Jewelry Blog

Complete Guide to VCA Vintage Jewelry

VAn Cleef and Arpels Bracelet Vintage VCA Jewelry on hand with flowers

There’s no doubt that Van Cleef & Arpels is a jewelry powerhouse. The recognizable elegant VCA vintage jewelry presents an ode to glamour and femininity, resulting in a timeless aesthetic. The legendary brand has never shied away from innovation, developing revolutionary techniques, and creating truly unique pieces. 

If you’re drawn to VCA’s intricate vintage designs and nature-inspired patterns, you’re in for a treat. Today, we’re tracing the dazzling Van Cleef & Arpels story throughout the decades. Join us as we explore the inspiration behind some of the most iconic collections and take a look at the most legendary VCA vintage jewelry.

What Is Vintage Van Cleef and Arpels?

Rare vintage Van Cleef & Arpels Bracelet on Model
A rare vintage Van Cleef & Arpels Bracelet from our collection.

Like all the best things in life, the story of Van Cleef & Arpels begins with love. In the 19th century, when the beautiful daughter of a precious stones merchant met the gallivant son of a diamond cutter, the two fell in love. The marriage of true minds created a solid foundation for what was to become a long-lasting diamond-crusted empire. 

In 1906, the couple opened a small jewelry shop across the street from the Hotel Ritz in Paris’s renowned Place Vendome. 

The boutique quickly rose to prominence for its exquisite jewelry and production quality. It wasn’t long before the business grew, with the help of two more family members. The expansion allowed them to open more storefronts in popular vacation sites throughout France, and soon after, VCA became synonymous with beauty and grace. 

Today, Van Cleef & Arpels is one of the most iconic vintage jewelry houses. With stores in Europe, the U.S., the Middle East, and Southeast Asia, the jewelry house is an industry giant. Their gorgeous designs are still a favorite of high society, worn by celebrities and royalty alike. 

Styles of Vintage VCA Jewelry Throughout the Decades 

Van Cleef during the 1920s

Rare Van Cleef & Arpels Art Deco Bracelet 10518 from Estate Diamond Jewelry
Rare Van Cleef & Arpels Art Deco Bracelet from our collection. SOLD

In the 1920s, Van Cleef & Arpels was heavily influenced by the then prominent Art Deco movement. The gemstones, diamonds, and platinum layout mimicked the geometrical patterns of the art style. Another historical event also greatly affected VCA designers of the time. The discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb resulted in an entire collection of intricate, flat bracelets inspired by Ancient Egypt. While the themes and motifs are derived from Egyptian art, the form is executed in the contemporary Art Deco fashion. 

The following decade was marked by innovation and invention. Namely, Alfred Van Cleef and Julian Arpels discovered a method for setting gemstones without the support of visible prongs. The revolutionary technique was named “The Mystery Set,” considered a pivotal moment in the brand’s history. 

Following the outbreak of World War II, the company relocated its headquarters to New York City. In keeping with the turbulent times, VCA started manufacturing more affordable pieces with semi-precious gems. The quality of production nonetheless remained the same, as even the cheapest jewelry was still impeccably done.

The 1920s era antique Van Cleef jewelry pieces are now very rare collectibles.

Van Cleef during the 1950s and 1960s

11722-Vintage VCA Diamond and Gold Earrings
Stunning pair of estate Van Cleef diamond and gold earrings from our collection. SOLD

During the 1950s and 1960s, the company received several significant commissions. A particularly important request came from none other than the Prince of Monaco. He wanted VCA to design a special wedding present for the impeccable Grace Kelly, Hollywood powerhouse and soon-to-be Princess of Monaco. The prince commissioned a spectacular diamond and pearl parure set that included a necklace, bracelet, and ear clips. 

The Alhambra, possibly the most iconic VCA jewelry line, was created during the late 1960s. It was inspired by the four-leaf clover motif that adorns the colorful facades of the Alhambra mosque in Granada (Spain). The most common stones used for these pieces are the mother of pearl, turquoise, diamond, onyx, and carnelian. And to top it all off, the line is still in production, and each year Van Cleef & Arpels releases a limited-edition Christmas item.

Van Cleef during the 1970s and 1980s

SM234 VCA Natural Pearl Earrings Floral Motif Rare Estate
A Very Rare Pair of Vintage Van Cleef & Arpels Natural Saltwater Pearl Earrings from our collection. Contact us for the price.

VCA jewelry pieces from the 1970s are a reflection of what was happening in the mainstream fashion of the time. They were made with coral, malachite, and turquoise, reminiscent of the flashy Studio 54 disco aesthetics. 

In the 1980s, the Col Claudine necklace was the trendsetter, inspiring bold looks and a larger-than-life aesthetic. Made with beautiful woven gold and embellished with diamond flower designs, the piece captured the glamour and glitz of the decade. 

Of course, none of this would have been possible without the ingenuity of VCA designers. From the visionary Renee Puissant, artistic director in the 1920s, to the Mains d’Or team of virtuosos, many capable hands left a mark on VCA history. 

Today, the brand is still going strong, treasuring past accomplishments but always looking to the future. 

Advantages of Vintage VCA Jewelry vs. Modern Jewelry 

Van Cleef Flower Motif Ring with cabochon sapphire
Van Cleef Flower Motif Ring, featuring a cabochon sapphire in the center. Contact us for a quote.

Some perceive this type of jewelry as outdated. However, true connoisseurs know the value of vintage pieces. Apart from being a collectible item, vintage jewelry provides insight into the most prominent fashion trends throughout the century. And thanks to the brand’s longevity, there’s no better window to the past than Van Cleef & Arpels. 

Choosing vintage VCA jewelry is like buying a one-of-a-kind masterpiece that perfectly encapsulates a fleeting moment in time. It’s also a matter of making bold fashion statements. Incorporating a vintage piece into a modern outfit can be challenging, but the result is almost always exhilarating. 

Furthermore, vintage Van Cleef and Arpels items are custom-made and thus entirely one-of-a-kind. It’s unlikely that you’ll stumble upon a similar piece unless, of course, it was a rendition of an iconic line. In contrast, mass-produced modern jewelry can be found on every other corner. So if you want a piece to complement your unique personality and style, vintage jewelry is the way to go. 

How to Know if It’s Genuine Vintage VCA? 

Examining a ring under a loupe for details

Every Van Cleef & Arpels is marked with a serial number, trademark, and metal hallmark. There have been some changes to the brand stamp throughout the decades, as is to be expected from such a long-standing company. However, authentic VCA vintage jewelry is engraved with either the “VCA” or “Van Cleef & Arpels” signature. Although the brand is colloquially referred to as “Van Cleef,” that’s not the official label of the company. 

When it comes to the signature’s placement, the company likes to play around with different pieces. 

Another way to distinguish VCA jewelry is by the quality and certification of the material. The brand only uses the most precious stones and gems for its creations. So if the diamond on your ring has a D to F color range and an IF (Internally Flawless) to VVS clarity range, rest assured it’s 100% authentic. 

The jewelry house also favors onyx, carnelian, and malachite for its gemstone selection. Another staple that adorns many iconic pieces is the Australian-sourced mother of pearls. 

Metal purity is another indicator of authenticity. All Van Cleef & Arpels pieces are made entirely of pure 18k gold and platinum. If the jewelry is labeled “750” or “Au750,” that may be all the proof you need. 

The impeccable craftsmanship is one of the major characteristics of Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry. The stone-cutters are incredibly meticulous, carefully planning where each gemstone should be cut to fit the piece best. If the precious stone isn’t appropriately trimmed or has an unsatisfactory color grade, you probably ended up with a knock-off. 

Shop Our Collection of VCA Vintage Jewelry

Estate Diamond Jewelry offers a stunning collection of VCA vintage jewelry. If you’re interested in our selection, contact us. However, you should know that not all of our pieces are included on the website. Since the entire collection is exceptionally rare, most of the pieces are available by request only.

If you’re interested in viewing the entire collection, feel free to contact us. We will gladly schedule an appointment for you to view the highly-requested VCA vintage jewelry collection. 

Vintage VCA Earrings 

VCA Lion Doorknocker Earrings on ear
A rare pair of Vintage Lion Motif Van Cleef Earrings from our collection. Learn more about the earrings.

Van Cleef & Arpels earrings are often designed as the final puzzle piece for some of the brand’s most iconic collections. The incredibly intricate and compact jewelry reflects the brand’s imaginative approach to design. 

Gorgeous diamond and gold earrings complement legendary pieces such as the Ballerina Brooch and the Zip Necklace. The 2006 Magic Alhambra capsuled collection also includes a matching set of earrings inspired by the vibrant façade of the Alhambra mosque. 

Another famous set is the Perlée golden ribbon earrings. The piece is lined with round, glittering diamonds, emphasizing the natural beauty of the precious stones. Golden beads surround each gem, enhancing the radiant glow of the jewel. 

The vintage VCA earrings of the Contes d’Hiver line pay homage to white jewelry, a beloved design from the brand’s long history. With this series, the company revived the stunning 1940s, winter-inspired pieces, once again establishing nature as their driving force. 

Vintage VCA Bracelets 

11400 VCA 3-Bracelets from Van Cleef and Arpels Artistic
A three-pair-set of vintage Van Cleef Bracelets from our collection. SOLD

From Perlée bangles to Alhambra-inspired designs, vintage VCA bracelets come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. The gorgeous pieces are designed to fit comfortably on the wrist while providing endless possibilities for exciting combinations. 

The “Ludo” bracelet is as unique as they come. It was first developed in 1934 under the supervision of Renée Puissant herself, who was the artistic director of Van Cleef & Arpels at the time. The exciting piece was named after one of her cousins, Louis “Ludo” Arpels. 

In the following decades, the brand made various models of the “Ludo” bracelet, the “Briquette” and “Hexagon” being the most popular. The “Briquette” has a distinct brickwork pattern created with narrow rectangular gold panels. In contrast, “Hexagone” got its name after a mosaic of tiny hexagonal connections. 

Typically, the bracelet has a diamond-set buckle that acts as a strap, but it can vary from model to model. For example, the “Ludo” bracelet from the Mystery Set has a bridge made with sapphires or rubies. 

Another recognizable characteristic is the way rubies, sapphires, and diamonds are placed on the bracelet. Typically, the stones are arranged in a star-shaped collet. 

When discussing vintage VCA bracelets, we mustn’t fail to mention the Jarretière. The stunning piece was first crafted for the incomparable Marlene Dietrich back in 1938. Van Cleef and Arpels made sure the jewelry was set with the finest rubies and diamonds to match the actress’s sultry persona. 

Vintage VCA Necklaces 

11512 Vintage VCA Onyx Necklace
Vintage VCA Onyx and Gold Necklace from our collection. SOLD

If there’s one piece of jewelry that can sum up the grandeur of Van Cleef & Arpels, it’s the vintage necklace. Over the last century, the brand has designed some truly unique and innovative pieces that have inspired countless other jewelry houses. 

One of the first instances of VCA’s revolutionary designs is the Passe-Partout necklace. The piece was initially patented in France in August 1938 and subsequently in the United States. 

The necklace’s transformative nature is the main reason behind its immense popularity. Thanks to the flexible golden snake chain connected to two flower clips via metal rails, the piece is highly customizable. You can wear it as a choker or a bracelet, even a two-piece brooch. 

And speaking of innovative design, the ‘Zip’ necklace is another example of VCA vintage jewelry making fashion history. Renée Puissant came up with the idea after a thrilling conversation with the Duchess of Windsor in the late 1930s. 

It took several years for the artisans to create a functional zip made with precious metals and diamonds. The necklace finally debuted in 1951 and became an instant hit. Unfortunately, since the production lasted for almost two decades, only a few models exist with the intricate zip-lock design. 

Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper overview of vintage VCA necklaces without the recognizable Alhambra pieces. Ever since the Summer of Love, colorful jewelry was considered the company’s trademark item. The vibrant aesthetic inspired by the traditional Moorish pattern is still a favorite among vintage jewelry enthusiasts. Even after 50 years, the lively necklaces are worn on the red carpet as a testament to jewelry’s timeless appeal. 

Vintage VCA Rings 

The beautiful gold and diamond rings are made to complement the women’s hands gracefully. Over the years, Van Cleef & Arpels has created a wide range of striking pieces. The vintage rings are gorgeous in their design, from single golden strands draping the fingers to sparkling gemstones adding a touch of elegance. 

Van Cleef and Arpels Breeze Ring 

One of the more stunning models is the vintage 18k yellow gold VCA Breeze ring. The 0.50-carat diamonds have all the required specifications of a high-end VCA piece, including a D-F color range and VS1-VS2 clarity.

VCA Cluster Ring

0.85ct Original Van Cleef and Arpels 18k Yellow Gold Cluster Ring - VCA Custer Ring - Hand Video

This beautiful platinum cluster ring features a gorgeous center stone surrounded with 0.20 carat round diamonds. It is an original VCA vintage ring with French markings and an authentic brand stamp.

Most Famous Vintage VCA Jewelry 

Finally, let’s take a look at some of the most famous VCA vintage jewelry that established the brand at the forefront of vintage fashion. 

The Alhambra Collection
A video by Van Cleef that captures the mood of the Alhambra Collection

We already mentioned the remarkable 1968 collection, but it’s still not enough to do it justice. Inspired by the talismanic motif of overlapping circles, typical for Moorish architecture, the Alhambra collection is probably the most popular VCA jewelry line. 

The piece that started it all was an opera-length necklace with 20 motifs and the design’s characteristic beaded edges. The colorful jewelry line became extremely popular among celebrity clientele, which remains the same to this day. 

Grace Kelly was famously a fan of Alhambra necklaces, especially those adorned with malachite, coral, rock crystal, and tortoiseshell. She would be seen wearing two or three pieces at a time, along with an Alhambra pendant as a statement piece. 

The legendary collection has been renewed and tinkered with nearly every year since its debut, making it one of the most collectible VCA vintage jewelry items. In addition, several capsule collections were launched, such as Magic Alhambra, Sweet Alhambra, Lucky Alhambra, and Byzantine Alhambra, each bringing a new perspective on the core concept. There’s also the Vintage Alhambra line that introduced a new material – Bois d’Amourette, colloquially known as letterwood. 

The Ballerina Brooch 

A vintage diamond Ballerina Brooch by Van Cleef & Arpels in Auction

John Rubel is the artist behind the lovely ballerina brooches. It’s said that it was his acquaintance with the co-founder of the School of American Ballet, Mr. George Balanchine, that inspired him to create this iconic line back in the 1940s. 

The first-ever brooch, the adorable “Spanish Dancer,” was followed by a succession of dancing fairies, forever frozen in elegant dancing postures. The rose-cut diamonds make their small features beam with life, while the tutus are carefully constructed from precious stones plated in yellow or platinum gold. 

As the world recovered from the devastation of WWII, the tiny dancers’ charm and grace took over the hearts of many jewelry enthusiasts. Ballerina brooches are still regarded as a staple of VCA vintage jewelry. 

The Mystery Set 

Estate VCA Mystery Set Ring
A stunning Mystery Set Sapphire Ring from our collection. SOLD

As mentioned, Van Cleef & Arpels developed the cutting-edge (pun intended) “Mystery Set” technique in 1933. At first, the innovative setting method could only be applied on flat surfaces, such as jewelry boxes or decorative handbags. However, as the technique developed, it became possible to use it on curved surfaces. 

The extremely demanding and time-consuming process involves inserting faceted stones into extremely thin gold rails. The level of precision required for this technique can translate into hundreds of hours of work for a relatively standard-sized item. 

One of the more extravagant pieces made with this technique is King Farouk’s Rose brooch. It was patented in 1938, after an excruciatingly long production period. The brooch is adorned with 814 rubies and 241 emeralds, making it a collectible item. 

The Glitz and Glamour of Days Gone By 

11171 VCA Gold Lion Necklace from Estate Diamond Jewelry Artistic

While mass-produced jewelry is more accessible, there’s a timeless quality to vintage pieces that make them worthwhile. And the iconic VCA is second to none when it comes to reviving the glitz and glamour of days gone by. So if you’re a fashionista with a taste for vintage jewelry, there’s no better choice than Van Cleef & Arpels. 

We hope this article inspired you to look for a dazzling vintage piece of your own. And, if you ever get your hands on a VCA item, make sure to check the brand stamp and specifications. 

Contact Us

Do you have any questions or comments? Feel free to send us a message.

Are you interested in viewing more of our vintage VCA jewelry? Tell us what you’re looking for, accompanied by your budget, and we will send you more information.


About Afshin Shaddaie

Afshin moved to New York City in the 1980s, and a few years later, he began his career in the fine and rare jewelry scene. He teamed up with Michael Khordipour, and they've been curating vintage jewelry ever since. He also regularly contributes to Forbes, Rapaport, CNBC, The Knot, and Insider. Afshin constantly travels to international shows and private viewing events in the hope of finding rare vintage rings that will be important enough to make an impression. He is available for appointments at our New York showroom when he's not traveling. In 2019, Afshin authored his book called The Engagement Ring Guide for Men. He is considered one of the world's foremost authorities on vintage jewelry and antique diamonds. His favorite jewelry era is Art Nouveau, and he loves rare Italian jewelry from the 1950s - 1970s. The Natural Saltwater Pearl is his favorite precious jewel.