The legend of Van Cleef & Arpels diamonds is the start of something big

A big, big, big diamond inspired Van Cleef & Arpels’ Legend of Diamond collection. Did we mention he was tall?

Sometimes the most fantastic stories are rooted precisely in reality. For its superb Legend of Diamonds high jewelry collection, Van Cleef & Arpels is not inspired, according to the code of the brand, by legendary places inked between the pages of centuries-old fairy tales, but rather by the distinguished archives of the House. Oh, and a big one, big, big diamond.

The word “legendary” – alongside equally dramatized and, often, undeserved adjectives like “iconic” or, for Americans, “awesome” – is a word used far too loosely in the modern vernacular.

Whether the adjective is used to describe heroism that tends towards the mythical or as a word of applause for remarkable deeds and achievements, “legendary” serves as a reaction; a standing ovation conveyed by “Bravos!” in recognition of an exceptional set of events that have already happened and are now falling to dust.

Diamonds, though? Specifically, a rough diamond weighing 910 (910!) carats? Yes OK. Legendary.

Van Cleef & Arpels catalog circa 1922

The faceted cuts of precious stones and diamonds that sparkle through the colorful history of Van Cleef & Arpels have, for the most part, their own legendary stories. In 1921, the pear-shaped, brilliant-cut Prince Edward of York, named in honor of the birth of his namesake, was described as being so scintillating “all day a human hedge stands in ecstasy before his beauty “. Then there was Princess Fawzia of Egypt’s wedding set, which included a tiara with 57 brilliant pear-shaped diamonds and a necklace with 90, all of which took six months of research to collect and complete. Then, again, there were 200 carats of round and baguette diamonds dripping from the frilled necklace of Queen Nazli of Egypt, now included in Van Cleef & Arpels’ heritage collection.

But it’s not just white diamonds. Colored diamonds also have their place in the Maison’s archives, as evidenced by the Blue Heart, worn by the dancer Zizi Jeanmaire at the Bal de Versailles; the Princie Diamond, a 34.64-carat cushion-cut pink diamond believed to have been owned since the 18th century by the Nizams of Hyderabad, which most recently sold at Christie’s for over US$39 million in 2013; the 96.62-carat briolette-cut yellow diamond once owned by singer Ganna Walska that now sits on a Bird clip — and so on.

The Blue Heart diamond set as a pendant on a necklace, circa 1953

These diamonds led legendary lives; were loved and cherished. Were, perhaps, lost, then found; transmitted and sold at auction before being reassembled in the Mystery-Set creations of Van Cleef & Arpels. These bright, shiny deposits of carbon and minerals might have once been promised as dedications of undying love. Maybe even twice; thrice. They could have shone through the Roaring 20s; could have sparkled at parties you and I can only dream of attending; could have followed suit as secrets are exchanged and passed on in whispers. Whether truth or bits of whimsical fiction, these precious gems have shone through the time we now think of as history. The stuff of legend, some would say.

But what is rare and marvelous is to bear witness to the beginnings of the “legend”; traces of something extraordinary to come. Of course, there is greatness in hearing wonderful stories, but being present and, beyond that, being able to participate and have hands and ten fingers in the creation of something that must be considered a legend? It’s something special. And that is precisely the beauty of the Lesotho Legend, the 910-carat rough diamond (yes, you read that right) from Van Cleef & Arpels’ new Legend of Diamond high jewelry collection has been meticulously crafted.

The Legend of Lesotho, weighing 910 carats

“The House rarely works with rough stones,” explains Nicolas Bos, Chairman and CEO of Van Cleef & Arpels. “We traditionally start with cut and faceted stones that are already suitable for jewelry. This is the first time in decades that we have taken part in a project from its starting point – the extraction of the stone – to the creation of a High Jewelry collection. The appearance of this extraordinary rough stone gave us this unique opportunity to tell a story around the diamond.

The Lesotho Legend, presented to Van Cleef & Arpels by longtime diamond partner Taché in 2018, is the fifth largest rough diamond ever mined. While certainly impressive, its gargantuan 910-carat stature isn’t the only criteria that makes it a truly impressive find. Its perfect D color, crystallization and Type 2A chemical composition – in simple terms, this simply means the diamond is chemically the purest with the greatest optical clarity – are all cardinal details that make the Lesotho Legend, eh well, legendary.

“Finding a stone of this size in its natural state is a real emotion,” says the director of the stone department at Van Cleef & Arpels. “It’s the kind of thing you dream of but dare not imagine. We are here at the beginning of this diamond, after its formation, when there has not yet been any human intervention. When I see a rough stone like this, I wish it would stay that way, because it is so beautiful.

Unfortunately for the director but very fortunately for us, the Lesotho legend gets the ax via the expert maneuvers of Diamcad, the first diamond cutter in Antwerp. And what emerged from the state-of-the-art cutting, positioning, faceting and polishing were 67 flawless to internally flawless quality diamonds; totaling 441.75 carats, including a single specimen of 79.35 carats – the heaviest of 67 – placed as the centerpiece of the Atours Mystérieux necklace in the collection.

The beating heart of Legend of Diamonds, the brilliant oval-cut white diamond of the Mysterious Garments is complemented by rubies kept afloat by the House’s long-standing, patented traditional and individual settings. Inspired by the late 1930s, the two-tone composition of this masterpiece is a direct reference to Van Cleef & Arpels’ collarette necklace, while its undulating shapes nod to another diamond-studded creation designed for Queen Nazli of Egypt. The Atours Mystérieux, testimony to the technical ingenuity of the House, can also be transformed with an Individual Mystery Set composition which can replace the 79.35 carat if you wish to wear it differently. Clever!

The rest of the 25-piece Legend of Diamond high jewelry collection continues to nod to so many Van Cleef & Arpels designs already in existence, including the curved shapes of the 1937 Floating Ribbon brooch; the graphic lines of the Discs earrings from two years ago; and the different couture cuts that have inspired the Maison since its genesis.

The legend, like all stories held sacred, has to start somewhere. Somewhere already legendary.

Learn more about the Van Cleef & Arpels Legend of Diamond high jewelry collection here

Sarah C. Figueiredo