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Van Cleef & Arpels 'Treasure of Rubies' collection
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Pigeon’s blood – what a truly strange descriptor for defining the rarest gemstones on earth. The term serves as a vivid visual for relating the highest possible point of a ruby’s saturated color and natural red fluorescence. “Asking to see the pigeon’s blood is like asking to see the face of God,” is a phrase often repeated in gemological circles, supposedly first said by a 19th century ruby trader from Burma. But it’s not alone in highlighting the immense rarity of true “pigeon’s blood rubies”; ruby translates from Sanskrit as “king of precious stones”.

Contrary to popular belief, rubies aren’t just red – at least not in the traditional sense. Instead, their color is defined by saturation levels and depth of hue, which can range from blood red to lilac, with a surprising amount of pink in between. Put your eye right up to a ruby, with the help of a handheld loupe, and you’ll see an entire galaxy inside: strata of lilac streaking through hot-pink crystal lattices surrounded by ponds of pure red.

Van Cleef & Arpels, a legendary fine-jewelry house founded in Paris in 1896 by Alfred Van Cleef and his uncle Salomon Arpels, has turned its ruby expertise into an exquisite new collection called ‘Treasure of Rubies’. However, to understand what really makes this collection so extraordinary, it’s important to know what factors make rubies the rarest and most valuable of all the gemstones on earth.

Photo: Courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels

Not only does it take millions of years and intense amounts of pressure to form rubies, but the factors that create them are so rare that this red gemstone is able to command the highest per-carat price of any colored stone on the market. Rubies are made from mineral corundum, which starts out as a colorless substance – it is chromium that gives rubies their intense color. The more chromium that is present in the stone, the redder it is, and the more intense its fluorescence. While this may sound like stuffy, technical geology jargon, it’s actually critical to know this if you’re trying to own the purest ruby possible. Not only that, but it’s necessary to know where they come from.

Conventional wisdom says to buy rubies from Myanmar, which is the oldest recorded source of fine rubies in the world. Five centuries of ruby-mining have made the Mogok area in Myanmar the epicenter of the market. However, Vietnam’s Luc Yen region also produces rubies, as well as the Quy Chau district further south. In more recent times, Mozambique was discovered as an important source in 2009, with mines in Montepuez producing prolific amounts of the raw stone. Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Tanzania, and Madagascar are alternate sources of rubies and, curiously enough, so is Greenland. If you want to invest in rubies, make sure that their origin is from one of these countries as it will assure the highest quality possible.

From the raw stone to a gem setting, rubies undergo all manner of transformations. Most often, they are heat-treated to remove purplish coloration, which leaves a purer red hue. The process can also remove “silk” (minute needle-like inclusions) that can cause a gem to appear lighter in tone and be more opaque. Rubies can also be subjected to lattice diffusion treatments and dyeing, both of which are processes that make the ruby more vulnerable to damage and wear down the line.

When you’re searching for the perfect ruby jewelry, make sure you ask how the ruby has been treated and by what method. There are also some governing bodies that help ensure ruby quality, like the Federal Trade Commission, which requires disclosure of treatments that affect a gemstone’s perceived value, and the GIA Identification Report, which is important in identifying if a stone is natural or synthetic and whether it has been treated.

‘Treasure of Rubies’ is a one-of-a-kind jewelry collection dedicated to a single stone. The rubies used are the highest quality imaginable, rarer still than diamonds. With over 3,000 carats of certified rubies, 60 unique creations await your discovery. Employing the Maison’s signature “mystery set”, which is one of the most difficult stone-setting techniques on earth, Van Cleef & Arpels achieves astonishing shapes, asymmetry, and structures unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. In the gallery below are a few of the key pieces from the collection, alongside descriptions that define their excellence and impressive facades.

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