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Sliding Wonders by Van Cleef & Arpels

The iconic Zip necklace created by Van Cleef & Arpels is a concentrate of refined ingenuity, executive prowess and absolute statement. Bold and Very Chic.

Text by Adriano Davoli

The very elegant Zip Antique Éventail, set in white gold, diamonds and lapis-lazuli marquetry and boules. (All images by Courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels).

Starting from the early 1930’s, thanks to Elsa Schiaparelli, the clever and useful zip arrives for the first time on the most irreverent and sensational Haute Couture outfits conceived by the histrionic couturière of Italian origin. At the same time, confirming once more the always existing connections between the Haute Joaillerie and the Haute Couture, Renée Puissant, daughter of the founders of Van Cleef & Arpels and its Creative Director between the two World Wars, decides, apparently at the suggestion of Wallis, the Duchess of Windsor, to create a jewel inspired by the zip, that can be opened and slid, adding an elegant tassel in gold threads on the slider, to make it more feminine and glamorous.

The Zip Antique Padma Necklace in all its rubies and diamonds magnificence, on white and pink gold.

After several and laborious technical phases already developed around 1938, when the idea was patented, the project stopped due to the Second World War, while the first model made of gold, diamonds and rubies saw the light in the Maison’s workshops only around 1950. A peculiar fact is that, although the highly controversial and sarcastic Duchess wore the Zip necklace on various occasions, despite her fabulous and vast jewelry collection she never owned one of her own.

She has only, perhaps, inspired it. The jewel is subject to an elegant metamorphosis, a decidedly High Jewelry detail: the back section of the jewel is detachable and removable so that, once the tassel is pulled and the zip closed, the necklace becomes a refined bracelet, with the pompon on the side now free to swing on the wrist with indisputable panache.

Different necklace models, after their metamorphosis as bracelets, once completely zipped.

Produced annually still today in a limited number of pieces due to the prohibitive costs and processing times, over the years the necklace and its tassel have been enriched with colours and metals, thanks to a wide choice of gems, semiprecious stones, pearls, enamels. Set in yellow, white or pink gold.

On the working bench, the white gold structure of the Zip Antique Necklace.

Van Cleef & Arpels was present at the second edition of Homo Faber 2022, recently held in Venice at the Giorgio Cini Foundation, on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, inside the section “Genealogies of Ornament”. On display, some specimens of the Zip, including one of the first models ever created in rubies and diamonds, on yellow gold.

The Maison also set up there a small workshop where two skilled craftsmen chosen among its famous “Mains d’Or” showed the public and visitors the technical drawings and structural parts of this ingenious jewel, so inextricably linked to Van Cleef & Arpels’ emblematic universe, such as the Serti Mysterieux, the Minaudière or the Cadenas.

In the same exhibition section of Homo Faber, wanted by the curator Judy Clark to emphasize the hyphen between the Zip and the Maison Schiaparelli, there was an elegant mannequin dressed in a highly unique all black, pearls and rhinestones creation designed by Daniel Roseberry, its Artistic Director. Extremely light, highly flexible and subtly sensual on the skin, the workmanship of the Zip caresses the neckline with sinuous elegance, almost as if it were a soft and enveloping satin fabric.

Adriano Davoli

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