Some of the most adored ballets produced in the 20th century were choreographed by George Balanchine, the co-founder and first artistic director of New York City Ballet. One ballet in particular, Jewels, became an instant classic after it premiered its three acts— Emeralds, Rubies and Diamonds— at Lincoln Center in 1967. This ballet is rumored to have its roots in a visit Mr. Balanchine took to Van Cleef & Arpels on Fifth Avenue, where he met with owner and designer, Claude Arpel. Balanchine was supposedly so inspired by the gemstones and jewelry encased at the store that he created a ballet based on them.
Emeralds, rubies and diamonds are some of the most adored gemstones worldwide. Today we will explore the very jewels that evoked this famed ballet and why these gems are truly exceptional, inspiring and desirable.
Dressed in the finest of greens, the ballet dancers of Emeralds sparkle on stage in the first act as they dance to music taken from Gabriel Fauré's concert suites. The women wear calf-length skirts with layers of various green tulles. Meanwhile, the men wear deep fern-like velvet tops and white tights. Both costumes are dotted with faux-emeralds around the collar and waist. The multi-dimensional and elaborate colored layers mimic the unmistakable and beloved essence of emeralds.
While there are other green gemstones in the world, nothing comes close to the deep, verdant color of an emerald. This striking hue is present thanks to the presence of chromium and sometimes a bit of vanadium or iron in the beryl that makes up the stone. The difference in color can sometimes be attributed to location. Often, emeralds from Brazil have a darker, rich tone due to the presence of vanadium, while those from Zambia are brighter, with a slightly bluish-green coloration due to the iron present. Emeralds can be found in other locations worldwide, including India, Madagascar, Russia and Israel — all with varying tones of green.
As early as 330 BC, emeralds were mined in Egypt and became the favorite stone of Cleopatra. The Egyptian Queen’s palace, clothing and jewelry were frequently adorned with the green gemstones. In both the Ancient Roman and Ptolemaic worlds, the emerald was the most important and valuable gemstone. This popularity quickly led to the Egyptian mine’s depletion of the stone.
Ancient Aztecs and Incans placed a high value on emeralds found in modern-day Colombia as well. They were mined by indigenous tribes for over 500 years before colonization by the Spaniards in the 16th century. Soon after, Colombian emeralds became a favorite of European royalty. To this day, Colombia is the premier location for finding the most superb emeralds free of any bluish tint.
Today, emeralds are a favorite in rings, earrings and necklaces. What eye wouldn’t be drawn to the wonderful hue of an emerald?
Rubies appear on stage next, dancing to music by Stravinsky. Angular strips of layered red fabric create a flouncy skirt while faux-jewels surround the neckline of the women. The men are dressed in deep reds with light golden details for contrast. These costumes are excellent tributes to the exceptional nature of rubies.
Rubies are some of the most beloved and coveted jewels on the market, and they are often considered even rarer than natural diamonds! The trade of rubies dates to 200 BC on the Silk Road, where people of ancient cultures that saw them as symbols of wisdom and beauty or believed they held the power of life and death through protection. In India, rubies have even been called “the king of the gemstone.”
The most coveted ruby color is “Pigeon’s Blood” or blood-red color. So rich and saturated, its luminescent crimson color can almost always be traced to Mogok’s mines in Burma. These rare rubies have been mined at this location since 600 AD. In 1597, Mogok's mines were traded to the King of Burma, who immediately decreed that any large ruby be handed back to the crown. This led to many miners breaking up their gemstones instead of surrendering them to royalty. This practice continued until Great Britain annexed upper Burma in 1885, and the ruby mines came under the control of the British Empire. But by then, almost three centuries of mining had seen the largest treasures broken into smaller pieces. Finding a large ruby with the prized “pigeon's blood” color is exceptionally rare.
Unlike diamonds and other gemstones, imperfections in rubies can actually improve the gem’s appearance. A velvety appearance can be seen from small, silk-like inclusions that soften the appearance. The presence of these imperfections almost certainly means the gemstone has not been heat treated.
Rubies are one of the most coveted stones on the market because of their exceptional nature. Whether on the wrist, finger, neck or earlobe of the wearer, rubies are always eye-catching and unique with their warm red glow.
While the phrase “diamonds are a girl’s best friend’ may be true, they were also a dear friend of Mr. Balanchine. His show is rounded off with the spectacular Diamonds act set to the music of Tchaikovsky. Women in bright white leotards and tutus grace the stage among men in all white tights and tops decorated with golden accents. This finale is a beautiful homage to Van Cleef & Arpel’s wonderful collection of colorless and white diamonds.
Diamonds were mined as early as 800 BC in modern-day India. These first diamonds were harvested from rivers and streams and were not exceptionally common, leading them to be reserved almost exclusively for the wealthiest of classes. However, as mining practices became more robust over time and other areas rich in diamonds were found, trade opened to the West. From this expansion, there have been exceptional diamonds found all over the world: the Hope Diamond, Koh-i-Noor, Cullinan Diamond and Regent Diamond. These wonderful diamonds are notable for their dazzling quality and astonishing size.
While the diamonds that inspired this act of the ballet were white or colorless, diamonds can be found in many different colors throughout the world. Fancy yellow, orangy-browns, fancy blues, and the extremely rare red or pink diamonds are all highly sought after colored diamonds. In fact, the widely adored 44.52-ct Hope Diamond is an excellent example of an exceptional Fancy Grayish-Blue color.
Colorless diamonds became exceptionally popular in the 20th century as diamond engagement rings found popularity. But today’s diamond popularity doesn’t lie solely lie in rings. Necklaces, earrings and bracelets often have diamond centerpieces and accents. It is difficult to pass up the sparkle and fire of a diamond on any piece of jewelry!
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