In 2018, Van Cleef & Arpels acquired the Lesotho Legend, the fifth largest rough diamond to be ever mined, for a reported US$40 million (S$56.1 million). While the rock is nowhere near the largest recorded rough diamond ever discovered (that record belongs to the 3,106-carat Cullinan which was unearthed in 1905), it is nonetheless rare to discover a gem of this magnitude and quality.
Weighing at 910 carats or 182 grams, it comes with a remarkable D colour and Type 2A credentials. The latter means the stone has such low concentrations of nitrogen – the compound that gives diamonds its yellowish hue – that it is practically colourless. The name of the rock, meanwhile, is a nod to its provenance: the Letseng Mine in the southern African nation of Lesotho which is famed for churning out whopper-sized white diamonds.
Van Cleef & Arpels sought help from Diamcad – a leading diamond cutter in Antwerp – to turn the Lesotho Legend into 67 diamonds. Among the stones created from the rough diamond is a 79.35-carat specimen.
So what did Van Cleef & Arpels do with such a valuable asset in its hands? “It’s important to remember that Van Cleef & Arpels is not a diamond company,” reminded its president and chief executive Nicolas Bos during a Zoom presentation recently to introduce the Maison’s high jewellery collection for 2022. “We’re a jewellery design house and usually buy only polished stones.” But once in a while, when it encounters amazing diamonds such as the Lesotho Legend, it informs the “spirit of a collection”, he noted.
To wit, the Maison has worked with some legendary diamonds throughout its history. In 1908, it bought the 31-carat Blue Heart diamond discovered in South Africa. In a 1971 auction, it purchased a 96.62-carat briolette-cut yellow diamond from the private collection of Polish opera singer Ganna Walska, which would later be mounted on a Bird clip.
The pendant of the Collerette Mysterieuse necklace, which features a 51.14-carat emerald-cut diamond, can be detached to adorn a ring.
As for the Lesotho Legend, Bos revealed that it was cut and faceted into 67 diamonds totalling 441.75 carats, nearly half of the original weight of the rough stone. That in turn inspired the Van Cleef & Arpels design studio to create a high jewellery collection of 25 one-of-a-kind pieces that took the artisans more than 30,000 hours of work to complete. Its official name: The Legend of Diamonds – 25 Mystery Set Jewels collection.
The name of the collection hints at how the diamonds and other coloured gemstones in the collection were set. The studio turned to Van Cleef & Arpel’s patented Mystery Set technique from 1933 which sets stones seamlessly onto metal without revealing the latter. This also marks the first time an entire collection is crafted using the technique.
Fans of the Maison would recognise how signature house motifs like the bows that were found in clips from the ’20s and the graphic lines of the Disques earrings from 1935 have majorly influenced the jewellery pieces.
Ahead, a look at these creations.