BY MAIA ADAMS, ADORN INSIGHT
When it comes to symbolism, few gemstones can match the pedigree of July’s birthstone: the ruby. Mentioned in the Bible and ancient Sanskrit texts, it denoted friendship and vitality. In the belief that rubies protected the wearer from ill health and misfortune, Burmese warriors went as far as inserting them under their skin before going into battle. The notion that they promoted wealth did much for their popularity among royal elites. Synonymous with passion, rubies have inspired love-struck devotees down the ages. Today, thanks to a renewed interest in classic coloured gems, the stone that was once believed to make water boil is hot property all over again.
Traditionally, the most coveted rubies come from the valley of Mogok in Myanmar and boast a hue known as pigeon blood. So rare are these stones nowadays that in recent months a spate of Burmese rubies have commanded eye-watering sums at auction, the highest being a record-breaking $30.3 million for the 25.59ct ‘Sunrise Ruby’ set in a Cartier ring that sold at Sotheby’s in Geneva.
Fotocredit: Saverio Lombardi Vallauri, Milan. © Ingo Maurer GmbH, Munich
Fotocredit: Paolo Pettigiani Infrared Central Park; Watch by Kana, Designer: Chen Juan; The Scarlett Emss Collection by Lydia Courteille, Ring in 18k Gold with Ruby; Air through my Ashes by Mickael Joe as seen In Gem Visions
With such high profile exposure, it’s no surprise that rubies are enjoying a renaissance among designers and consumers whose desire for innovation is leading them to explore less conventional jewellery applications. With a hardness of 9 on the Mohs scale (second only to diamonds) ruby’s resilience lends it well to experimentation that has given rise to all manner of unusual cuts and settings. San Francisco-based Petra Class creates bold geometric jewellery set with ruby slices which iridesce like stained glass windows in sunlight. Parisian Lydia Courteille’s Baroque-flavoured Scarlett Empress collection bursts with intensely red one-of-a kind marvels that feature rubies set against an unusual backdrop of red and black enamel, and red rhodium gold. Hisano Shepherd of edgy brand Little H carves soufflé pearls and lines them with reclaimed rubies, creating a jagged interior that contrasts with the pearl’s smoothly undulating exterior. More commercially, but no less effectively, Suzanne Kalan’s low key 18k gold cuff set with off-kilter ruby baguettes is the perfect everyday wear piece to work the ruby trend. It would be remiss in a review of this kind to ignore the fact that the ruby trade is not without its challenges. At the time of writing, for example, the USA’s ongoing sanctions against the import of Burmese rubies remain in force. But these are unlikely to have a major impact on the wider market since demand for superfine Burmese stones is confined to such limited circles.
Furthermore, news that the “world’s first ruby symposium” will launch in Bangkok next year chimes with growing consumer interest in transparency and trustworthiness across supply chains, has inspired ethical initiatives in other parts of the jewellery sector. And with new ruby sources in Mozambique and Greenland anticipated to more than cater to ever-growing demand, we won’t need the excuse of a birthday to treat ourselves (or be treated!) to this king of gemstones.
In fashion and film rubies are playing a starring role, too.The seasonal catwalks were awash with rich red garments and at Giambattista Valli’s fall couture show last week models dripped with jewels from Buccellati’s latest high jewellery collection, including pendant earrings set with large carved rubies. To mark the opening of its four-storey boutique in London this month, Dior debuted a limited edition red, white and blue high jewellery line dubbed Archi Dior. Exceptional pieces from the range include the Bar en Corolle ring - its cinched ruby ‘waistband’ a homage to the iconic Dior Bar silhouette - and a swan-inspired Cygne ring with a ruby nestling in its diamond-set folds. At the Cannes Film Festival Chopard rubies bedecked actresses such as Frédérique Bel - who wowed in earrings that shimmered with unusual briolette rubies - and Zhao Tao who rocked a maximalist look in an elaborate ruby parure. In the States, the release of new documentary ‘The Slippers’ at the 2016 Wizard of Oz Festival delighted a legion of Oz fans by adding a new chapter to the story of the world’s most famous pair of shoes. In the wider design arena ruby hues are the current palette of choice. Paolo Pettigiani’s infrared photographs of New York’s Central Park have become an Instagram sensation. Lighting designer Ingo Maurer’s ‘Glow, Velasca, Glow!’ installation for Audi – which turned the city’s Torre Velasca into a glowing red beacon – was a standout image of Milan Design Week.
Fotocredit: Pendant with Ruby - Little H Grotto Collection; Ring by Leon Mege as seen in Gem Visions