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The Rise and Rise of the Van Cleef Stack

Oh the infamous Van Clef stack, bracelets, earrings, necklaces, or rings?

Three pairs of earrings on a plaster mold.
Shutterstock/ Serhii Khomiak

In the luxury jewelry space, Cartier has always seemed to reign supreme. With the LOVE bracelet and the Juste un Clou collection seen on the wrist of nearly every it-girl for the past decade, one would think that their reign is all but assured.

Yet, Van Cleef & Arpels (VC&A), another brand with just as much history and similar jaw-dropping prices, has slowly crept up the wrists of affluent Millenials and Gen-Z, inspiring countless jewelry collections on YouTube, hauls on TikTok, and a plethora of fakes on the counterfeit market.

Jewelry from VC&A is usually worn right next to their Cartier and Tiffany & Co. counterparts. To create a stack, people often wear multiple bracelets, earrings, necklaces, and/or rings. It creates a look of ordered chaos, where each jewelry piece is different but unified by metal type or size.

Being able to wear multiple pieces that cost in the thousands and sharing your stack online is seen as an accomplishment and a source of pride. But why and how did we even get here in the first place?

The History of Van Cleef & Arpels

The name Van Cleef & Arpels comes from the marriage of the brand’s founders in 1895, Estelle Arpels and Alfred Van Cleef. The first boutique of the Maison 
Van Cleef & Arpels opened in 1906 at 22 Place Vendôme in the heart of Parsian wealth and extravagance. In the brand’s early years, the jewelers focused on the quality of precious stones and set them in new, innovative ways. Like all the luxury houses in the 20th century, VC&A catered exclusively to the royal, noble, and uber-wealthy. Most notably designing Iranian Empress Faraj Pahlavi’s coronation crown in 1967.

It was also during the 60s when the House’s most iconic design was born. Imagined in 1968, the Alhambra collection signified luck, prosperity, and a certain sense of individuality. The collection was inspired by the four-leaf clover plant. Each jewelry piece is made up of repeating motifs of the four-leaf clover design.

This distinctive motif has been embellished with several stones throughout the years, including mother of pearl, turquoise, diamond, onyx, and carnelian, to name a few. This collection is still in production, and the Maison comes out with a limited-edition holiday piece every year. 

Karen S. Jan

The motifs also come in various sizes from smallest to largest: Sweet, Vintage, and Magic. You can customize the Alhambra collection to your taste with your choice of gemstone, precious metal, and size.

Even with its 100-year-plus history, VC&A seems to have exploded in popularity amongst affluent Millenials and Gen-Z in the past 2 years. Throughout Luxury TikTok or LuxTok, young people are displaying their VC&A collections. Even if a single bracelet costs an eye-watering $6,100, it’s always best to have at least two, but obviously, the more the better.

@chloeabeth4545

Replying to @user1372390633336 It’s just logic! 🤓🤓 #girlmath #vancleef #fyp

♬ original sound – Chloe L.

With growing fatigue regarding luxury clothing, many people have started to turn to jewelry. One reason could be its exclusionary nature. At its core, luxury is about the desire for the unattainable. With the prevalence of social media, anyone can now peer into the lives of the ultra-wealthy to covet the commodities they consume. However, greater access to the lives of the rich does not mean that you can live like them. Jewelry has become yet another class signifier. Now, the wealthy can distinguish and separate themselves even further from the masses.

The other is practicality. Simply put, jewelry made from gold and platinum is so much more durable than fabric. These pieces are not susceptible to as much wear and tear as clothes. And thus, it can last lifetimes or even generations. They become heirloom pieces that will stand the test of time. This could partly justify its exorbitant cost, only slightly, though.

The Significance of the Stack

After watching numerous collections and hauls, I have come to realize that the act of stacking is an art not too much where it looks busy, or worse tacky. Yet, just enough to show your taste. Personally, I prefer the maximalist approach, just from a purely aesthetic point. Yet, I recognize the sheer privilege of being able to even afford one piece from VC&A.

Wearing multiple bracelets, necklaces, or earrings from the House has become the ultimate status symbol. It signifies a life of leisure, the ultimate luxury. But it has also become a moniker of personal style and taste. What pieces you choose, how many, and what color gemstone are all important factors to consider in the stack.

Ultimately, the rise and the rise of the Van Cleef stack is rooted in signaling to others a class distinction above the rest. There is a level of individual customization inherent to VC&A that makes it stand out from its competitors. While the brand is outrageously expensive, it is also fun.

Written By

Hi, I'm Ryan (he/him)! I'm an art history and English literature double major at the University of Maryland, College Park Through my writing, I focus on how engaging with art and broader cultural productions helps us to better understand ourselves and our place in the world.

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