Van Cleef & Arpels’ long association with the world of ballet began with a series of ballerina brooches that received their public debut in New York in the early 1940s. Louis Arpels, inspired by his passion for the dance form, created some of his most iconic work: charming figures with diamond faces, dressed in chiffon tutus and pointe shoes, gracefully performing dance steps. In 1961, Claude and Pierre Arpels met the famous choreographer George Balanchine. Their shared passion for gemstones and ballet was ultimately embodied in the 1967 première of a new ballet entitled Jewels. Each of the three striking acts of this ballet is dedicated to a particular precious stone: emeralds, rubies and diamonds. This fruitful collaboration is perhaps the most spectacular, in every sense of the word, demonstrating how one art form can enrich another. I was so impressed by the story of this partnership that it made me wonder: can jewellers make ballet costumes more spectacular, just as fashion designers have? Jean-Paul Gaultier, Stella McCartney, Prada, Alexander McQueen, Erdem Moralıoğlu, Coco Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld have all worked as costume designers for certain productions at one point. Let’s have a look and see!
The plot of one of the most popular ballets by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is one I think many people know. Princess Odette shuns an evil wizard who casts a spell that turns her into a swan. But Prince Siegfried, who falls in love with the swan princess, manages to break the sorcerer’s spell despite the latter’s cunning and deception. Key events unfold on the shore of a lake, and nature echoes the sentiments of the protagonists as the atmosphere of total serenity is supplanted by a storm, thunder and waves. Deep waters, sincere emotions, a swan’s devotion and the triumph of light over darkness are usually represented in jewellery using colourless diamonds which could be a great addition to Odette’s stage costume. Damiani, Boucheron, Messika, Mike Joseph and Stephen Webster necklaces, along with Boucheron, Cartier and Rio Tinto tiaras and Graff watches, perfectly suit the princess’ look. The image of Odile, meanwhile, representing the forces of evil, can be complemented by a Chirag Gems necklace made of black and colourless diamonds as well as a ring by Boucheron decorated with a black and white swan.
The main storyline centres on the love triangle between a young soldier called José, who becomes a deserter and a smuggler for the sake of his love for the beautiful gypsy Carmen, who herself is in love with a Toreador. Spanish passions end tragically: Carmen dies at the hands of José, who stabs her in a fit of jealousy. The colour of passion, fire, opposition and love is, of course, red. In my view, the most obvious gemstone equivalent is the exceptionally rare “pigeon blood” ruby. When it comes to this stone, Faidee immediately comes to mind as the world’s foremost proponent of Burmese rubies with the largest collection of this rare variety. A Faidee ring with scarlet heart-cut gems perfectly encapsulates Carmen’s passionate and freedom-loving nature alongside Austy Lee earrings with the self-explanatorily name Chakras Fire. The less obvious red-coloured minerals that could be used include red spinel, as in the David Yurman necklace, red agate, as in the Annoushka pendant from the Flamenco collection inspired by the Spanish dance form, and even wood marquetry, as in the works of Sylvia Furmanovich. And tell me what stereotypical gypsy woman does not love the sound of jangling coins? The Italian brand Bvlgari has a whole collection of jewellery whose design is built around ancient coins. And the work of Master Exclusive, Roberto Coin, Henn, Buccellati and Gucci that depicts bulls could serve as a worthy entourage for a Toreador obsessed with bullfighting.
The French peasant girl, the widely beloved Giselle, was living happily in a country idyll surrounded by nature until Duke Albrecht tricks her into returning his affections and breaks her heart. The girl dies, but even as a spirit, she remains true to her love and saves Albrecht. This fantastical ballet proclaims the triumph of love, proving it to be stronger than death. I think this ballet is one of the most fitting when it comes to jewellery; nature is one of the most treasured and popular topics for jewellers. This is why Anna Hu is known as the Queen of Butterflies: her surname means “butterfly” in Chinese, and every year she releases several unique gemstone insects, a fabulous number of which are already a part of her arsenal. Bvlgari, De Beers, Eliane Fattal, Mirari, Tiffany & Co. and many other brands have also released sets, entire collections even, dedicated to winged beauties under their own name. The jewellery industry can offer just as many colours. It is probably easier to list the designers who have not addressed the theme. Fragrant buds have left very few of them feeling indifferent. Even grapes, which feature at the beginning of the ballet, have been portrayed using precious materials, the most appetising being the Arunashi brooch in my opinion. Giselle remains true to herself, even in death, so it is appropriate to replace the translucent pastel shades of the first act with a more dramatic colour scheme to match the story: a Chopard flower brooch and Austy Lee butterfly earrings made of titanium with opals would be perfect. The illusory nature of our existence can also be clearly expressed with the Damiani sapphire necklace.
Of course, the images of ballet dancers presented here are a bold fantasy. But who knows, maybe 100 years from now it will be difficult to imagine a prima ballerina’s costume devoid of any high jewellery.