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Magic Alhambra Necklace
Iconic Designs

Magic Alhambra Necklace

About the Design

“To be lucky,” the French jeweler Jacques Arpels (1914–2008) once said, “you must believe in luck.” Arpels, nephew of Van Cleef & Arpels cofounder Estelle Arpels, certainly did — and nowhere is this more evident than in the Magic Alhambra necklaces, as well as in the rest of the jewelry house’s Alhambra collection, the design of which references a certain lucky charm.

A young Jacques was reportedly fascinated with searching for four-leaf clovers — a plant synonymous with good fortune — in the yard of his childhood home. His affinity for four-leaf clovers informed some of his most celebrated work at the jewelry house, which he joined in 1932. By the 1950s, Van Cleef & Arpels sought to create more everyday jewelry. Enter Jacques’s simple quatrefoil design, inspired in part by his childhood expeditions as well as the keyhole arches common in the Moorish architecture of Spain and Northern Africa. The Alhambra motif, first launched as a long necklace in 1968, is said to be named for the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain, where these archways abound. A Magic Alhambra necklace that debuted in 2006 featured six motifs of different sizes. The piece, which joined some dozens of necklaces created for the series over the years, is an artful take on Van Cleef’s most recognizable design, and its asymmetrical pattern gives the impression of the quatrefoils dancing across its wearer’s décolletage.

Early Alhambra pieces caught the attention of celebrities like Grace Kelly, and its popularity endures today, with Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, wearing earrings and a necklace from the collection to 2020’s BAFTA awards ceremony. As a result of ever-broadening enthusiasm for the line, Van Cleef & Arpels devised new riffs on the quatrefoil design in the decades since its launch. 

Like many pieces created by the artisans at Van Cleef & Arpels (after all, this is the jewelry house that invented the painstaking mystery setting), the Alhambra collection owes to a mix of artistry and stunning precision. Each quatrefoil is carefully shaped and hand-set with a stone and then attached to a chain. Certain Alhambra styles — such as lapis lazuli or mother-of-pearl — require the jeweler to cut quatrefoil pieces to fit exactly into their frames, which are then secured with barely visible prongs. The result is, well, magic.

Magic Alhambra Necklace

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