Van Cleef & Arpels
On June 16th 1906 Van Cleef & Arpels opened the doors at number 22, Place Vendôme. Esther Arpels married her cousin Alfred Van Cleef in 1895. Their fathers had both entered the jewelry business after moving to Paris in the 1860’s. Esther’s father was a salesman and Alfred’s father was a lapidary. Alfred initially followed his father in becoming a lapidary before setting up his own retail company. Eventually he and his his wife’s brother Salomon (also known as Charles) who was a diamond broker combined their businesses registering their company on February 10th 1906. Two years later Esther’s brothers Jules (Julien) joined them and specialized in gemstones. In 1912 her youngest brother Louis also joined and Esther also became involved in the business. Three years after opening in Place Vendôme they opened a second boutique in Dinard followed in 1910 by one in Nice and in 1912 Deauville. They had a total of fourteen people on staff at the time. World War I changed their business as many were called to be part of the war effort. Émile Puissant met Esther who was a nurse during the war and later introduced to her daughter Renée. The young couple went on to marry in 1918 and Émile joined the business. They won a Grand Prix at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in 1925. Émile passed away in 1926 and Renée joined as artistic director working closely with René-Sim Lacaze then designer. In 1939 VCA exhibited very successfully at the New York World’s Fair. A workshop soon followed but Paris was in turmoil as the onset of war and German occupation had forced most of the family to flee France. Renee stayed behind to run the Place Vendôme boutique and it managed to remain open. Renée withdrew to Vichy France, working from the branch there, before tragically taking her own life after the Germans invaded the Free Zone in 1942. In 1944 the company was returned to the Arpels family with Julien’s sons Claude, Jacques, and Pierre as directors. Success followed and in 1954 they opened a brand new concept, La Boutique, which focused on a younger clientele. They became an ‘Official Supplier to the Principality of Monaco’ when Grace Kelly was married to the prince of Monaco. In 1973, they became the first French jewelry company to open in Japan while continuing their expansion throughout Europe and the United States. Jacques son Philippe and daughter Dominique joined the company and became the last generation to do so as the company was bought by the Richemont Group between 1999 and 2003.