When the Van Cleef & Arpels Alhambra — featuring the French house’s famous quatrefoil motif — debuted in 1968, it was an instant hit with everyone from Princess Grace to actress Romy Schneider and singer Françoise Hardy. Since then, the design has become VCA’s most celebrated (and coveted). On one level, the clover shape is a good luck charm; on another, it’s a nod to Islamic architecture. The design is also rooted in the whimsical, flower-power-infused counterculture that was informing trends in the late 1960s.
With its inlaid stones outlined in gold, the Alhambra motif made its first appearance as stations on a swingy sautoir that is now known as the 20 motifs necklace. The style is still in production and widely available today, but this example from the year 2000 is a rare treasure, according to Susan Cherkassky, co-owner of the Bucks County, Pennsylvania, estate jewelry firm Fortrove.
Why? “The turquoise-stone Alhambra was retired by Van Cleef & Arpels around 2002,” she explains. “The company cannot produce the same quality stones at the moment, similar to the lapis, pink opal and coral versions.”
In fact, if you wanted to purchase a new 20 motifs Alhambra necklace in “turquoise,” you’d find that it’s made with blue agate.
The distinction matters a great deal to serious collectors, says Cherkassky.
“In the jewelry resale market, Alhambra is one of the most sought-after collections, especially necklaces,” she says. “The rare Alhambra necklaces we currently have in our inventory or are in the process of obtaining are lapis, coral, pink opal, turquoise and [other difficult-to-source stones] — these are extremely hard to find and are beautiful works of art.” And, because of their rarity, quite expensive.
But collectors who covet the rare Alhambras never hesitate. “In terms of resale value, it’s been known for the Alhambra necklace to hold its value up to 113 percent, which can make for a pretty huge return on investment,” says Cherkassky. Sounds like it’s time to get lucky!