LONDON — Art often mirrors real life, but in the universe of Van Cleef & Arpels, art imitates jewelry.
On Friday, the revival of George Balanchine's ballet "Jewels" premiered at London's Royal Opera House. The production, a three-part ode to emeralds, rubies and diamonds, was inspired by the director's encounters with Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry in the Sixties.
It is the Royal Ballet's first production of the complete show since its debut in 1967, and to mark the occasion, Van Cleef & Arpels unveiled its latest high jewelry collection, Ballet Précieux, at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden here. The 80-piece collection echoes the "Jewels" ballet, with three dance-inspired ranges centered on emeralds, rubies and diamonds.
Van Cleef & Arpels and British bank Coutts & Co. funded the production. "Jewels" was born when the Russian-born Balanchine first saw the Van Cleef & Arpels pieces in Manhattan in the early Sixties.
"He was on his daily route past Van Cleef & Arpels on Fifth Avenue and became fascinated with the extraordinary beauty of the collections," said Stanislas de Quercize, chief executive officer and president of Van Cleef & Arpels. "His subsequent friendship with Claude and Pierre Arpels, and his deepening understanding of the jewelers' art, provided the inspiration for a new ballet, 'Jewels.'"
The production bowed on April 13, 1967, and was performed by the New York City Ballet. The "Emeralds" segment is set to Gabriel Fauré's music for "Pelléas et Mélisande" and "Shylock," which references French romantic dance from Diaghilev's Ballet Russes. "Rubies" is set to Igor Stravinsky's "Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra," which references New York dance in the Thirties and Forties. The music for "Diamonds" is Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky's "Third Symphony" and pays tribute to Balanchine's early life and training in Russia. The new production will run through Dec. 7, and stars Carlos Acosta, Edward Watson, Tamara Rojo and Alina Cojocaru. Dame Shirley Bassey was on hand to launch Friday's opening.
The show has won impressive reviews so far, with the Financial Times dubbing it a "great work" and the Guardian calling the production "radiant."Van Cleef & Arpels describes Ballet Précieux as an homage to its collaboration with Balanchine. It is the first time the house has unveiled a high jewelry collection in London. Last next month, the collection will travel to Geneva and then to Hong Kong.
Standout pieces include the Sacre du Printemps necklace featuring 99 pebble emeralds and a 10.07-carat octagonal-cut emerald ring the size of an ostrich egg. There is the Quardille, which incorporates 79 cabochon rubies, and the Prométhée necklace, which boasts three rows of pear-shaped diamonds linked by a 15.09-carat oval diamond. The jewelry house also has re-created its classic Ballerina clip, a white gold ballerina-shaped brooch with a diamond as the head. That piece had been a Van Cleef staple since the Forties.
"We wanted them to look effortless, but some have taken three years to create," said Geoffroy Medinger, general manager at Van Cleef & Arpels U.K. "Some of the more interesting pieces are the ones which give the spirit of the ballet. In one pair of earrings, for example, there is a shape which reminds you of a tutu. In other pieces, there is incredible movement conveyed — for example, the Sacre du Printemps. It sits perfectly to move as the wearer moves, moving all the time, like dancers do."
Prices for the collection start at 15,000 pounds, or $30,000 at current exchange, for a tiara ring in platinum with rubies, emeralds or diamonds, to $12.3 million for a blue diamond ring. Some pieces, not on display, are on sale for in excess of $24.7 million. Medinger said others had been snapped up prior to the collection's debut on the basis of renderings alone.
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