Even though clover species can be found in every part of the world except Southeast Asia and Australia, you only have a 1 in 10,000 chance of finding a four-leaf clover – and that’s if you’re looking for one. However, what is even more improbable is a brand striking upon a look so instantly iconic as to survive 50 years of changing fashion trends, shifting consumer practices, and prevailing tastes in fine jewelry.
French luxury watch and jewelry maker Van Cleef & Arpels has more than luck to thank for five decades of unflagging interest in its ‘Alhambra’ designs, made famous by classic Hollywood stars like Grace Kelly and French icons like Françoise Hardy. In fact, as Van Cleef & Arpels unveiled its 50th anniversary ‘Alhambra’ collection in 2018, the classic four-leaf clover token is more popular than ever.
In 1968, America had launched its Apollo 8 mission to orbit the moon while, back on earth, the women’s liberation movement gained global media attention with organized demonstrations in a demand for equality. Outcries for progress were matched by a change in attitude and a change in women’s clothing styles; a relaxing of sartorial strictures saw women embracing bell-bottoms, minidresses, embroidered tunics, and other styles plucked from folk and bohemian backgrounds.
When it came to fine jewelry, massive piles of glittering diamonds and rare gemstones in formal settings looked out of step with the times. Sensing this shift, Van Cleef & Arpels landed on the ‘Alhambra’ design, a simple and refined silhouette of a four-leaf clover, repeated 20 times along a long chain that could be looped twice for a shorter look or worn long with multiple strands layered together.
The medallion is said to be inspired by Jacques Arpels’ own belief in lucky talismans, the motifs that decorate the Doge’s Palace in Venice, the traditional Moorish quatrefoil, and other patterns that he discovered on his travels around the world. Its unfussy but sophisticated appearance was a perfect match for the “hippie” styles that prevailed at the time and, after appearing on the glamorous necks of women like Romy Schneider, women the world over wanted one (or several) strands of their own.
During the past five decades, since Van Cleef & Arpels’ ‘Alhambra’ collection first appeared, humans have landed on the moon, women have advanced their causes of equality, empires have risen and fallen, but the silhouette has remained unchanged. It has, however, expanded to include a total of six collections, 226 pieces, and hundreds of luxurious exteriors like lapis lazuli, diamond, mother of pearl, Sèvres porcelain, and letterwood over the years. Today, it is still favored by celebrities, socialites, and women who prefer timeless talismans that carry the power of generations that came before.