The Alhambra Collection is one of the most recognizable designs from the prestigious jewelry house Van Cleef & Arpels. We’ll be offering a pair of these famous necklaces in March’s Important Spring Auction, so here’s what you need to know about the beautifully understated quatrefoil pieces.

1. The Alhambra design recently turned 50 years old.

Alhambra was first introduced in 1968 by Jacques Arpels in the form of an all-gold opera-length necklace. Designed in the same year as the May 68 revolution in Paris, the Alhambra necklace was the perfect bohemian design for a new France, where the economy was strong but the youth demanded a change from the previous generation’s conservatism. The May 68 uprising was the French answer to the social changes that took place throughout the 60’s in the United States and England. Since then Alhambra pieces have been made from a number of precious materials like malachite and mother-of-pearl.

2. The design of the Alhambra collection was inspired by the Alhambra palace in Granada, Spain.

The Alhambra Palace is one of the world’s best surviving examples of early Islamic architecture. It was first built in 889 and then rebuilt in the 13th century by the founder of the Nasrid Dynasty in the Emirate of Granada, which was the last independent Muslim state on the Iberian Peninsula. After Christianity took over Spain, the palace became the royal court of Isabella and Ferdinand. It was then partially destroyed by Napoleon, and rediscovered by British intellectuals and European travelers in the 19th century. Jacques Arpels visited the Alhambra in the late 60’s and was inspired by the palace’s decorative elements.
3. Grace Kelly was an early adopter.

Van Cleef & Arpels became an Official Supplier of the Principality of Monaco after Prince Ranier and Grace Kelly visited the New York branch of the jeweler a few months before their wedding to purchase a pearl necklace and matching bracelet, ring and earrings for the soon-to-be Princess. When the Alhambra necklace debuted in the late 60’s, the Princess wore it early and often. Other 60’s-era celebrities who loved the design included Elizabeth Taylor and French singer Françoise Hardy. In the modern fashion world, Alhambra pieces are worn as shorthand for understated luxury and can be spotted on contemporary style icons from Reese Witherspoon to Amal Clooney and Princess Grace’s descendants.
4. The Alhambra jewelry design is Van Cleef & Arpel’s symbol of luck, health, fortune and love.

The quatrefoil shape of the Alhambra design takes its most obvious good luck symbology from a four leaf clover. But the quatrefoil has been used in art and architecture the world over virtually since the beginning of human culture. It appears in the temples of Mesoamerica, representing the four directions (North, South, East and West) and in Gothic and Renaissance architecture, symbolizing the four evangelists of the Bible - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The quatrefoil’s classical roots make it the perfect jewelry referent for timeless good taste.
Two Van Cleef & Arpels Alhambra Necklaces

Upcoming: The Important Spring Auction
Saturday, March 14th
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