Postcard from Marrakech: Celebrating Van Cleef & Arpels’s Alhambra collection


By Cai Mei Khoo

Postcard from Marrakech: Celebrating Van Cleef & Arpels’s Alhambra collection

“Luck be a lady tonight…” so goes the song made popular by Frank Sinatra in the ’60s, in which, luck is personified as female. The bejewelled equivalent must then be the Van Cleef & Arpels’s Alhambra, which is in fact a collection that spans bracelets, earrings, pendants, rings, watches, and even cufflinks, but the most popular of which is the sautoir, or the 20-motif long necklace, after all, it was the first Alhambra the maison had ever made 50 years ago, in 1968.


A jewellery piece so timeless yet evocative of the style of that time—versatile and fun, with a design that brings to mind an exotic faraway land; the shape of the Alhambra is reminiscent of decorative styles characteristic of Moorish Spain. It’s no wonder then that the Alhambra drew the likes of the jetset, and the young and the beautiful; fans include French singer Françoise Hardy, actress Romy Schneider, and Princess Grace of Monaco, who had the long necklace in different gemstone variations: in coral, tortoiseshell, ivory, malachite and lapis lazuli. Known for her appetite for jewels, Dame Elizabeth Taylor also collected the Alhambra, one of which was made in rock crystal, which is reprised in the current 50th anniversary collection, albeit in a very limited quantity.

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In Marrakech, what was meant to be a casual, canapé-style lunch turned out to be a full-blown buffet spread cooked up by a team led by French three Michelin-starred chef, Yannick Alléno, laid out in the stunning garden at the home of the French consulate in Marrakech. Van Cleef & Arpels’s take on the classic photobooth was as fabulous as the trays upon trays of Alhambra jewellery available for guests to accessorise themselves with, after having been treated to a tentful of the finest vintage clothing from the likes of Pierre Cardin, Chloé and Yves Saint Laurent. Of course I had to wear the Yves Saint Laurent Saharienne jacket with laced-up front—what else could be more befitting in the city that the designer so loved?

“To be lucky, you have to believe in luck.” – Jacques Arpels 

Within the courtyard of the house, Van Cleef & Arpels craftsmen were at work at individual booths, demonstrating the skill and know-how that goes into creating the Alhambra, from the selection of the highest quality of precious stones or mother-of-pearl, to cutting, and endless buffing and polishing, and precise deftness needed in the setting of the stones—it takes no fewer than fifteen successive steps to create one Alhambra.

The evening reception was held at the El Badi Palace in the centre of Marrakech, the ruins of a massive palace built in the 16th century, once known for its opulence and grandeur (its name means ‘The Incomparable’), also a palace that was built with the Alhambra palace in Granada as inspiration. A huge mirrored rectangular box, inside which our dinner tables had been set up, was placed in the centre of the ruins, amongst the reflective pools and orange trees, and it was surrounded by 10,000 flickering oil lamps that elicited gasps of wonderment from the guests—it was absolutely magical, to say the least. That this was my second time in two months being in Marrakech after years of dreaming of this captivating city, you could say I’m a believer in luck; and having it in the form of a mother-of-pearl Alhambra pendant doesn’t hurt either.


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