From weddings to coronations, the glitz, opulence and romance of royal engagements often leave the entire world in awe. In case you haven’t noticed, there’s one single element that carries central significance at all of these special occasions: the jewels. The jewellery collections of royal families are generally meant to be passed down from generation to generation, adding a historical significance to marvellous pieces which symbolise the power and continuity of the monarchy. That’s why it’s essential for royal families to select jewellers who can not only produce dazzling pieces of magnificent quality, but also whose creations possess elegance, grace and refinement that can stand the test of time.
With a history and expertise in jewellery making that spans more than a century, French luxury jeweller Van Cleef & Arpels have a relationship with royalty around the world dating back to 1906. The famous Peony (Pivoine) Flower, for example, was purchased as a gift for Her Royal Highness Princess Fawzia of Egypt — the daughter of King Fouad and Queen Nazli — in 1946, and it’s one of the absolute highlights that demonstrates the Maison’s exquisite artistry.
The Pivoine clip’s flower contains 640 square Burmese rubies and six oval-facetted rubies. The foliage, on the other hand, is set with 43 baguette-cut and 196 round diamonds, resulting in a total weight of 100 carats for rubies and 30 carats for diamonds.
Not only does the floral theme epitomise Van Cleef & Arpels’ iconic style since its founding, but the Mystery Set technique utilised in the clip has also been one of the jeweller’s signatures since its invention in 1933. This special gem setting is extremely difficult to achieve, as it requires stones of matching colour, quality and size. Given the rarity of these “pigeon blood” rubies, this is undoubtably an exceptional piece of royal quality.
No occasion can be more important to the royals — and the entire nation — than Coronation Day. In 1966, Van Cleef & Arpels received the most prestigious special order in the Maison’s history: a crown for Empress Farah Pahlavi‘s coronation in Teheran. The resulting crown was sumptuously adorned with jewels from the National Treasury, located in the Central Bank of Iran — a requirement adhering to local tradition. When completed, it weighed a total of 4.3 pounds and contained 1,541 stones, including a spectacular 150-carat emerald that is set at the very centre. The Maison also created a matching emerald necklace to be paired with the bejewelled crown, as well as various jewellery sets for Shah Reza Palhavi’s sisters and daughters.
Aside from reputable royals, Van Cleef & Arpels was also a favourite of a particular royal figure who had a notorious reputation for her scandalous life choices and lavish lifestyle: the Maharani of Baroda — wife of the Maharaja of Baroda — who was also known as “The Indian Wallis Simpson”. Even though the origins of the royal couple’s spending power eventually cost them their titles — they basically stole from the National Treasury — her insatiable passion and exquisite taste for jewellery was unmistakable. Consisting of over 300 pieces, her fabulous jewellery collection stretches back to the Mughal era, and the most spectacular item of them all is none other than the Baroda necklace, another Van Cleef & Arpels creation.
Also known as the Lotus necklace or the Hindu necklace, the extravagant piece was ordered in 1950 during one of her trips to the Van Cleef & Arpels boutique at Place Vendôme in Paris. It consists of 13 pear-shaped Colombian emeralds — weighing a total of 154.70 carats — suspended from a lotus flower set with pavé-set diamonds, with an additional number of emeralds and diamonds adorning the body. An interesting thing to note, however, is that the gems were all supplied by the Maharani and were, in fact, sourced from the Baroda crown jewels.
Jewels are magnificent objects that often hold symbolic meanings for its owners — for royals, status, power and identity — and therefore, they often have unique stories to tell. L’ÉCOLE, School of Jewelry Arts will be in Hong Kong this September, offering all of us an opportunity to learn more about the history of different jewels from two historical experts. You may sign up for these courses here.
If you particularly enjoy dark and extravagant fairytales, L’ÉCOLE, School of Jewelry Arts is also hosting an ‘evening conversation’ section on 19 September, where French journalist, historian and author of ‘Treasures and Legends’ Vincent Meylan will share with us the amazing stories of Van Cleef & Arpels featuring the most prestigious women and men in history, from Empress Farah, the secrets of the treasure of Iran, to Queen Marie-Amélie’s missing emeralds and the blood-red rubies of the kings of Burma.
L’ÉCOLE, School of Jewelry Arts, The Qube, PMQ, 35 Aberdeen Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2532 7259