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Unzipping the Past: Van Cleef & Arpels’ Zip Necklace


Among the truly original jewels created by Van Cleef & Arpels, the ‘Zip’ necklace is the most distinct.


Elevating the humble zipper into a sophisticated piece of jewelry, Van Cleef & Arpels credits the idea to the Duchess of Windsor. In 1938, she asked Renée Puissant, the Maison’s artistic director from 1926 to 1942 and daughter of Alfred Van Cleef, to create a jewel inspired by the zip fastener, which was invented in late 19th century America.
The Van Cleef & Arpels 'Zip' Necklace in yellow gold and diamonds was first produced in 1951, with a limited number of different styles created during the 1950s.

The challenging premise required years of techincal innovation at the Maison, but the resulting necklace, which was finally produced in 1951, immediately became an iconic design for Van Cleef & Arpels. Featuring a working zipper closure, the highly flexible necklace coincidentally captures the spirit of the ‘Couture’ style of the 1950′s, brilliantly linking ‘Haute Couture’ and ‘Haute Joaillerie’.

Throughout the 1950′s, the Maison designed a limited number of ‘Zip’ necklaces in yellow gold decorated with diamonds or colored stones.
First gouache drawing of the Zip necklace for the Duchess of Windsor, circa 1938, Van Cleef & Arpels’ Archives

Not only is the design of the versatile ‘Zip’ necklace lauded for its originality, but the technical advancements achieved to create it are a testament to the ingenuity of Van Cleef & Arpels. The necklace converts to a stylish bracelet by removing the upper part of the necklace and then ‘zipped’ into a bracelet, with the gold thread tassel dangling on the side of the arm.
The Zip necklace, 1951, a Van Cleef & Arpels trademark, features a second clasp that allows it to be worn as a bracelet. Photo courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Shanghai.

Though the Maison has created modern ‘Zip’ necklaces in recent years, very few originals were made during the 1950s and only less than 10 have ever appeared at auction. The rare ‘Zip’ necklace remains a highly covetable jewel and a hallmark of truly original jewelry design and technical achievement.
The Zip-bracelet necklace, Paris, 1951. Platinium, yellow gold, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, diamonds. Private collection. Photo courtesy of Patrick Gries, Van Cleef & Arpels


BY NATALIE ON SEPTEMBER 2, 2014 ;This post is brought to you in collaboration with LoveGold.


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