The Historical Color of Passion, Rubies and Fall/Winter 2017/18 Trends
It was early during the red carpet arrivals for the Academy Awards when Ruth Negga, the talented Loving actress appeared wearing an Irene Neuwirth x Gemfields tiara crafted out of different shaped Mozambique rubies. Neuwirth worked on this piece as well as a pair of earrings and a ring with Negga’s stylist Karla Welch. Before I saw any more bejeweled actress make their way past Ryan Seacrest, I tweeted and posted that it was my favorite look of the evening and sent a photo of it off to our art director to create an opening shot for my best of the 2017 Oscar jewelry story. It was a risk since I hadn’t seen many of the other jewels yet, but if the beautiful Negga could pull off a tomato red Valentino gown with deep reddish pink rubies—a combo which could have totally clashed—and also create one of those historical Oscar moments, I instinctually knew I was safe.
As I was watching and writing about the best looks of the Academy awards and opening with the shot of Ruth Negga, I thought about what I had noticed on the international runways–ready-to-wear designers were also seeing red for fall/winter 2017/18. Models strode down the catwalk in all shades from tomato to crimson and everything in between. Red made its appearance in satin, velvet, knits, wool and cashmere. In modern jewelry a trend this prevalent will traditionally translate into colored gemstones–rubies, rubies and more rubies (okay—and red spinel and rubellite), but due to the fact that ruby is my favorite stone, I need to you go with me here. Independent designers have already been featuring rough-hewn and ‘alternative’ cuts of rubies as well as cabochon and polished highly faceted looks.
In antique jewelry, I have been seeing more rubies pop up at various shows, dealers and in archival collections as of late. These span the time periods from Georgian through mid-century in glorious and imaginative pieces.
There are times when culture aspects have a way of colliding and meshing together in jewelry and fashion trends and this is definitely one of those moments. But rubies have been around for centuries—they have had a staring role history. The color of fire and blood, they are the gem most associated with passion and desire. Speak about a stone with a romantic past! The word ruby comes from Latin ruber, which means ‘red’, and in the ancient language of Sanskrit, ratnaraj, which is the word for ruby or ‘king of precious stones’. Rubies were first traced to Myanmar—a source since 600AD and were revered by great European adventurers, gem hunters and experts including Marco Polo, and Jean Tavernier. These vibrantly saturated stones from pinkish red to pigeon blood were believed to hold the power of life. By medieval times they were worn as adornments and many thought them to be talismans that guaranteed wealth, wisdom, beauty, and everlasting love.
Fast forward on the 20th century and rubies became popular amongst European nobility, international icons and Hollywood actresses. Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Grace of Monaco,The Duchess of Windsor, Marlene Dietrich and Elizabeth Taylor all had ruby jewels in their collections, which told of their romantic lives and sentimental journeys or their regal legacies. (*see below). Many of these powerful jewels were created by the renowned houses of the day and in a variety of films up to the mid-20th century, actresses chose to wear their own jewels. Whether they purchased these pieces themselves or received them as gifts, they were happy to show off jewelry designed for them by houses such as Trabert & Hoeffer-Mauboussin, Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Verdura, David Webb and Bulgari. Throughout Hollywood’s Golden Age, film icons were regarded almost like royalty. So when magazines such as Photoplay reported that the stars were wearing their own precious gems in movies, it evoked an even greater allure among women wanting to emulate the favorite stars.
Speaking of films, who can forget the 1990 Pretty Woman when Richard Gere’s character Edward surprises Julia Roberts as Vivian by taking her out to the opera. When Vivian greets him in a red off-the-shoulder gown, he has a jewelry box for her to open—and playfully snaps the lid of the case on her fingers (an improvised prank by the actor). Roberts lets loose that genuine big laugh of hers, creating box office magic. The necklace is a ruby and diamond dazzler, which was custom-designed for the film by French jewelry house Fred Joaillier. In the film, Edward tells her to be careful with it because he has hired the piece for the evening. Vivian asks him how much it cost and he tells her $250,000, which was, in reality, the necklace’s actual price.
Back to the present, this fire-y stone with it’s radiating glow and intensity seduces like no other colored gem. Whether you are more inclined to choose those that have a irreverent vibe, are polished to perfection or pieces from 100 or more years ago, there is nothing that quite compares to the romance of rubies.
A bit of history about certain renowned rubies and the iconic women of style who owned and wore them :
One of the dramatic pieces given by King Edward VIII to Wallis Simpson for her fortieth birthday in 1936 was a platinum necklace by Van Cleef & Arpels with an asymmetrical tassel of five rows of rubies accented by diamonds. As had become a custom of the couple since they began seeing each other clandestinely, there was an inscription that would link together the jewels with their romance. The clasp on the necklace read: ‘My Wallis from her David 19.VI.36’. (‘David’ was his family’s name for him and many of the pieces would be engraved with that name.) Eventually the necklace was changed to reflect the new creativity and technology of the house, rendering it an even more exceptional piece. A bracelet with diamonds and rubies which was inscribed “Hold Tight” on the clasp was also designed by Van Cleef & Arpels, .It not only added to Wallis’ collection but to their ongoing love story.
When in 1973 Queen Elizabeth II wanted a tiara designed with rubies, the Palace approached the oldest jewelry house in the word, Crown jewelers Garrard. Their mission was to create a piece for the Queen’s personal jewelry collection: the Burmese Ruby Tiara. The use of rubies and the fact that the Queen commissioned rather than inherited the piece rendered it unique from the other tiaras in her collection. The gems were originally a wedding gift from the people of Burma to the-then Princess Elizabeth in November 1947. They were designed into a wreath of roses.
Understated and feminine with a regal air, Princess Grace of Monaco’s official wedding photos show her in a Cartier diamond tiara with three detachable floral clips with ruby cabochons surrounded by diamonds and set in platinum. She wore the clips both as brooches together and separately throughout her life.
Elizabeth Taylor, a contemporary of Grace Kelly, also loved rubies—but her style was more dramatic glamour. One of the most poignant items in Taylor’s personal collection was a necklace given to her in the summer of 1957 by her third husband and great love, Mike Todd, whom she had recently married. While lounging by the pool, he presented her with a platinum, ruby and diamond necklace with round, baguette and fancy cut diamonds and nineteen cushion-shaped rubies. She was pregnant with her daughter Liza at the time, and she would later describe her joy and the happiness that surrounded the moment and the gift by saying: “It was a perfect summer day and a day of perfect love.” Heartbreakingly, Todd was killed the following year when his private plane crashed.
A decade later, Taylor and her second great love, Richard Burton, had just cleaned up after Christmas Day. Taylor’s daughter Liza was holding a box behind her back, telling her mother that Burton had said she left something in the bottom of her Christmas stocking. It was a perfectly colored ruby and diamond ring. In My Love Affair with Jewelry, Taylor explained: ‘For years before, he told me ‘one day I am going to find you the most perfect ruby in the world. It’s my favorite stone—red for Wales. But it has to be perfect.'” It was at Van Cleef & Arpels that Burton found an 8.25-carat ruby. It was mounted in an 18K yellow gold ring and surrounded by eight brilliant-cut diamonds.
Of all the many pieces in Marlene Dietrich’s famous jewelry collection, it was her Van Cleef & Arpels three-dimensional ruby and diamond jarretière bracelet (c.1937) worn in the 1950 Hitchcock film Stage Fright that created the greatest buzz. Made from a selection of her own gems, the bracelet was one of Dietrich’s most cherished pieces and the one jewel she sill owned upon her passing.