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A "mystery set" ruby and diamond "Pavot" flower brooch, by Van Cleef & Arpels. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd., 2010

Designed as a calibré-cut ruby flower, centering upon a circular-cut diamond cluster pistil, extending a baguette-cut diamond stem and marquise-cut diamond leaves, mounted in platinum, 1974, in a Van Cleef & Arpels navy blue suede case. Signed V.C.A. for Van Cleef & Arpels, N.Y., no. 44480 - Estimate $200,000 - $300,000. Price Realized $350,500

Notes: Cf. Paris Galleria, Van Cleef & Arpels, Diffusion Paris-Musées, Paris, 1992, pages 162 and 163, plates 342 and 346

Cf. Sylvie Raulet, Van Cleef & Arpels, Editions du Regard, Paris, 1986, page 208

Cf. Suzanne Tennenbaum and Janet Zapata, Jeweled Garden, The Vendome Press, New York, 2006, page 205

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A "mystery set" ruby and diamond "Pavot" flower brooch, by Van Cleef & Arpels. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd., 2010

Designed as a calibré-cut ruby flower, centering upon a circular-cut diamond cluster pistil, mounted in 18k gold and platinum, (with pendant hoop for suspension), with French assay marks and maker's mark. Signed Van Cleef & Arpels, no. 28273 - Estimate $150,000 - $250,000 . Price Realized $326,500

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A set of "mystery set" ruby and diamond jewelry, by Van Cleef & Arpels. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd., 2010

Comprising a brooch, designed as a flower with calibré-cut ruby circular petals, with graduated baguette-cut diamond trim, each centering upon a bezel-set circular-cut diamond pistil, to the calibré-cut ruby leaves with baguette-cut diamond stems; and a pair of ear clips en suite, mounted in platinum and 18k gold, 1951, with French assay marks and maker's mark. Each signed Van Cleef & Arpels, brooch no. 64075, ear clips no. 64076 (2) - Estimate $150,000 - $200,000. Unsold

Emblematic of Van Cleef & Arpels' style and technical inventions, this ruby and diamond brooch and matching ear clips celebrates the art of the jeweler, showcasing their famous "Mystery Setting."

The secret behind the "Mystery Setting" is a delicate lattice of gold or platinum 'threads', each less than two tenths of a millimeter in diameter. The calibré-cut gemstones are selected according to very strict criteria, as they have to fit precisely into where they will be placed. A special groove is cut into the stones and they are 'threaded' onto the lattice. Each gem takes about 90 minutes in preparation, and the lapidary can spend hundreds, even thousands of hours creating just one single jewel. Once the gems are set, the lattice is perfectly covered with gemstones. Both the preparation of the lattice and the stones require incredible skill and dexterity - the few experts qualified to do this kind of work are known as 'grandes mains' by their colleagues.

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A "mystery set" ruby and diamond bracelet, by Van Cleef & Arpels. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd., 2010

Designed as three rows of calibré-cut rubies, bordered by collet-set circular-cut diamonds, mounted in platinum and 18k gold, 1984, 6 7/8 ins., with French exportation marks and maker's mark, in a Van Cleef & Arpels gray suede case. Signed V.C.A. for Van Cleef & Arpels, France, N.Y., no. 54238  - Estimate $60,000 - $80,000. Price Realized $98,500

Notes: Cf. Sylvie Raulet, Van Cleef & Arpels, Editions du Regard, Paris, 1986, page 255

Cf. Paris Galleria, Van Cleef & Arpels, Diffusion Paris-Musées, Paris, 1992, page 84 

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A pair of "mystery set" ruby and diamond "Fleurettes" ear pendants, by Van Cleef & Arpels. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd., 2010

Each designed as a circular-cut diamond flower, with a circular-cut ruby pistil, extending pear and marquise-cut diamond leaves, suspending a detachable calibré-cut ruby drop topped by a circular-cut diamond cap, mounted in platinum and 18k white gold, with French assay marks and maker's mark, in a Van Cleef & Arpels navy blue suede case. Signed Van Cleef & Arpels, no. 33681 - Estimate $40,000 - $60,000. Price Realized $194,500

The pinnacle of jewelry design, the "Mystery Set" or "Serti Mystérieux," represents the culmination of Van Cleef & Arpels' spirit of innovation and revolutionary jewelry design. This exceptional technique, perfected by only a few master jewelers, referred to as grandes mains or "great hands" by their contemporaries at the Van Cleef & Arpels workshops, not only transcended technical perfection but also reflected the jeweler's art. Though often imitated, the "Mystery Setting" has remained unrivalled and unmatched thanks to the incredible skill and dedication of the High Jewellery atelier that perfected this method of setting. The term "Serti Mystérieux" brought the firm much prestige and is thus a description exclusively reserved for Van Cleef & Arpels' creations.

First conceived at 22 Place Vendôme in the 1930s by Mr. Alfred Van Cleef, an innovative genius and lover of beauty, and Mr. Julien Arpels, a connoisseur of the finest precious stones, the "Mystery Setting" was a sophisticated and complex idea that added a new dimension to the world of jewelry. The "Mystery Setting" is simply defined as the setting of precious gemstones in a close pattern without a trace of metal or prongs. The technique was first applied to objects with flat surfaces, such as the minaudière, or vanity case. Over time, the technique extended to more complex curved or bombé forms, as illustrated in lot 159, a superb pair of "Mystery Set" ruby and diamond "Fleurettes" ear pendants.

Rather than the constraints of prongs or metal claws, the "Mystery Setting" is composed of a lattice of delicate gold or platinum "threads" that forms the net of the piece, only viewable from its backside. The jeweler then carefully selects only the best quality gemstones, and cuts, calibrates and polishes each stone to fit precisely within the overall design of the piece. The stone is given four extra facets to create subtle effects of light and shadow and then incised with a special groove cut just beneath the girdle of each stone, allowing the stone to slide onto the metal threads of the lattice. Each gem takes about 90 minutes in preparation, and the lapidary can spend hundreds, even thousands of hours creating just one single jewel. The final result is a dazzling mosaic of color and light.

The color combination for the "Mystery Setting" is either monochromatic or combines two colors. Rubies have become the signature color for the "Mystery Set" not only for their exceptional hardness and clarity but also for their rich and voluptuous color as captured in lot 160, the very chic "Mystery Set" ruby and diamond "Pavot" brooch. The enigmatic charm of sapphires off-sets the flamboyant ruby as seen in lot 162, a captivating "Mystery Set" sapphire and diamond bracelet. Emeralds were also used, initially only for detailing, as the gemstone is very soft, but today they are used throughout the entire piece. In 1990, diamonds were also patented for the "Mystery Set," further exemplifying the firm's continued ambition and achievement to advance the technique.

Through the hands of their master craftsmen, blossoms and leaves become extraordinary precious objects, glowing with myriad tiny gems of which they are formed. With their stylized lines, they come to life as though by magic, bending in an imaginary breeze, about to bloom or in full flower. With the setting reduced to an absolute minimum, nothing detracts from a gemstone's radiance and stones appear at their absolute best.

Taking an average of 1200 hours to complete just one piece of mystery-set jewelry, this painstaking process is a testament to the care, dedication and ambition of the firm's artistic and technical vision that makes these jewels a true inspiration for all jewelry design. The completed piece is always a voluptuous three-dimensional jewel; a work of art in both aesthetic design and ingenious craftsmanship; the manifestation of the devotion and dedication of those creating the jewels of Van Cleef & Arpels. The "Mystery Setting" provides a true symbol of the Maison's dedication to perfection and innovation.

Notes: Cf. Paris Galleria, Van Cleef & Arpels, Diffusion Paris-Musées, Paris, 1992, page 163, plate 348

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A pair of "mystery set" ruby and diamond ear clips, by Van Cleef & Arpels. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd., 2010

Each designed as a flower, centering upon a cluster of circular-cut diamonds, extending calibré-cut ruby petals with circular-cut diamond scalloped trim, mounted in platinum, 1984, in a Van Cleef & Arpels gray suede case. Signed V.C.A. for Van Cleef & Arpels, N.Y., no. 54004 - Estimate $30,000 - $50,000. Price Realized $194,500

Notes: Cf. Sylvie Raulet, Van Cleef & Arpels, Editions du Regard, Paris, 1986, page 240

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A pair of "mystery set" ruby and diamond ear clips, by Van Cleef & Arpels. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd., 2010

Each designed as a calibré-cut ruby bombé half-hoop, with baguette-cut diamond trim, mounted in platinum and gold, 1945, in a Van Cleef & Arpels navy blue suede case. Signed Van Cleef & Arpels, N.Y., no. 8148 - Estimate $20,000 - $30,000. Price Realized $86,500

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A "mystery set" ruby and diamond ring, by Van Cleef & Arpels. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd., 2010

Designed as a calibré-cut ruby bombé panel, to the graduated circular-cut diamond scalloped trim, mounted in platinum, in a Van Cleef & Arpels navy suede box. Signed V.C.A. for Van Cleef & Arpels, N.Y. Estimate $10,000 - $15,000. Price Realized $84,100

Christie's. Jewels: The New York Sale Including the JAR Imperial Topaz, Ruby and Diamond Ear Pendants, The Bulgari Blue, Jeweled Elegance & the Vanderbilt Diamond Necklace, 20 October 2010, New York, Rockefeller Plaza www.christies.com