The right jewelry can take the most elegant ensemble to the next level. As both a Hollywood starlet and genuine princess, Princess Grace knew how to choose and wear jewels that would accentuate her style and cement so many of her looks in the public consciousness. Though she was partial to a few designers including Cartier and Mikimoto, the French luxury jewelry company Van Cleef & Arpels was one of the most important in her life, especially after the designer was designated the Patented Supplier of the Principality of Monaco soon after her engagement to Prince Rainier III when he purchased her now famous engagement suite. Let’s look back at some of Princess Grace’s most iconic moments with the storied designer.
Pearl and Diamond Suite
Princess Grace was always partial to pearls; she once declared that “a woman needs ropes and ropes” of them. Making her preference for the marine gem quite clear. They were a staple in her daily life and on film (everyone can picture her standing beside Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window donning her pearl earring, a pearl choker and pearl bracelet), so it was no surprise that she was drawn to them in her role as Princess of Monaco. Soon after her engagement, she and Prince Rainier met with Jacques Arpels to choose pieces for her collection. She chose a suite with a heavy emphasis on pearls– a triple stranded necklace and earrings with a pearl base. Though these pieces came from different collections within the Van Cleef & Arpels world, Princess Grace was able to style them as a cohesive look and wore them on many occasions, from her honeymoon to her children’s christenings. The pieces were also immortalized in her first official portraits, ensuring that they were a part of her global legacy. These pieces–dynamic without being flashy, enduring without being staid–perfectly captured who Princess Grace was. And today, their legacy lives on–Princess Caroline, Princess Grace’s daughter, wore the set at the 2019 Bal de la Rose, an annual benefit for the Princess Grace Foundation in Monaco, thereby ushering her mother’s glamor into a new age.
The Alhambra set, with its clover-shaped medallions, is one of the most enduring and sought after Van Cleef & Arpels collections. Allegedly, the idea for the necklace came to Jacques Arpels from a John Greenleaf Whittier poem about perseverance, and its strong profile has become a time-honored royal tradition. However, Princess Grace was also an inspiration–some say that the original Alhambra collection, launched in 1968, was designed to catch her eye. She was a devotee of the pieces, often layering Alhambra necklaces to accompany a variety of formal and casual ensembles alike. Today, the necklace is embraced by starlets like Reese Witherspoon and Anne Hathaway, but the designer has not forgotten the piece’s princely roots. A new, vintage-style Alhambra collection, launched in July 2022, will devote some of its proceeds to the Princess Grace Foundation-USA. The Foundation, launched in 1982, embraces Princess Grace’s philanthropy and love of the arts by awarding grants to emerging artists in theater, dance, and film. This iconic jewelry continues to carry on Princess Grace’s legacy in more ways than one.
Every princess needs a tiara, and Princess Grace always knew how to pick the perfect one. Unlike many of her statement pieces, tiaras were more often borrowed than bought, which meant that Princess Grace could better tailor the accessory to the outfit or event it would accompany. While she drew on a few different designers for her tiaras, Van Cleef & Arpels was one of the most frequent and could always deliver a unique and show-stopping piece. The most famous tiara that she wore from VC&A was a sparkly delight, made in 1976 and was composed of white gold, platinum, and 144 diamonds which she wore for the pre-wedding ball celebrating Princess Caroline’s first marriage to Philippe Junot.
Even in her Princely role, Princess Grace used jewelry to express a sense of humor. She had an extensive collection of animal brooches, from lions to chickens, that added a touch of whimsy to any ensemble. This duck brooch by Van Cleef and Arpels, part of a 1953 collection, was one of her favorites. It features roped gold with diamond, sapphire and emeralds forming the duck with a large cabochon emerald used for the duck’s eye. The piece is so special, it was displayed as part of a 2010 exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum entitled “Grace Kelly: Style Icon,” next to memorable pieces such as the dress she wore to accept the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1955. It is important that the brooches such as this were highlighted next to her more traditionally elegant looks. Curator Jenny Lister noted that many “people didn’t realize that [Princess Grace] had a sense of fun,” and the inclusion of the brooches helps to dispel that myth. Princess Grace’s use of unique pieces from throughout the Van Cleef & Arpels catalog helped to create and strengthen her indelible style and will continue to inspire for years to come.