WHAT: A jewel that any mother would love, the circa 1940s ruby and diamond brooch by Van Cleef & Arpels shown here sold for $162,500 at Christie’s New York in a $45.6 million sale of Magnificent Jewels.
Today’s lesson involves the setting used for calibre-cut rubies on the leaves. Look closely, and you’ll see that there are no prongs or fittings holding the gems in place. Color flows uninterrupted, with no breaks or glints of metal.
Called a “mystery set” or an “invisible setting,” the technology was patented by Paris jeweler Van Cleef & Arpels in 1933.
MORE: Considered a 20th century high point of innovation in gems, the technique starts with gems matched for color and size. Miniscule grooves are cut just below each specially cut stone top. Individual stones are then pressed against each other so that angled edges fit into the groove on each adjacent stone. Outer edges are thus pushed inward so that the stones fit tightly into each other. Finally, the secured stones are placed into a channel of gold, used because it is softer and easier to work than platinum (the metal used with the blossoms). Here, gold is used as edging for the leaves as well as for prongs on the round ruby pistil stones.
The technique for mystery setting is laborious and time-consuming; consequently, it results in higher prices at retail and on the secondary market.
SMART COLLECTORS KNOW: During the early- to mid-1900s, other jewelers patented versions of the setting, but Van Cleef & Arpels perfected the technique. To this date, no other jeweler has made as many pieces with invisibly set fine gems.
HOT TIP: The technique allows jewels to be set in rounded surfaces such as petals of a flower, domed rings and the like. It is a more refined look than the channel setting, where stones are held in place by side metal.
BOTTOM LINE: Van Cleef & Arpels’ invisible setting has had cachet since the beginning. Prized by buyers and sellers, the look is a hallmark of quality. Private sale or auction is where current buyers hunt for it. Prices are high, but value is forever.
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