Van Cleef & Arpels' virtuoso Mystery Setting

An exceptional and rare invisibly set ruby and diamond brooch by Van Cleef & Arpels, Paris, 1935, French gold assay mark and maker’s mark, numbered, inscribed Van Cleef & Arpels S. G. D. G. 44.044.

This brooch was purchased from Sotheby’s auction, The Bird of Paradise Collection. Superb Jewels from a European Estate, held in Geneva on 17th November 1998.

It is illustrated in the 2003 revised edition of Understanding Jewellery (page 327, plate 586).

We have recently re-discovered this splendid jewel in a private collection - a very pleasant surprise.


This outstanding brooch is a perfect example of Van Cleef & Arpels invisibly set creations and was also one of the earliest to emerge from the workshop.

The quality and harmonious design of this jewel in our opinion place it among the finest pre-war creations by the firm and so it can be seen as an iconic jewel of its age.

The highly-skilled and time-consuming invisible setting technique, also known as serti mystérieux, was patented by the firm in 1933. It is achieved by sliding suitably shaped rubies, sapphires or more rarely emeralds, onto a system of rails which run along grooves cut along the side of each stone, in such a way that no setting metal is visible from the front of the jewel.

The detail of the reverse of the brooch (see the image below) shows the exceptional delicacy and quality of the mount.

The Burmese rubies are very well matched in colour creating a slightly undulating and yet remarkably smooth surface.

The overall condition of the jewel is excellent.

A remarkably similar, but not identical, example was sold at Sotheby’s auction of Magnificent Jewels, held in New York on 8th December 2016, for $342,500, (view: lot 204, Property from the Collection of Marjorie S. Fisher, Palm Beach).

Among the first clients of Van Cleef & Arpels to be enchanted by these revolutionary jewels was the Duchess of Windsor who commissioned several spectacular examples, among them the celebrated ‘feuilles d’houx’ - holly leaves – brooch of 1936 (view: Understanding Jewellery, page 326, plate 581).

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