Van Cleef & Arpels necklace and ring
From left: Pink gold, ruby, sapphire and diamond Zip Couture Laurier de rubis necklace. Pink and white gold, ruby and diamond Feuille de rubis ring. Photo: Courtesy

Nestled along the western bank of Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River is the Wanglee Mansion, a Chinese-styled courtyard house built in 1881 that stands as one of the few remaining relics of its kind in the city. It was accorded the Association of Siamese Architect’s Architectural Conservation Award in 1984. Yet, for all the beauty of its Chinese glazed roof tiles and its manicured carpet grass lawns, the privately-owned mansion is strictly guarded and off-limits to the public. The exception was one magnificent night in March, when its wooden doors were thrown wide open for an event befitting its stature: The launch of Van Cleef & Arpels’ Treasure of Rubies high jewellery collection, held in the midst of a city that was once the world’s commercial hub for rubies.

Colour of Passion

With 60 pièces uniques and an astounding 3,000 carats of certified rubies to its name, the Treasure of Rubies collection is impressive, not only for the breadth and diversity of its designs that span Art Deco to Modernism, but also for the fact that well-sized rubies—which are known to consistently out-price clear diamonds of the same carat weight—are exceedingly rare. The mere idea of building a full collection centred on the scarce corundum is enough to make any jeweller quake. Not Van Cleef & Arpels, who has pulled off this immense feat with much aplomb.

The Rubis Flamboyant parure, for instance, is everything its name promises. Cradling a 25.76-carat ruby cut from a rough that had been in a family safe for many years before it took its cushion-shaped form, the piece is graced with an easy-to-use, yet highly secure, closure. Deceptively simple, it cleverly allows its owner to change it from a pendant to a ring to a clip, right in the comfort of one’s own home, with no special tools required.

The mere idea of building a collection centred on rubies is enough to make any jeweller quake. Not Van Cleef & Arpels, who has pulled off this immense feat with much aplomb.

The Rubis Impérial necklace features the same ingenious versatility. Looking to the grand neck adornments of the Maharajas for inspiration, this imposing multi-strand creation features over 1,000 carats of uniformly-hued stones that can be worn as a four, five or nine row necklace through the use of two gem-encrusted clasps.

And what’s a Van Cleef & Arpels’ ruby collection without star appearances from the Maison’s famed and beloved Mystery Setting? The Etoffe Mystérieuse ring and Amour Sacré clip are just two examples where the invisible gem-setting technique (that Van Cleef & Arpels patented in 1933) shows itself in full glory, aerating designs with tight geometric lines that hearken back to the Maison’s rich heritage in ruby designs.

Walk In The Park

The next day, Van Cleef & Arpels takes us to yet another handsome location, the lush sprawling grounds of Nai Lert Park, where the collection is on display alongside archival designs that give greater context to the ruby’s place within the brand universe. There, an interview with Van Cleef & Arpels’ CEO and Global President Nicolas Bos reveals that the Maison was well aware of the difficulties that came with committing itself to such a mammoth task. As Bos disclosed, a jewellery set with just 10 matching stones can take over a decade to build, let alone a ruby collection 3,000 carats large. So when the idea to create a high jewellery collection around a single stone first struck, the brand opted for emeralds instead, resulting in the Émeraude en Majesté collection in 2016.

“The first stone that came to mind was the ruby because the ‘King of Stones’ is one that is so associated with the house. Of course, we immediately disregarded the idea because you probably could’ve done it 30 years ago, but to do a collection of rubies right now, is almost impossible,” Bos explains. “The stones are too rare, too expensive, and I didn’t want to do a collection that could have been disappointing. If we, as Van Cleef, are going to have a statement on rubies, it has to be convincing.”

Yet, like a persistent earworm that refuses to give up its hold, the blood-hued stone never strayed far from the brand’s mind. So when Van Cleef & Arpels finally gathered a trove of sizeable rubies after years of searching, it turned its eye once again to the project that first fired its passion: A collection that truly presents a treasure of rubies.

Symphony of Sight

“[This collection] shows that rubies are not of one single type or colour. You have different origins, you have different ways to work with them and to put them together. Rubies are associated with a very intense red; an expression of strength, power, passion, love. But there are also rubies that are a bit more orange or pink, that speak of something else: Some of them are more romantic, while still being very strong,” says Bos. “I don’t know if it’s a valid comparison, but like in music, sometimes you’ve got big symphonies that are driven by narrative. Then, you have [Johann Sebastian] Bach, which is a very strict exercise that shows you can create a lot of diversity even if you follow very, very strict rules. I think it is because of these constraints, in such a strict context, that [the results] can be surprising.”

From the 25.23-carat ruby of the Priya necklace that has been engraved with florals using the ancient art of glyptic, to the glittering Élixir de Rubis parure that can be worn in eight different ways, Van Cleef & Arpels has ensured the collection has much to delight and surprise. As to whether the collection is “convincing”, one can only guess through the number of designs that have been snapped up by eager buyers even before they showed. Either way, it seems Van Cleef & Arpels has succeeded in doing what it set out to do: Conduct a visual symphony that throws the spotlight on the full spectrum of the ruby’s beauty.

Photography: Richard Ramos at Fast Management
Styling: Denise Ho
Model: Myrtille Revemont at Models 1 (London)
Hair & Makeup: Miguel Álvarez at Ana Prado Management
Production and Casting: Francisco Anton-Serrano at Fast Management
Production Assistants: Jaimee Gong and Thy Van Nguyen
Styling Assistant: Anna Piroska-Toth
Photography Assistants: Hector Silva, Christian Varas and Louis De Roffignac