Very few fine jewelry designs can be considered iconic, but Van Cleef & Arpels’ Zip necklace is assuredly one. The brainchild of the Duchess of Windsor, the design was first conceived in the late 1930s, but was not produced until 1951.
This incredible masterpiece takes the form of a zipper closure, just as you would find on a dress or handbag. The zipper can be opened to become a necklace, with the tasseled pull hanging at the front or back and the wearer’s throat encircled by the “teeth” of the zipper. When completely closed, the Zip is transformed into a bracelet to wrap around the wearer’s wrist. The action of the zipper is precise and smooth, the elements of the design perfectly considered and engineered.
Van Cleef & Arpels’ earliest sketch of the Zip from 1938 imagined the precious piece as platinum set with a multitude of fine round and baguette diamonds. Traditionally attributed to Wallis Simpson, wife of the Duke of Windsor, the concept was inspired by the ingenious (now ubiquitous) zipper, which was becoming popular on clothing of all kinds by the 1930s. The Duchess was a celebrated collector of gems and jewelry, with a taste for unusual materials and fresh styles. Van Cleef first produced and marketed the Zip some dozen years later, in 1951. And, although the Duchess never added a Zip to her own considerable collection of jewels, her name is entwined with its history.
In the many iterations since, exquisite colored gemstones have often complemented or replaced diamonds and yellow gold has been used in place of platinum. The extravagant creation’s pull is sometimes styled as a bow, but is often a tassel comprised of sumptuous sapphire beads, lustrous pearls, or lengths of finely woven gold chain.
In 2005 the Maison introduced a new, sleeker variation of the original concept: the Zip Couture necklace. This long, elegant version is especially striking and effective worn down the wearer’s back, as the proportions call to mind the slender zippers and sumptuous fabrics of high fashion.
Van Cleef & Arpels is revered for its original designs and high standard of execution. For those privileged to produce, handle, or wear icons like the Zip, the coalescence of style, materials, and craftsmanship is thrilling.
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