On December 2, 1933, the famous Parisian jewelry company of Van Cleef & Arpels was granted the patent (French Patent No. 764,966) for a proprietary gem setting style. Van Cleef & Arpels named this impressive technological advance the Serti Mysterieux, or “Mystery Setting.” It remains one of the most iconic jewelry breakthroughs of the 20th century and is instantly recognizable to aficionados and connoisseurs.
Van Cleef & Arpels Mystery Set Ruby and Diamond Butterfly Brooch
VCA’s “Mystery Setting” is otherwise known as invisible setting, and the Parisian brand is certainly not the first to have developed this technology. The original patent for this innovative technique was granted in England to another famed French brand, Chaumet in 1904. Furthermore, in 1933, the Cartier firm also received a patent for an invisible setting technique but did not create many invisibly set items. It was Van Cleef & Arpels who perfected the “Mystery Setting” and who are the most well-known for using the technology.
Originally used for decorative adornment of the brand’s Miniaudieres – small clutches crafted in precious metals that were meant to hold a variety of feminine objects such as lipstick, compacts, combs or even cigarettes and hidden lighters – the Mystery-Setting was an ideal way to add swathes of color unbroken by the flash of metal. The technique involves a number of steps, all of which are fundamentally important to the creation of an item of jewelry. First, gemstones that are perfectly color-matched are collected. Secondly, these gemstones are cut so as to fit snugly against each other, the girdle of one stone pressed against the girdle of its neighbor, with very minute grooves cut just below the girdle. Thirdly, channels of metal are made, usually in gold which is a more malleable metal than platinum and thus easier to work with for such a detailed process. Lastly, the gemstones are either slid or individually placed within the grooves.
Vintage Van Cleef & Arpels Mystery Set Sapphire and Diamond Flower Brooch
Once the process is complete, the end result is a section of unbroken color with none of the mounting visible. Because it looks as though there is nothing holding the gemstones, there is a mysterious element to how the stones are set which inspired Van Cleef’s term, “Mystery Setting.” But, the early process could only be used on flat surfaces and it wasn’t until a few years later that Van Cleef & Arpels perfected a way to use invisible setting in other items of jewelry.
The May 31, 1938 Patent Granted to Charles Arpels
In May of 1938, Charles-Salomon Arpels, brother-in-law of Alfred Van Cleef and co-founder of the company, was granted another patent — this time, for a way to use invisible setting on curved or twisted surfaces. The result was that VCA began to create incredible three-dimensional objects of art: flower brooches with smooth gemstone petals, delicately curved leaves, and voluptuously curved rings. It is these stunning, sculptural creations that have inspired collectors and jewelry-lovers.
Vintage Van Cleef & Arpels Mystery Set Sapphire Boulle Ring
(The Same Design as in the Above Patent)
Before contemporary cutting and setting technologies, it required months of painstaking effort to craft a single piece of Mystery-Set jewelry. The precision of the gemstone cutting was a delicate process with the rudimentary tools available at the time. In fact, that is why it is far more common to see ruby or sapphires (both members of the corundum family) in invisibly set mountings than emeralds – the natural softness of the emeralds made it extraordinarily difficult to cut the necessary grooves without damaging the stones. In fact, vintage invisibly set emerald jewels are extremely rare and very beautiful.
Vintage Van Cleef & Arpels Mystery Set Sapphire and Diamond Earrings
Van Cleef & Arpels continues to make Mystery Set jewels, each of which is a stunning and unique creation. More than just jewels, these important and impressive pieces can truly be considered as works of fine art.