Luxury magazine: September 2019

Taking haute couture to the streets; the shoe designers breaking boundaries in the Middle East; and fashion insight from the creative director of Ralph & Russo

'To see haute couture up close is to marvel at the ingenuity of human creativity'

Haute couture is the highest expression of fashion creativity – one-off, handcrafted pieces that are more akin to art than clothing. They are the reserve of a lucky few, and to see them up close is to marvel at the ingenuity of human inventiveness – the elaborate designs, the mastery of construction, the intricate, age-old techniques, the countless hours of handwork, and the thousands of beads, crystals, feathers and sequins. Even if you have no interest in fashion, you cannot help but appreciate the effort and dexterity that goes into every stitch.

Haute couture is a legally binding term that applies to a handful of fashion houses that have been selected by Paris’ Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. They must adhere to strict criteria – designing made-to-order pieces for private clients, using an atelier that employs at least 15 people, and presenting a collection of no less than 50 original pieces twice a year.

Never ones to conform, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana have come up with their own, distinctly Italian, alternative – Alta Moda, which also focuses on exceptional craftsmanship. They create unparalleled, one-off pieces and present them in different locations across Italy each year.

The shows – menswear, womenswear and high jewellery – unfold as part of a four-day extravaganza that goes beyond fashion to include all things dolce vita.

This summer, the design duo presented its Alta Moda collection in Sicily, drawing inspiration from Ancient Greece to create gowns worthy of goddesses.

Domenico Dolce highlighted the allure of couture during a preview of the collection. “You see and you don’t see,” he said of the intricate work on a corset dress, its organza top embroidered with hand-painted feathers and crystals, and its skirt crafted from sequins and fringes of canettes. “Because beauty is not for everybody. Not everybody understands beauty. I’m sorry. This is the message.”

This is just one of the dresses that we were lucky enough to shoot for this month’s fashion editorial, Through the Lens, which sees the season’s standout haute couture creations snapped on the streets of Paris. We present priceless creations by the likes of Chanel, Valentino, Ralph & Russo and Viktor & Rolf, as well as regional names Azzi & Osta and Rami Al Ali. The pieces highlight the breadth and beauty of haute couture – from the thought-provoking (Christian Dior’s simple peplos dress with a Bernard Rudofsky quote, “Are Clothes Modern?”, emblazoned across its front), to the romantic (Rami Al Ali’s multilayered silk tulle dress with a crystallised bodice covered in blooms), via the fantastical (August Getty’s little black dress with voluminous sleeves that extend outwards to the floor like miniature gowns in their own right). We hope you love them as much as we do. 

Selina Denman, editor

Fun and Games with Gucci

It’s all fun and games at Gucci. Under the stewardship of artistic director Alessandro Michele, the brand’s idiosyncratic runway looks celebrate everything from Victorian glamour to 1970s rock ‘n’ roll; they offer a maximalist, kaleidoscopic take on granny chic; and promote an inclusiveness that is both fresh and fun.

Reiterating the brand’s upbeat, offbeat, vintage-inspired approach is Gucci Arcade, a new section on the brand’s app with games that feature “house characters”. The games are inspired by those found in amusement arcades in the 1970s and 1980s – a high fashion take on Pac-Man, if you will.

Gucci Bee and Gucci Ace are both accessible from a map on the Gucci App, and are designed to tell the story of the house and its codes. Fashion-forward gamers are invited to collect various hidden badges that are grouped together by theme. Once collected, the badges can be placed in a special trophy showcase. If you’re particularly happy with your performance and want to let your friends know, results and badges can be shared on all social networks and instant messaging platforms.  

The first to be launched, Gucci Bee centres on a motif that has long been found perched on the brand’s clothes, shoes, belts and bags. Trapped in a maze, players must guide the Gucci bee through three levels of increasing difficulty, collecting badges and discovering special elements to score extra points.

The second game, Gucci Ace, is inspired by the idea of “revisiting the past, living in the present and looking to the future”, as a way of exploring the history of the Gucci Ace sneaker. In this game, each of the three levels point to a specific era in gaming: the first level is dedicated to the 8-bit retro gaming of the past; the second is set in the present, the era of console gaming; while the final level looks to the future and focuses on mobile gaming.

It’s yet another example of Michele’s ability to blend the past and the present, harnessing new technologies to tell existing stories in unexpected way.

The coolest spot in Paris

In the 1960s, when Yves Saint Laurent decided to “democratise” his eponymous couture house, he launched Rive Gauche, a more affordable line housed in a boutique on the left bank of Paris’ River Seine. He was the first couturier to open a ready-to-wear boutique under his own name. “I had had enough of making dresses for jaded billionaires,” he famously declared.

In the same vein, this summer, Saint Laurent launched Rive Droite, a new retail destination and creative hub that is being described as an expansion of the Saint Laurent “DNA and universe” – a way to reach those who might not otherwise be familiar with the brand, in an inviting, intriguing, ever-evolving way.

The store is located at 213, Rue Saint Honoré 75001, Paris – in the same building that housed Colette, the cult concept store that for 20-plus years was the coolest spot in town. A favourite with everyone from Karl Lagerfeld to Madonna and Beyonce, Colette closed its doors in December 2017, leaving a void that Rive Droite is no doubt intending to fill. So far, so good. Rive Droite is brimming with limited edition objects and oddities. In addition to women’s and men’s ready-to-wear and accessories, it is home to a mini library, coffee counter, and music, art and photography collections.

Vintage YSL outfits sit alongside retro arcade machines by Neo Legend, wooden zebra-print cars, crystal-embellished dominoes and star-shaped lollipops. You’ll find everything from vintage boom boxes and silver straws, to skateboards covered in gold leaf and T-shirts signed by Kate Moss and long-time Saint Laurent muse, Anja Rubik.

Rive Droite was entirely conceptualised by the brand’s current creative director, Anthony Vaccarello, who introduced a monochromatic colour palette that is entirely in keeping with the brand’s moody, edgy aesthetic. Marble floors and walls are interspersed with light wood accents and mid-century furniture, while provocative prints line the walls. There are plans to host exhibitions, concerts and artistic exchanges at the Paris venue, while a sister store has also opened in Los Angeles, at 469 Rodeo Drive.

The trend: Menswear that's loud and proud

Gucci

Gucci presents an overcoat in fluorescent green houndstooth set on mustard yellow and trimmed with a royal blue collar. We know – it’s a lot. 

Versace

The boys are shouting from the rooftops this autumn, with Versace’s yellow deckchair-striped rococo shirt and tie, topped with a pink coat.

Off-White

Graffiti-strewn marigold is the order of the day at Virgil Abloh’s Off-White, which has transformed sportswear into an anarchic hazmat suit.

Kenzo

Here, autumn is welcomed with a cheery mélange of hot shades of yellow, olive and orange, patchworked with blue. It feels like an upbeat school ski trip.

Villa 4765, Stromboli Island, Messina, Sicily

The opulent home where Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana spent their summers is on the market, volcanic views and all 

Italy has long been the third protagonist in the Dolce and Gabbana story, with the designers constantly seeking inspiration from – and paying homage to – the country of their birth. From hosting shows in Capri, Lake Como, Naples and Milan, to emblazoning its gowns with the works of Italian artists and poets, the Dolce & Gabbana brand has done much to put the country on the fashion map.

Sicily was the location of this year’s Alta Moda show in July, when exquisite womenswear, menswear and high jewellery collections were unveiled in historic spots such as the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, Sciacca’s Palazzo dei Gesuiti and the town of Palma di Montechiaro. The duo have long held ties with the Mediterranean island; not only was Dolce born in Sicily, but he and Gabbana co-own this summer villa that they bought in the early 1990s.

The sea-facing Stromboli property is almost as colourful as its owners. For one, it has direct views of the island’s eponymous volcano, known to inhabitants as Iddu (He) and dubbed the “lighthouse of the Mediterranean” on account of its spectacular – and quite regular – eruptions, which are visible for miles. Shielded from the path of molten lava, the villa offers unfettered access to an awe-inspiring sight that draws thousands of visitors to Stromboli.

The town was also the setting for the 1950 Roberto Rossellini film Stromboli, starring Ingrid Bergman, a poster of which occupies pride of place in the villa’s blue-walled living room. The space is home, too, to mosaic floor tiles in a blue and gold pattern; a couch with upholstery in swirls of orange, green and cream; six puppet-like figurines hanging from the wood-beamed ceiling; a chandelier with rainbow-hued crystals; and a trio of blood-red urns that double as candleholders and a clock.

From regal sun faces and cheery lemons to shards of majolica pottery in every conceivable shade of blue, there are many motifs that make a Dolce & Gabbana dress, bag or pair of shoes instantly recognisable. These appear in mosaic tile form on the walls and floor of the dining room, which opens out on to a patio with more seating and views of the sea.

The seven rooms are each imagined in one overarching shade, and come with cushion cases and bed spreads to match. The pink room, for instance, has the word Sicilia and a map on its bedding, while the green room features the brand’s popular sunflower print and a quartet of cherubs on the wall.

The property spans 500 square metres, with a living area of 235 sqm (including nine bathrooms) and 300 sqm of terraces and green spaces. For all the multihued dynamism that lies within, the villa’s exterior is all whitewashed walls and staircases, and bare wooden rafters. It’s rustic, almost bordering on plain – save for the sputtering 3,000-foot volcano in your direct line of vision.

The Stromboli villa is on the market through Lionard Luxury Real Estate for €6.4 million.

Panna Munyal 

Olivia Palermo on her eclectic style​, 
dream dinner party and collaboration with Karl Lagerfeld

The fashion entrepreneur and stylemaker has partnered with Karl Lagerfeld to create an edit of the brand’s autumn 2019 collection. It features 24 wardrobe essentials, as well as five pieces designed by Palermo herself. Having found fame on the reality TV series ‘The City’, Palermo lives in New York with husband Johannes Huebl


If you could wake up anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you be?

There are so many places I love that it’s hard to choose, but probably Mustique.

What was your first luxury purchase?

Either a pair of Manolo Blahniks or Jimmy Choos.

What’s on your fashion wishlist?

A girl can never have too many Birkins.

How would you describe your style in three words?

Eclectic, tailored and polished.

Do you prefer getting dressed up or keeping it casual?

I love both — and I think there’s a place for both — but the most important thing to remember is to dress appropriately for your environment. Don’t be too over-dressed or under-dressed.

What’s your favourite accessory?

My cellphone, because it’s the most-used thing I own.

What essential pieces do you always pack in your suitcase?

I have a uniform: leather pants, cashmere sweater, white button-down shirt, motorcycle boots. Those are my essentials.

What are your beauty and skincare go-tos?

I recently started using 111skin and really swear by their products for skincare. As far as beauty goes, I am an avid Charlotte Tilbury fan.

Who would be at your dream dinner party – and what would you be eating?

Jacques Grange, Peter Pennoyer, Joseph Dirand and my mother – talking about interiors and beautiful design. We would probably go out to eat, to either Loring Place or Sushi Nakazawa.

What are you listening to at the moment?

Whatever my in-house DJ, Mr Johannes Huebl, puts on a playlist for me.

What is your favourite book?

I am more of a magazine person.

How do you unwind after a busy week?

When at home in New York, I often unwind by playing Mario Kart with Johannes and friends.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a sports commentator for a long time.

What’s the best piece of style advice that you give your friends?

I give them my honest opinion. If something doesn’t look great, it doesn’t look great. You have to find a way to make it work, or maybe revisit it altogether.

How did the collaboration with the Karl Lagerfeld brand come about?

I’ve always had admiration for Karl and been a fan of his brand. One day, I was dressed in an Karl button-down shirt and thought, wouldn’t it be a great idea if we collaborated on a collection that could fuse our two signature styles? We connected on working together in an official capacity and let our joint creativity guide the conversation from there.

What was your inspiration when creating your edit of the collection?

I wanted to play with Karl Lagerfeld’s Parisian classics, and add my own touch, with a tailored yet eclectic feel. It was also important for me to keep a black and white palette. That’s a very clear message for Karl Lagerfeld, and that’s something that really resonates with me and my own brand colours.

Sarah Maisey

Luxury launches: Boots made for walking

Chloe

Innate wearability is at Chloé’s core, making these stack-heel Wellington boots a chic option for rainy fashion weeks.

Louis Vuitton

Mixing fleece, suede, straps and chunky soles, this lace-up Vuitton boot is tough in the extreme and will see you through the hardiest of adventures.

Valentino

This masculine bovver boot from the Italian fashion house is adorned with images of love, drenching it in romance. 

Tod’s

The Chelsea boot has been updated with the same rubber bumps that made the brand’s driving shoes such a classic. The chunky Cuban heel adds a cowboy-ish air.

Christian Louboutin

Soft glittery foliage covers this extended Louboutin ankle boot, sitting in stark contrast to the heavy tread and studded toe cap. 

Arab shoe designers step out in style

Francesca Fearon speaks with four women of Arabic heritage who are coming up with dazzling ideas about what we should be wearing on our feet

There aren’t many women who launch a fashion brand and then give birth to twins 10 days later. Or who spend the first six months of the launch of their start-up trying to convince male artisans in their homeland of the credibility of their plans to create an international shoe brand.

Four women on three continents share not only their Arabic heritage, but a robust determination to stamp their mark on the fashion world. Much is known about Beirut’s famous couturiers but, so far, flying under the international fashion radar are a group of entrepreneurial ladies with some pretty innovative ideas about what we should be wearing on our feet.

Andrea Warzen

Andrea Wazen is the most established of the group. She returned to Beirut, from London, in 2013 to launch her eponymous footwear brand, with a desire to fly the flag for Lebanese-designed and produced shoes. “It seemed a big opportunity because we have a lot of very good footwear manufacturers, which is not common in the Arab world. But they weren’t getting the exposure they deserved because there were no actual shoe designers based here,” Wazen explains over the phone from her Beirut studio. “It’s my way of giving something back to my community.”

Zineb Britel and Laura Pujol.

Also part of this niche group of footwear designers is the Moroccan duo Zineb Britel and Laura Pujol, of Zyne. They are giving the traditional babouche a glamorous makeover but, along the way, encountering cultural issues as female entrepreneurs. Over in London, Jennifer Chamandi left the world of finance and started a family and a luxury shoe brand at the same time. Both these businesses were founded three years ago, but their experiences are very different.

Chamandi left Beirut at 18 to study economics in London at her parents’ behest, before going into banking, trading in equity derivatives. It was brainy stuff, but deep down, she fostered a childhood dream to create shoes. She had always been at the top of her class at school, but was caught between her love of maths and her love of art – as a child, she studied art at the weekends and drew shoes endlessly. “It was never going to be clothes or bags; shoes are so complex because of their geometry,” she tells me as we sit in her pink suede Mayfair showroom. “I cherished my banking years, but I had this passion and wanted to know if I could do it.”

Jennifer Chamandi.

She studied drawing at Central Saint Martins on the weekends, while she was working, and then did an intense six-week summer school course on shoe design at Cordwainers. She had an idea that has since become her signature, but the best manufacturer that she could find in Italy didn’t speak any English. So she learnt Italian, just so that they could communicate.

Her idea was an ultra-feminine pointed-toe pump with an "eye of the needle" hole in the heel, through which a strap is threaded. It is as distinctive as Christian Louboutin’s red soles and the innovative construction has now been patented. It appears on every design, from pumps, slingbacks and low heels to ankle and thigh-high boots.

Her first shoes hit Browns a few days before Chamandi gave birth to twin girls – her husband Roberto Boghossian of the renowned luxury jewellery business supporting her every step of the way. “Us women are hardwired to multi-task, but that exclusivity with Browns gave me time to settle into motherhood.” The next big red-letter day was her launch in Harrods, the day before the twins were christened. This autumn she is taking on the US market with Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, and she is already stocked at Level Shoes in The Dubai Mall.

Her chic designs have a fan club that includes Queen Rania of Jordan: “She’s worn three pairs in the past month, which is incredible,” Chamandi reveals. Another great ambassador for her designs is Amal Clooney: “Women who wear my shoes seem to be women with a mission,” Chamandi concludes.

It’s great for publicity. Zyne also hit the news when a couple of pairs of its beautifully handcrafted mules caught the eye of the Duchess of Sussex during her royal tour of Morocco with her husband, Prince Harry. They are probably being worn right now around Frogmore Cottage, their royal residence.

This sort of endorsement can be a powerful marketing tool, which Wazen discovered when the lime green thigh-high boots that she designed in collaboration with her friend Nicolas Jebran for Jennifer Lopez’s current It’s My Party world tour went viral on social media. She also benefits from support from her sister, Dubai resident and influencer Andrea Wazen. “I know how much exposure and traffic I get from her wearing my shoes,” she says, “and we have to accept [that] the digital world has become a very important part of the fashion industry.”

The Lebanese shoe designer has worked with countless singers and performers in the Middle East, “but it’s not the same exposure as working with J-Lo,” she admits. That was a step up. Eighty per cent of her sales are in the Middle East, but business in London and the US is growing, especially now that Hollywood actresses are looking for something different for their red carpet appearances. “I believe now is the time for Middle Eastern designers to prove themselves, as they’re gaining the exposure they want and have lacked for so long. They put so much soul into their work,” she says.

One designer who has been instrumental in raising the region’s global profile is Elie Saab, who Wazen interned with before going to study fashion at Istituto Marangoni in Paris and then shoe design at Central Saint Martins in London. During her internship, she spent a lot of time drawing shoes: “I assumed all fashion designers know how to design shoes, so [I] was just sketching out ideas, but everyone there was going ‘wow!’ and that’s how I realised it was my strong point,” she reveals.

After learning about wholesaling and marketing while working for Louboutin and then Rupert Sanderson, she felt the urge to return to Beirut and follow her own dream to be a designer. Taking all that she had learnt from working with international buyers, she found manufacturers in the city to produce her designs. “Beirut is a very big part of what the brand is, and I feel very proud of that because the results demonstrate the love and attention that goes into these handmade shoes,” says Wazen. “It’s amazing that given the political and financial instability, we still manage to produce very good products.” Mesh and PVC slingbacks, platforms and a classic pump with stitching called Accent are her bestsellers.

The road to success has been toughest for Zyne’s Britel and Pujol, who were recently awarded funds and mentoring from the Fashion Trust Arabia. One of the first perks of the award was a pop-up at Diane Von Furstenberg’s New York flagship with other winners, to meet press and buyers. “It is helping with our strategy for the future,” says Pujol over the phone from their base in Casablanca.

The pair are long-time friends. Pujol graduated in advertising and luxury marketing in Paris; Britel studied fashion in Paris and shoe design in London, and worked at Christian Dior and Sonia Rykiel before discovering her true passion for shoes. She had the idea to develop the national shoe of her native Morocco, the babouche, into a fashion item, and simultaneously develop a social project.

“Our biggest challenge was finding the people with the right skills and being accepted by the artisans,” says Pujol. “The majority of those making footwear are men, so we had to overcome their perceptions of a female’s role in society; nevertheless we were determined this would be a 100 per cent made in Morocco product.”

It was also making the artisans understand that these weren’t babouches for the souk but, instead, high-quality sandals – in silks, velvet, raffia and brocades, some with heels – to be made for the overseas market, to a deadline. Educating them became part of Zyne’s process.

“It was about sharing the story: showing them the store on 5th Avenue or Net-a-Porter that will sell the shoes to women who don’t know anything about Moroccan embroidery. So the artisans understood they would be shining a light on Morocco,” says Britel. “I need them to be aware, to be motivated.”

All the embroidery, beading and weaving is performed by women, men make the shoes and quality control is overseen by Britel and Pujol. Zyne started with a team of five and now has 50. Their focus is on empowering these women: one of their suppliers is a lady who learnt to weave raffia from her father and now runs a business employing 38 people. “It gives these women confidence, creative responsibilities and a place in society,” explains Britel. In the process, Zyne is preserving the country’s heritage by encouraging more women to learn traditional embroidery, but also bringing a modern touch and, hopefully, greater longevity to the babouche.

Andrea Warzen

Andrea Warzen

Zineb Britel and Laura Pujol.

Zineb Britel and Laura Pujol.

Jennifer Chamandi.

Jennifer Chamandi.

Through the lens

This season’s haute couture creations, snapped on the streets of Paris

Top, Trousers, belt and shoes, all from Valentino Haute Couture.

Top, Trousers, belt and shoes, all from Valentino Haute Couture.

Corset dress with a top embroidered with hand-painted feathers and crystals, and a tulle skirt embroidered with sequins and fringes of canettes, Dolce & Gabbana Alta Moda. Gold filigree earrings, Dolce & Gabbana Alta Gioielleria.

Corset dress with a top embroidered with hand-painted feathers and crystals, and a tulle skirt embroidered with sequins and fringes of canettes, Dolce & Gabbana Alta Moda. Gold filigree earrings, Dolce & Gabbana Alta Gioielleria.

Long-sleeve top made from a patchwork of vintage materials; and petrol blue high-waisted skirt with embroidered moon artworks, both from Viktor & Rolf Haute Couture.

Long-sleeve top made from a patchwork of vintage materials; and petrol blue high-waisted skirt with embroidered moon artworks, both from Viktor & Rolf Haute Couture.

Cocktail suit top and embroidered skirt; black mesh T-shirt; embellished tights; and heels, all from Dior Haute Couture.

Cocktail suit top and embroidered skirt; black mesh T-shirt; embellished tights; and heels, all from Dior Haute Couture.

Pink, peach, lavender and blue silk organza ballgown with a hand-pleated fan-frill appliqué, Ralph & Russo Haute Couture.

Pink, peach, lavender and blue silk organza ballgown with a hand-pleated fan-frill appliqué, Ralph & Russo Haute Couture.

Peplos dress in white silk cady, with quote by Bernard Rudofsky, Dior Haute Couture. All prices on request.

Peplos dress in white silk cady, with quote by Bernard Rudofsky, Dior Haute Couture. All prices on request.

Imperial Lilies off-white belted dress with a tulip-shaped skirt with organza embroidery and a tulle bust with organza lilies, Azzi & Osta Haute Couture.

Imperial Lilies off-white belted dress with a tulip-shaped skirt with organza embroidery and a tulle bust with organza lilies, Azzi & Osta Haute Couture.

Milano dress in black Taroni silk taffeta with a horsehair understructure, August Getty Haute Couture.

Milano dress in black Taroni silk taffeta with a horsehair understructure, August Getty Haute Couture.

Multilayer silk tulle dress with crystallised bodice, Rami Al Ali Haute Couture. Top (worn underneath), stylist’s own.

Multilayer silk tulle dress with crystallised bodice, Rami Al Ali Haute Couture. Top (worn underneath), stylist’s own.

Belted dress in checked tweed with an embroidered mock turtleneck and patch-flap pockets; and rounded spectacles. All by Chanel Haute Couture

Belted dress in checked tweed with an embroidered mock turtleneck and patch-flap pockets; and rounded spectacles. All by Chanel Haute Couture

Photography: Chantelle Dosser
Fashion director: Sarah Maisey
Model: Ludyvinka at Mademoiselle Agency
Hair: Anais Lucas Sebagh at Openspace Paris
Make-up: Samuel Ruffin-Hendrix at Saint Germain Agency
Stylist's assistant: Mariam Apitsaryan


With special thanks to Le Tub restaurant, Palais Royal, Paris. For a behind-the-scenes look at the making of this shoot, visit www.thenational.ae or Instagram @luxuryexplained

A 21,000 kilometre journey in pursuit of diamonds

A behind-the-scenes look at how Tiffany gems are sourced, sorted, cut and polished

On May 9, 2017, Tiffany & Co ran an advertisement in The New York Times. “We’re still in,” it said, before directly addressing the president of the United States. “Dear President Trump, We’re still in for bold climate action. Please keep the US in the Paris Climate Agreement. The disaster of climate change is too real, and the threat to our planet and to our children is too great.”

The diamond industry has not traditionally been synonymous with sustainable, ethical, environmentally friendly business practices. It has not traditionally been viewed as a proponent of positive change. In truth, it has a murky history littered with phrases like “blood” and “conflict”.

But Tiffany & Co is trying to change all that.

Schupstraat, Antwerp

It may be the epicentre of the world’s diamond industry, with an estimated Dh734.5m-worth of the gems passing through this “square mile” every day, but at 9.15am on a Tuesday morning, the three pedestrianised streets that make up Antwerp’s diamond district are all but deserted.

Much like these sleepy streets, the unassuming exterior of the Laurelton Diamonds headquarters offers no indication of the treasures to be found within. This is the first stop in a 21,000-kilometre journey that I will take as I chart the course of a Tiffany diamond. I will follow the gems from this nondescript building at Schupstraat 9, where they are examined and sorted, to a low-key industrial estate on the paradisiacal island of Mauritius, where they are painstakingly cut, polished and transformed from their rough state.

The gems are already billions of years into their own odyssey – having formed deep in the bowels of the Earth, they have, over the course of millennia, stealthily travelled up to the surface to be discovered in mines as far afield as Botswana, Canada, Namibia, Russia and South Africa. Those deemed worthy end up in this building in Antwerp. Only 0.04 per cent of the world’s gem-grade diamonds meet Tiffany’s exacting standards, and it is these that I discover piled up in a room within the Laurelton building. Sachets of tiny rough diamonds dot the tabletops, alongside neat piles of stones the size of mini sugar cubes. With so many gems gathered in one place, you could almost forget how valuable each one is. Almost.

The Tiffany True is the brand’s first new engagement ring design in more than 10 years

The Tiffany True is the brand’s first new engagement ring design in more than 10 years

In Antwerp, the gems are sorted for size, colour, clarity and fluorescence (in a special machine, the rough diamonds are exposed to UV light; those with too much fluorescence are rejected, as this will ultimately result in a milky effect in the polished stone). I watch on as experts use computer software to work out how to extract the best possible combination of polished stones from the rough. It’s a game of millimetres and minutiae, of mathematical precision and infinitesimal angles. The stones are then taken off to be cut, using a water laser technology that is shrouded in secrecy.

Established in 2002 and named for Laurelton Hall, the Long Island home of Louis Comfort Tiffany, Laurelton Diamonds is a wholly owned subsidiary of Tiffany & Co, and responsible for managing the company’s worldwide diamond supply chain. Over the last two decades, Tiffany has transformed itself into a vertically integrated company that sources, polishes and cuts all its own diamonds. In an era when more and more people are paying attention to such things, this allows the company to achieve a level of transparency, traceability and accountability that had long been missing from the diamond industry.

As of this year, all of Tiffany’s newly sourced diamonds of 0.8 carats and over are being marked with a unique serial number, etched on to them by laser and invisible to the naked eye, which will tell customers exactly where their diamond has come from. “There should be nothing opaque about Tiffany diamonds,” Alessandro Bogliolo, the company’s chief executive officer, said when the initiative was launched. “Our clients want and deserve to know where their most valuable, most cherished diamond jewellery is from, and how it came to be.”

By 2020, Tiffany plans to be able to share details about the diamond’s entire craftsmanship journey: where it was sourced, its passage to Antwerp and then its onward journey to Laurelton’s various other operations around the world – the company has cutting and polishing facilities in Mauritius, Botswana, Vietnam and Cambodia, along with jewellery manufacturing facilities in New York, Kentucky, Rhode Island and the Dominican Republic.

Rose Belle, Mauritius

Newly arrived from Antwerp, the diamonds sit behind iron bars, encased in paper envelopes within neatly stacked boxes, at the Laurelton facility in Mauritius. Between 40,000 and 50,000 medium-sized diamonds pass through this building each year.

Along well-lit work benches, a predominantly local workforce (which earns what Tiffany calls a “living wage”, at least 60 per cent higher than the minimum wage set by the government of Mauritius) industriously cuts and polishes priceless gems. I try my hand at the polishing process, running a diamond back and forth along one of the specially created wheel cutters, which are accurate to five microns. I feel the friction as the hardest material on Earth is forced to bend to my will, and marvel, once again, at the precision and patience required to shape such minuscule facets. Nature is responsible for the colour, clarity and carat count of a diamond; the cut alone is dictated by human hands.

The company employs a predominantly local workforce in its Mauritius polishing facility

The company employs a predominantly local workforce in its Mauritius polishing facility

Elsewhere in the facility, under a high-powered microscope, the bold modernity of the new Tiffany True reveals itself. Launched this year, it is the first new engagement ring design from Tiffany in more than a decade. The diamond’s main facet has been granted with a larger surface area, so it retains sought-after lustre. It is architectural and sits low on the finger. Up close, the cut of the stone is dazzling, but somehow more elegantly restrained than Tiffany’s signature six-prong setting.

“We decided that we liked the look of the emerald cut on the top, which is open, with a brilliant cut on the bottom,” Andy Hart, senior vice president, diamond and jewellery supply, Tiffany & Co, tells me.

“I like how it’s clean and minimalist on the top but then when you look inside, there’s all kinds of stuff going on underneath it – and that’s because of the brilliant cut. That’s what makes it so interesting; it’s almost like its own little universe in there. You could dive in and have a look around.”

The sea bed, east of Mauritius

The coral beneath me is bleached white. Lifeless spindles extend outwards in an intricate web, like discarded bones in an underwater graveyard. According to the United Nations’s Development Programme, beaches in Mauritius have shrunk by as much as 20 metres over the last few decades, due to higher seas and weakened coral ecosystems. When I surface, I ask the skipper of our boat about the cause of the destruction I have just witnessed. “Sun block,” he says. Just another example of humans mindlessly destroying delicate habitats around the world.

I am in the sea off the east coast of Mauritius. This is the last stop in my Tiffany journey and although there are no diamonds to be found here, the coral beneath me is an important symbol of the brand’s sustainability efforts.

Tiffany has always looked to the natural world for inspiration for its jewellery designs. And it is nature that provides the raw materials from which those designs are shaped. So the company is increasingly conscious of giving back to mother Earth. The Tiffany & Co Foundation was set up in 2000 “to preserve the world’s most treasured landscapes and seascapes”. It focuses on two key areas: responsible mining, and coral and marine conservation, and has awarded more than $20 million in grants to support coral conservation around the world.

The Tiffany & Co Foundation focuses on marine conservation in countless countries, including Mauritius

The Tiffany & Co Foundation focuses on marine conservation in countless countries, including Mauritius

“The marine ecosystem health has a huge impact on what happens above ground, across the whole world, and that’s why it is so critical,” Hart explains. “The coral reefs are the foundation of a healthy ocean environment. They are the treasure trove of marine biodiversity. They act as barriers to protect coastlines, they are major drivers of recreation and tourism, and they are facing threats from climate change, overfishing and the extractive industry, too.

“Some of our unnamed competitors are still selling coral in jewellery, and we think that’s awful,” he adds. “We stopped selling coral jewellery in 2004 and we just don’t think there is any way to sustainably harvest or mine coral.”

The diamonds and I part ways the next day. I head home to Dubai; they continue on to New York, where they will be vigorously inspected one more time. “A Tiffany diamond can be reviewed by the human eye over 1,000 times on its journey from mine to caseline,” Hart reveals. They will be carefully placed in one of Tiffany’s coveted blue boxes, before continuing on with the next stage of their ceaseless odyssey.

Collision course

Classic forms and clean lines. Bold studs with a feminine feel. Sharp edges that are soft to the touch. Cartier’s new Clash collection offers a striking play in duality

Elodie, left, wears Clash de Cartier earrings in pink gold, Dh14,300; a Clash de Cartier necklace in pink gold, Dh12,900; and a Clash de Cartier ring in pink gold with diamonds, Dh31,200 Mameanta, right, wears Clash de Cartier earrings in pink gold, Dh14,300; a Clash de Cartier necklace in pink gold, Dh12,900; and Clash de Cartier bracelets in pink gold, Dh32,100 each .

Elodie, left, wears Clash de Cartier earrings in pink gold, Dh14,300; a Clash de Cartier necklace in pink gold, Dh12,900; and a Clash de Cartier ring in pink gold with diamonds, Dh31,200 Mameanta, right, wears Clash de Cartier earrings in pink gold, Dh14,300; a Clash de Cartier necklace in pink gold, Dh12,900; and Clash de Cartier bracelets in pink gold, Dh32,100 each .

Elodie wears Clash de Cartier earrings in pink gold, Dh14,300; a Clash de Cartier necklace in pink gold with diamonds, Dh23,000; a Clash de Cartier ring in pink gold, Dh11,300; and a Clash de Cartier ring in pink gold with diamonds, Dh31,200.

Elodie wears Clash de Cartier earrings in pink gold, Dh14,300; a Clash de Cartier necklace in pink gold with diamonds, Dh23,000; a Clash de Cartier ring in pink gold, Dh11,300; and a Clash de Cartier ring in pink gold with diamonds, Dh31,200.

Mameanta wears Clash de Cartier rings in pink gold, Dh11,300 each; Clash de Cartier earrings in pink gold, Dh14,300; a Clash de Cartier necklace in pink gold, Dh12,900; and a Clash de Cartier bracelet in pink gold, Dh32,100. Elodie wears a Clash de Cartier ring in pink gold with diamonds, Dh31,200.

Mameanta wears Clash de Cartier rings in pink gold, Dh11,300 each; Clash de Cartier earrings in pink gold, Dh14,300; a Clash de Cartier necklace in pink gold, Dh12,900; and a Clash de Cartier bracelet in pink gold, Dh32,100. Elodie wears a Clash de Cartier ring in pink gold with diamonds, Dh31,200.

Elodie wears a Clash de Cartier bracelet in pink gold, Dh32,100; and a Clash de Cartier necklace in pink gold, Dh12,900 .

Elodie wears a Clash de Cartier bracelet in pink gold, Dh32,100; and a Clash de Cartier necklace in pink gold, Dh12,900 .

Would you pay Dh73,450 for AirPods?

For ‘Object No. 1 – AirPods’, the first piece in his ‘New Materialism’ series, Ian Delucca asks us to view AirPods as art. In the artist’s hands, these everyday objects are given a bedazzling makeover and transformed into miniature pieces of sculpture.

The AirPods have Apple internal components coated in 14k white gold and dotted with 1,000 VVS diamonds, and they come with their own dedicated marble charging stand. Each pair is fully functional and marked with a serial number detailing edition number and creation date. They will be available in a limited edition of 25, and can be acquired prior to public release by contacting Delucca, who is based in Los Angeles, directly via Instagram.

With ‘New Materialism’, Delucca aims to meld art and commerce. He is appropriating capitalist techniques, symbols and processes, and reimagining existing products with a new appreciation for form. “New Materialism guides us into new relationships with the material world,” the artist says. “New Materialism is about taking these things that we’re very familiar with and altering them in a way that forces us to reset our perspective, to look at things more deeply, and to see our parameters as individuals deepen within us,” he adds.

“The AirPods are about developing an iconography and language as an artist. They hold in themselves not only form but a vast set of cultural information; containing a time and place, an idea of an economic system, both in what created them and what they communicate about the people who wear them,” Delucca explains.

So what other objects are on the list to get the ‘New Materialism’ treatment? “We’ve been in the studio disassembling some of the hardest to get handbags, playing with the materials they provide,” Delucca reveals. “Object No. 2 will likely be shoes. Then large-scale wall works.”