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Amongst the travel-savvy, the word Alhambra conjures images of the spectacular tenth century “Jewel of Moorish Spain”, a palace nestled within the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Granada. Designed by the Umaid Arabic ruler, Badis ben Habus, the Islamic fortress was built for Muslim Emirs, their families, and respective courts. Today, the Alhambra is a widely popular UNESCO World Heritage tourist site renowned for its reflecting pools, arcades, courtyards, arabesques, and geometric patterns.

Perhaps it is the Palace’s generous curves and seamless marriage to its natural surroundings that has influenced one of the most iconic designs of the Parisian high jewelry Maison, Van Cleef & Arpels. For among the connoisseurs of high-jewelry, the word Alhambra—which is born from the Arabic “Al-Hamra” and means “the red one”—evokes images of layered necklaces and timeless jewelry pieces featuring a clover motif, remarkable in its unassuming sophistication. Launched in 1968, the Van Cleef & Arpels Alhambra four-leaf clover is representative of a good luck charm said to bring love, health, fortune, and luck to its owner.


Renowned for its relationship with royalty, Princess Charlene of Monaco owns a custom-made turquoise Alhambra necklace, like her late mother-in-law (HRH Princess Grace of Monaco) before her. Queen Rania of Jordan has been pictured wearing a pair of Alhambra drop earrings. Van Cleef & Arpels even crafted the emerald coronation jewels for the Empress Farah of Iran and created sets for the Shah Reza Palhavi’s sisters and daughters, marking the event as one of the most prestigious and special orders in the Maison’s history.

Royal families’ love affair with Van Cleef & Arpels to mark their special occasions is due to the Maison’s great care in scouring the world for the most precious stones and for its creative and whimsical designs inspired by nature. But perhaps the clientele is also touched by the foundation of the house, which is solidly built on a love story—the marriage of Estelle Arpels and Alfred Van Cleef—which inspired a desire to create something lasting and beautiful together.

These qualities are also found in the Alhambra collections. Born four decades ago as a long, simple gold necklace adorned with the clover motif, today, the Alhambra collection includes various models and stones such as malachite, cornelian, tiger’s eye, and onyx. But it is the mother-of-pearl, a symbol of maternal security and well-being, found in Indonesia and Japan and produced organically inside seashells, that remains the most prevalent of them all.


The Alhambra motif is one that is fiercely protected by the Maison and in 2007, was even the subject of a lawsuit between the House and model and television personality, Heidi Klum. Van Cleef & Arpels accused Klum of copying the design for a collaboration with Lebanese jewelry house Mouawad. At the time, the latter stated that Klum’s inspiration was, in fact, the clover-patterned marble inlay of Milan’s Duomo Cathedral and that like crosses and hearts, the clover is a popular symbol that not any one house can own. Though a number of international houses such as Louis Vuitton, Cartier, and Chopard use an interpretation of the clover within their collections, it is the emblematic Alhambra motif belonging to Van Cleef & Arpels that remains the most widely recognized today. The earrings, bracelets, rings, and timepieces can be worn day to night, with practically any color combination, while the necklace, worn looped and layered, is often considered the new strand of pearls for the style set.

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