The latest high jewellery collection by Van Cleef & Arpels contains an astounding 3,000 carats of rubies—and it’s still much more than meets the eye

We pull up on the driveway of the century-old former home of the Nai Lert family, one of Thailand’s most prominent. A calm, lush expanse of park strewn with heritage buildings, the Nai Lert Park Heritage Home feels a million miles from the surrounding noise and traffic chaos of Bangkok, providing a welcome sense of peace as we prepare to view Van Cleef & Arpels’ latest high jewellery collection, Treasure of Rubies.

And serenity is what is required to fully appreciate the pageantry of the collection, which comprises a staggering 3,000 carats of rubies set in 60 high jewellery pieces—20 of which are transformable—displayed on white stone busts.

The French maison chose a glasshouse in the heritage compound to show the lustrous collection, with natural light coming from every direction to best animate the fiery red hue of the rubies. The effect is spectacular, and I’m instantly aware I’ll probably never again see such a display of exceptional stones and jewellery in one place.

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Treasure of Rubies is the latest addition to Van Cleef & Arpels’ Pierres de Caractère collections, which pay homage to the beauty of specific gems—their enchanting hues and the emotions they evoke—as opposed to the maison’s figurative, conceptual collections, such as last year’s memorable Quatre Contes de Grimm inspired by the tales of the Brothers Grimm.

“If you look back at our history, indeed we are known for our designs, our fantastical themes and, of course, our signature mystery setting,” says Nicolas Luchsinger, president of Van Cleef & Arpels Asia-Pacific. “But perhaps unknown to many, the house has also owned some of the most important and incredible gemstones in history. One was a 95-carat pear-shaped yellow diamond once owned by opera singer and socialite Ganna Walska which we set on a gold flying bird now known as the Walska brooch. We love precious stones and it is through collections like these that we are able to pay homage to the glory of the stones themselves—their character, personality and diversity.”

A labour of love

Treasure of Rubies took at least a decade to complete, says Luchsinger, who is the director of the maison’s Heritage Collection. “Demand is so high for rubies right now and supply is very limited—increasingly, too, as time goes by. As such it was quite an achievement to be able to bring together this many rubies of such superior quality.” Indeed, top-quality rubies, a stone the Indians call “the king of gems,” are rarer and more valuable than diamonds.

While it’s one thing to find such individual rubies, it’s quite another to match the stones. “For instance, if you want to create a necklace with 15 or 20 stones, you want them all to be of the same quality, colour and saturation,” says Luchsinger. “And this takes time, especially longer today when you find fewer and fewer coloured stones. That’s why it took us 10 years.”

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Van Cleef & Arpels has a dedicated team to do this. Its members travel the world to find the best stones and bring them back to the design team at the maison’s Paris atelier, which is on the top floor of its building to ensure it receives the best natural light. “These two teams work collaboratively, whether it’s a thematic collection or a stone-focused one,” says Luchsinger. “It’s a fascinating dynamic.”

Given the inventiveness and ingenuity apparent in Van Cleef & Arpels’ thematic high jewellery collections, I imagine the designers have to practise some restraint when working on the stone-focused collections. But to my delight, while a few of the Treasure of Rubies pieces lean towards classical style, most display an unmistakeable Van Cleef & Arpels touch. As Luchsinger explains, “It’s very difficult to make a diamond ring, for instance, recognisable and distinct. Fortunately for us, we managed to establish a very unique signature that’s just ours. Take our mystery setting; you see a piece in that setting and right away you know it’s a Van Cleef & Arpels. With the careful guidance and direction of Nicolas Bos, our CEO and creative director, our designs—no matter if it’s a subtle one or a showpiece—are consistent and have that unmistakeable Van Cleef & Arpels DNA.”

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Worn by royalty

One of the 60 creations taking my breath away is an elaborate necklace like those once worn by maharajas. Nine rows of ruby beads of an intense red and weighing more than 1,000 carats—a third of the weight of the entire collection—make up this exquisite ensemble. It features two clasps that enable it to be transformed into a 4-, 5- or 9-strand necklace.

Another is the aptly named Rubis Flamboyant Transformable Necklace, with an extremely rare cushion-cut 25.76-carat ruby as its centrepiece surrounded by 30 carats of oval- and cushion-cut rubies and diamonds. The central ruby is of exceptional quality—the maison’s gem experts describing its hue as “perfect” —and has an interesting story. The rough had for many years been in the hands of a family unaware of the beauty it held within. When the raw stone was eventually sold and cut into a cushion shape, its perfect structure and powerful red hue was finally revealed.

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Perhaps my favourite item in the collection is the Éventail souverain bracelet, a piece inspired by a Van Cleef & Arpels bracelet set with cushion-shaped rubies created in the 1930s and once owned by Marlene Dietrich. The actress was often photographed wearing the Jarretière bracelet, and it even appears on her wrist in the Alfred Hitchcock film Stage Fright. According to her family, it was the only piece of jewellery she was reluctant to part with. It was sold at Sotheby’s auction shortly before her death and is now part of a private collection.

The Éventail souverain bracelet is a modern take on this iconic 1930s piece. On a three-dimensional bow, it showcases an exceptional set of 13 perfectly matched rubies weighing 35.05 carats. The fan shape is accentuated by a superimposed combination of round and baguette-cut diamonds, and the setting blends pink and white gold.

Such is the beauty of Van Cleef & Arpels’ jewellery. The stones are exceptional; the designs distinct and unique; and the stories—ah, the stories. Each piece can tell a fascinating tale of provenance or transport you back to fantastical childhood imaginings of fairies and unicorns.

At the very heart of each Van Cleef & Arpels collection—whether conceptual or stone-focused—is a beautiful story, and that is what sets this brand apart.

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