Van Cleef & Arpels Mystery Setting
One of the great pleasures of a fine piece of jewellery is admiring the skill and craft of the maker; in addition to wonderful gemstones, the best jewellery has as much care and attention paid to the base and underside as to the top of the piece.
Van Cleef & Arpels is a French jewellery company, founded in 1896 by Alfred Van Cleef and Salomon Arpels. They have always been on the cutting edge of innovative jewellery design, including a gold necklace that actually zips open and closed, and their most famous creation, the Mystery Setting.
The “Serti Mysterieux” (invisible setting) was invented in the early 1930s, with a patent granted in 1933. The setting was first used on a minaudiere (clutch purse) and features stones set side by side onto a hidden rail. Sometimes the rail is only a couple of tenths of a millimetre thick. Small notches are carved into the bottom half of the stones, to slide into position along the rails. Gold is used rather than platinum, as is it slightly more flexible. The end result is a smooth array of colour, similar to micro-mosaic, unbroken by any flashes of metal. Even under magnification there is setting visible between the stones. Initially it was only possible on flat surfaces, but over time the technique was modified and fine tuned, so that it now can be used on curved surfaces.
It is exceptionally difficult to create a piece, for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it takes as much as 300 hours of work per piece, and it is hard to find craftsmen possessing the required skill level. Secondly it is very difficult to find a sufficient number of stones to use which are of matching colour and saturation. Emeralds are particularly challenging to work with, as they are softer than sapphires or rubies, and might break when the notch is being carved into them. Lastly the cutting of the stones is challenging and painstaking, as each stone has to sit snugly beside its neighbours. For these reasons, only a few pieces are created each year.
Mystery Setting pieces are still being created today, though very scarce. Having (or even holding) one is a real joy!