Identifying An Authentic Van Cleef & Arpels Alhambra Piece

Van Cleef & Arpels stands as one of the world’s most prestigious jewelry houses, renowned for its iconic collections and the impeccable craftsmanship that defines its exquisite creations. The brand’s unwavering commitment to precision and detail is at the core of these exceptional pieces.

Among the emblematic symbols of this esteemed Maison, the Alhambra shines as one of the most recognizable. Initially introduced in 1968, its quatrefoil design symbolized good fortune and was embraced by notable figures such as Romy Schneider, Françoise Hardy, and Princess Grace of Monaco during the 1970s. The Alhambra’s enduring appeal also stems from its versatility, as the original necklace was designed for effortless layering, a feature that continues to captivate modern style icons like Kate Middleton.

Through the years, Van Cleef & Arpels has expanded the Alhambra collection to encompass a vibrant array of gemstones, including agate, carnelian, chalcedony, tiger eye, and turquoise. This diverse range of options has solidified the Alhambra as a timeless classic, increasing its popularity. Remarkably, on The RealReal, 87% of Alhambra pieces find new owners within 30 days of being listed.

The allure of the Alhambra has not only endured but also evolved throughout its 50+ year history, expanding well beyond its initial four-leaf clover design. For those who appreciate the line’s original aesthetic, the Vintage Alhambra collection remains faithful to the classic station necklace. Meanwhile, the Magic Alhambra collection plays with proportions by mixing and matching larger and smaller quatrefoils, whereas the Sweet Alhambra collection downsizes everything to a delightfully delicate miniature scale. Lucky Alhambra delves into symbols of good fortune beyond the traditional four-leaf clover, presenting playful, nature-inspired designs featuring butterflies, leaves, hearts, and stars. For minimalists, the Pure Alhambra line offers a sleek, polished finish, and the Byzantine Alhambra cleverly incorporates negative space in place of stones, revealing an elegant gold outline.

However, with a storied reputation comes numerous imitations. To help you distinguish the authentic pieces, we turned to TRR Lead Fine Jewelry & Watches Valuation Manager Samantha Equale for her expert tips. Continue reading for a valuable lesson in identifying your genuine Alhambra good luck charm.

Van Cleef Alhambra Signatures & Hallmarks

Equale states, “Van Cleef & Arpels maintains a consistent approach to signatures and hallmarks on their jewelry creations.” Every piece of Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry must bear a trademark, a serial number, and a metal hallmark. Over the years, the brand’s stamping practices have evolved, but you should typically find either “Van Cleef & Arpels” or “VCA” engraved on their items. While the brand’s stamping methods have evolved, it will naturally bear the inscription “Van Cleef & Arpels” or “VCA.” It’s worth noting that although many commonly refer to the brand as “Van Cleef,” if you encounter a piece solely marked with this name, it should raise suspicion about its authenticity. Van Cleef & Arpels exclusively utilizes 18-karat gold, so each piece should bear the hallmark “750” or “Au750.”

Equale emphasizes the extensive experience of Van Cleef & Arpels artisans, who take pride in adding hallmarks to every jewelry piece they create. The manner of hallmarking can vary depending on the collection and available surface area for an unmistakable signature. In the case of the Alhambra collection, the signature is often displayed as ‘VCA,’ typically on a tag located near the male end of the clasp or on the side of a motif adjacent to the clasp. It’s also on this clasp that you can find the unique serial number and the indication of the metal’s purity. While these hallmarks may only sometimes be obvious, they are present. The hallmark of Alhambra necklaces and bracelets can often be found on the ring near the clasp. For earrings, it’s typically on the earring closure (one ear clip might bear the trademark, while the other has the serial number, or both may be on a single clip). In the case of rings, check the outer part of the shank toward the bottom. While the hallmarks on rings may wear off due to regular use, the locations on other pieces seldom encounter enough wear to diminish the hallmark’s visibility.

Van Cleef Alhambra Materials

As expected from one of the world’s leading jewelers, Van Cleef & Arpels upholds the highest standards when selecting metals and gemstones for crafting Alhambra pieces. According to Equale, “Van Cleef & Arpels exclusively opts for gemstones of the utmost quality, ranging from their diamonds to their chalcedony.” She further explains that the house adheres to the GIA grading criteria, using diamonds within the D to F color range and a clarity range from Internally Flawless (IF) to VVS2 for their jewelry creations.

When it comes to determining the ideal shape and placement for cutting gemstones, the craftsmen at Van Cleef & Arpels exhibit an exceptional level of precision. They pay meticulous attention to stones like chalcedony, naturally exhibiting distinct striations and optical characteristics. Chalcedony possesses inherent qualities of opacity, semi-transparency, transparency, and translucency. Stones displaying two or more distinctive features are carefully chosen for crafting jewelry pieces, particularly those where the transparent and translucent areas allow the wearer’s natural skin tone to shine through the stone, resulting in each piece being genuinely unique.

Any Alhambra jewelry that falls short of these stringent gemstone criteria, such as a diamond with a visible inclusion or a lower color grade, raises concerns regarding its authenticity. Furthermore, the stones must be cut precisely to fit each quatrefoil perfectly, ensuring no gaps or looseness in the setting.

Van Cleef Alhambra Craftsmanship

Equale states, “Van Cleef & Arpels distinguishes itself among very few jewelry houses by meticulously refining each creation to the level of fine silk threads.” She elaborates, “These paper-thin threads are intricately woven into every crevice to guarantee that no surface lacks a smooth, mirrored finish. This attention to detail is particularly evident in the Pearls of Gold, a hallmark feature in many Van Cleef & Arpels collections, including Alhambra. If you possess a piece of jewelry you suspect is from Van Cleef & Arpels, and you observe subpar or incomplete polishing, it may raise doubts about its authenticity.”

Ensure that each piece exhibits flawlessness, with impeccably finished joints, prongs, and chains. Additionally, carefully examine the shape of Alhambra pieces, a critical and consistent factor used to differentiate among the various Alhambra collections. Equale cautions, “Counterfeit Alhambra pieces frequently exhibit incorrect shapes.” She further explains, “Van Cleef & Arpels adheres to an extensive and precise process. The measurements for uniformity undergo scrutiny at every stage. This process demands a skilled artisan and necessitates time and patience to achieve accuracy and consistency. Unfortunately, with counterfeit Alhambra items, this crucial step is often overlooked or poorly executed.”