Lifestyle Magazine

Spotlight On: The Van Cleef and Arpels Zip Necklace

By Raymondleejewelers @raymondleejwlrs

American-born Wallis Simpson certainly had a hand in changing the course of twentieth century history. Had she not met Edward VIII he would have remained King of England and not settled for the title, Duke of Windsor. But did you know she was also responsible for the zipper’s ascent to the title of jewelry icon? Yes, we’re talking about the Duchess of Windsor and the ordinary, plebeian zipper. Like the Duchess, the zipper had American origins. Invented in the late 19th century, it debuted as a fastening for boots. Today it enjoys popularity on jeans, sweaters, hoodies, jackets, purses – you name it.

A darling of society, the Duchess just happened to be talking, in 1938, to Rene Puissant, the artistic director of the Van Cleef and Arpels Maison, and Alfred Van Cleef’s daughter when she suggested (and wouldn’t you love to have been a fly on the wall?) that perhaps Ms. Puissant could model a necklace after the zipper.

The first zip necklace drawing for the Duchess of Windsor by Van Cleef and Arpels

The first zip necklace drawing for the Duchess of Windsor by Van Cleef and Arpels

Well, the seed was planted but more than a decade would pass as the Maison nurtured the idea. Finally, in 1951, the zip necklace made its debut. Fashioned out of diamonds, round and baguette, in platinum mountings, the zip necklace is not only the epitomie of sophistication, but it actually functions like a zipper. Its closure can be slid up or down, giving the wearer the choice of leaving it open or closing it like a choker, or even wearing it as a bracelet. This spirit of playful functionality marked it as a creation worthy of the Maison name, and was responsible for its continued recreations through much of the 50′s.

The styling elements of the Van Cleef and Arpels zip necklace have outlived the Duchess of Windsor and gone on to appear in their twenty-first century collections. Various reincarnations have included

The 2005 Collier Zip Annees Folles Collection Couture which featured a zip necklace of white gold with round princess cut and baguette cut diamonds.

Collier Zip Annees Folles

via Diamonds in the Library

And 2011′s Collier Zip Collection outdid itself with a bounty of variations. All shared the classic combination of diamonds set in white gold, but were set apart by the choice of companion gemstones they included:

white cultured pearls and lapis lazuli surrounded by white mother of pearl

Van Cleef & Arpels Collier Zip with cultured pearls diamonds and lapis lazuli

chloromenalite, turquoise, and chrysophrase

Van Cleef and Arpels Zipper necklace in turquoise diamond and chrysoprase

sapphires and multi-colored cushion cut sapphires

Sapphire and diamond Van Cleef and Arpels Zip necklace

Sapphire and diamond Van Cleef and Arpels Zip necklace

Today’s celebrities are restoring the zip necklace to “it’ status, and they’re choosing their own way to wear it - backwards, probably inspired by the necklace’s role in the Oscar Award-winning film, the King’s Speech. Eve Best, who played The Duchess of Windsor, wore the necklace with the zipper enclosure hanging down her back, where it was gracefully framed by the gown’s low, draping back.

We don’t know if the dress was fashioned after an actual creation worn by the Duchess but we do know that one of her original zip necklaces is still around. It was featured in an exhibit running from late 2012 through February 2013 at Les Arts Decoratifs in Paris.

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