Meet Viktor and Nataliya Bondarenko — the former, a renowned collector and patron of the Arts and the latter, one of the Co-Founders of the Rubeus brand. Together, the duo have launched the first and only collection of High Jewellery exclusively dedicated to the precious alexandrite gemstone from Russia, and they remain amongst the 10 rarest, most sought-after and expensive in the world.
Here, they speak to Buro. Middle East’s contributor, Farouk Chekoufi, about the history of the alexandrite, the Rubeus brand and particularly, women in the Middle East.
What makes your collections unique in the industry?
The Rubeus Imperial Alexandrite Collection has been crafted by the renowned French jeweller and features one of the rarest and most mysterious gems known to mankind — the alexandrite. It is indeed a rare gem with many mysterious qualities. It was discovered in 1834 in a mine in the Ural mountain region by Nils Gustav Nordenskiöld — a renowned mineralogist of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences.
At first, he thought that he had found a variety of emerald when, in the light of the wood fires that the miners lit to protect themselves from the cold, he saw that his discovery changed colours depending on the light: it was green in daylight and red in the light of the flames. More than that, depending on the angle at which it was observed, this gem would glow pink or orange, or even highlight a yellow line such as the one you see in cat’s eyes. This new stone was dedicated to the young Grand Duke Alexander, heir to the throne of Russia, and was named alexandrite — after the future tsar.
In the 19th century, alexandrite was honoured and presented exclusively at Tiffany & Co. by George Frederick Kunz, a famous American mineralogist who was its Vice President, and who, among other things, was one of the main inspirations for the carat unit for gemstones. We have been looking for these stones for many years and now we are delighted to have this opportunity to present it again to the world.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I find inspiration in the smiles of my daughters, as well as in the history, art and nature of Italy. My other passion is architecture. It gives me a lot of ideas. I got my first Master’s degree in architecture and I feel very passionate about it.
What is your favourite piece from this collection?
The Rubeus Imperial Alexandrite collection was created by the French jeweller Frederic Mane but we have been involved in every step of the process. The Eternal necklace, dedicated to the Russian tsarinas, is my favourite! The centerpiece resembles a stone flower, which features in many tales and legends in the region of Ural, where the unique stone was found.
Why is the Middle East important to Rubeus?
Ever since we launched our first collection, we have been completely overwhelmed with the level of interest for our brand in that part of the world. The journalists and bloggers from the Middle East started to follow us, praising our collections, especially our special line of jewelled bags. We are grateful that we have established special relationships with many clients in the region. Each time we travel to this part of the world, we meet these incredibly beautiful and sophisticated women. It is amazing.
Can you tell us about your latest High Jewellery collection that launched during Paris Haute Coutue Fashion Week?
We were fortunate to have an opportunity to present an absolutely unique collection crafted with alexandrite gemstones, which are among the ten rarest, most expensive and most sought after in the world. The collection includes 47 alexandrite gemstones that are exceptional in size and quality, from 2.12 to 69.37 carats.
Its most unique feature is its bluish green color in daylight, which transforms through a wide range of colours and turns into a reddish purple or even violet in incandescent light. It’s magical. Its value is priceless and it includes the largest alexandrite gem unveiled to date: 69.37 carats.
This stone beats the latest record held by a 66-carat alexandrite gemstone exhibited at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington. So, yes, we are extremely excited about the collection and the warm welcome it received during Paris Haute Couture Week. The French Jewellery Post has included the Rubeus Imperial Alexandrite Collection in TOP 10 most important releases during Paris Fashion Week.
With the effort of creativity involved, do you consider your handcrafted creations as art?
The museum-worthy pieces, such as the ones that are featured in the Rubeus Imperial Alexandrite collection, are pure art.
Could you please give us a brief history of the brand?
The brand was launched almost six years ago. As a company, we started out to create a new line of contemporary accessories of the best possible quality from the most precious materials, such as, for example, crocodile. The main idea behind Rubeus fashion house is the combination of Italian style and outstanding craftsmanship. For many years, it was mostly the French companies who established themselves as the leaders of the luxury market. We decided to change this by establishing our luxury brand in Italy.
The brand was launched in Milan, as this is where one finds the best Italian craftsmen, with years of experience in creating bags from precious skins. Three years ago, we have launched a special line of jewelled bags, then a couple of years ago we have come up with our own line of perfume. Meanwhile, we have also developed our own shoe line, scarfs and some unique clothing items. And I always have a favourite piece in every collection.
At present, it is a Mini version of the Liza bag. Liza is our bestseller, and it always has been — from the moment we launched it. I took this new version of the bag to Paris Fashion Week and people were constantly stopping me on the street asking about it. It is named after my youngest daughter, so it has a very special place in my heart. And the clients all over the world absolutely love it.
How would you describe your current state?
We have established ourselves in a number of markets and now we are set on conquering new heights. We have created the amazing Imperial Rubeus Alexandrite Collection for Paris Haute Couture Week, which was presented at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Louvre with Federic Mitteran, the former Minister of Culture, to open it. And now we are working on our new prêt-à-porter collection that we are going to present in September during Milan Fashion Week.
We have introduced an absolutely new luxury brand to the fashion world, striving for unprecedented quality as well as introducing new ideas in terms of colours, shapes and details. When you pick up a Rubeus bag, it gives you this amazing feeling as though you are touching a piece of art. We worked hard to achieve this result and it works.
What are the key markets for the brand?
We are very strong in Italy, which is also our homeland. We are well established in many European markets, as well as in Russia, where we are represented in TSUM as well as in VIP Lounges of prestigious luxury shopping centers. We are enjoying great interest from the Middle East market, as well as China. And we are getting closer and closer to the American market.
What do you think of social media and luxury social media?
We are very strong on Instagram — this is where we are getting requests on a daily basis. The fact that global celebrities and it-girls choose our bags helps a lot.
And your next steps for the brand?
We are going to present our new perfume line and we will work hard to promote our new prêt-à-porter line.
What has changed the most in the past since you’ve been designing? Are stores still essential to the luxury experience?
That’s a very good question. We have been amazed by the growing importance of social media and its purchasing power. At the same time, the rule is: the more expensive the piece, the more demanding the client. When you are on that level, then the style, the presence and the atmosphere of the point of sale have major importance.
What is the ultimate signature style for the brand?
The colour, the quality and the level of service.
What does luxury mean for you today?
We live in a hectic world. The opportunities to stay with our loved ones, the satisfaction that comes from personalized approach, the genuine emotions — these are the most valuable things that one can imagine in the modern world. The next thing is something which is made especially for you with that unique personal touch — and that’s where Rubeus comes along, we are famous for that.
Now, read more about the Arab women currently ruling the jewellery scene.