The Quatrefoil: From The Byzantine Era to Van Cleef To Your Home

You may know this image as a four-leaf clover, an Irish symbol of good luck, but you may not know that this Quatrefoil is a historical architectural element used since the medieval era.

The quatrefoil is formed by four circles overlapping on the same diameter, however a less popular variation of the quatrefoil is four circles combined with a square as you see below.

The four circle shape received a great deal of architectural attention in the Renaissance and periods, appearing in the stained glass and arches of countless churches and cathedrals across Europe.
In America the quatrefoil is a Military symbol, adorning the top of officer’s peaked caps. Legend has it that the quatrefoil was used as an identifier, put on peaked caps to discern between American marine sharp shooters and enemy sailors. The quatrefoil is also used as a symbol of the Phi Mu sorority and the Bishop James Madison Society, which was founded in 1812 at the College of William and Mary. It isn’t a surprise that through a deep history in architecture and American culture the shape has become the hottest symbol in interior design and the fashion world.

The quatrefoil has been made iconic by legendary French jeweler Van Cleef and Arpels. In 1896 Frenchman Alfred Van Cleef married Estelle Arpels, daughter of Soloman Arpels, a fine stone dealer. In 1906 Alfred joined his in laws and founded a company, specializing in precious stones. That same year Van Cleef and Arpels moved into a boutique at the swanky 22 Place Vendome address and from then on became a staple among the rich, royal and fabulous. More stores began to pop up around European resort communities like Nice and Monte-Carlo. In 1968 Van Cleef debuted its Alhambra necklace and the quatrefoil began to characterize the company. Just as Chanel has the interlocking Cs, Hermes is brown and orange, Van Cleef is known by the quatrefoil.

The Alhambra Necklace as it would’ve been seen in the late sixties. Do you think Don Draperwould’ve given one to Betty? It’s a favorite style of owner Melissa Hawks!
Recently there has been a great deal of press surrounding the unauthorized use of the quatrefoil. Van Cleef has been extra protective of its symbol shutting down knock off manufactures and even suing model-mogul Heidi Klum. In August of this past year Klum announced that she and designer Pascal Mouawad were discontinuing the Heidi Klum jewelry line rather than engage in battle with Van Cleef. Klum said the following regarding her legal woes with the Jeweler:

“…they wanted to have the clover, even though our designs had never matched, I don’t know how many designs I had done in five years, maybe 800 different designs — but they just wanted to own the clover motif. So they went after everyone who does that — Louis Vuitton! — they said, “We own the clover.” And I was like, “Then who’s the person with the clover and the person with the heart?” I think when you’re a small company, which we are, we’re not a Van Cleef — they have a thousand lawyers. I’m a small fry next to that.”

Above: Klum pictured in earrings from her line. Below: Klum really does have to kiss that pendant goodbye
Below a current version of the Alhambra necklace available through Van Cleef and Arpels

Luckily the one place you can feel free to use the quatrefoil without infringement is in your home. Countless manufacturers and designers use the quatrefoil in their textiles and incorporate the shape into their overall design. At The Well Appointed House we have a great selection of personalized Lucite accents and gifts that come in the quatrefoil pattern. The “Happy Tile” or “Happy Hexagon” print can be customized with your initials in number of different products including our hostess tray, frames, notepads and evensalt and peppershakers.

Since the quatrefoil is a descendent of the four-leaf clover it brings good luck, so don’t forget about these products when looking for a special gift because, lets call a spade and spade and a quatrefoil a quatrefoil… who couldn’t use a little luck?

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  1. Precious and Pink

    The VCA quatrefoil pieces are so beautiful! Thank you for doing a post about the history. I actually have the Dabney Lee note pad and matching clipboard in the color set pictures above. I recommend to to everyone, its so chic & fun.

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