and her daughter, Princess Caroline von Hannover, the Duchess of Cornwall, Rania of Jordania, and stars and celebrities like Françoise Hardy, Romy Schneider, Reese Witherspoon, Cameron Diaz and Paris Hilton all have worn the famous four-leaf clover necklaces, earrings, rings and bracelets, Van Cleef & Arpels lucky charms. In these 50 years, the collection has never stopped growing, introducing different combinations of precious metal, stones and sizes. Van Cleef & Arpels included four new models to celebrate the anniversary of the timeless design. The Duchess of Cornwall, for instance, wore a beautiful two strand necklace and earrings made with green clovers of different sizes.

What is the secret behind such a long-lasting success?

Jacques Arpels first designed the charming and simple motif of this jewellery collection in 1968, the year of a crucial cultural revolution in France and most of Europe. The fresh long necklaces were perfect for the modern woman-on-the-go, who didn’t want to wear stuffy old jewellery anymore. Françoise Hardy, the French singer and queen of the “yé-yé girls”, was one among many to swirl on the dance floor with one, or several Alhambra necklaces flying around as they danced. Earrings, bracelets and rings were made to match the necklaces so that you can add always new items to your collection.

The first necklace was made in gold only, but in the following years, the French house introduced clovers in white or grey mother-of-pearl, diamonds, coloured stones such as malachite, turquoise, lapis lazuli, onyx, cut in different sizes and combined in so many ways that you have models for every taste, style and age. 

Alhambra necklace and earring in yellow gold and tiger's eye

Why is the collection called Alhambra?

Alhambra is the name of a fortress dating of AD 889, in Granada, Andalusia, Spain. It was transformed into a royal palace for the Sultan of Granada and later became the Royal Court of Isabella Queen of Castile. The castle was rediscovered and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a tourist attraction famous for being an excellent example of Muslim architecture and art with direct Byzantine influences. Jacques Arpels, like many other French tourists, visited Alhambra in the late 60’s, where he saw the quatrefoil design on tiles that decorate the walls and floor of the stunning palace, which inspired the creation of the fine jewellery house's instant hit.

Alhambra bracelet and Byzantine brooch that belonged to Queen Aregonde

What is the origin of the quatrefoil motif?

The origin of this popular shape dates back to many centuries. The four-leaf-clover shape first appeared in the Kélibia baptismal font discovered in a Byzantine Catholic Church from the 5th century in Tunisia. The architecture of the Byzantine Empire influenced the medieval and Renaissance architecture, and we find the same four-leave shape in brooches belonging to Arégonde, the Merovingian queen who reigned in the 6th century, and later, decorating Venetian palaces, on the facade of the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris or on golden coins from the Kings of France from the14th century. 

Photos via Van Cleef & Arpels