John Rubel is not just a new high-jewellery house: it is the modern transformation of an existing one! Born 100 years ago, the house was brought back to life by the great-greatniece of the founders, Sophie Mizrahi-Rubel. In the process, she resurrected not only the family name, but the family brand. The only heiress of the family, the sophisticated brunette even tattooed the family logo on her forearm. Unfolding one by one the details that led her where she is today, Sophie Mizrahi-Rubel decided that now was the time to carry on her family’s heritage.
An article that the magazine Billionaire published in their latest issue. To read the original story, click here.
Avant-garde before its time: Who is John Rubel?
Back in 1915, brothers John and Robert Rubel migrated from Hungary to open a high-jewellery workshop Place Vendôme, Paris. Van Cleef & Arpels (VC&A) rapidly became their first client. In 1939, VC&A, then on a mission to conquer the American market, brought the brothers along. A year later, John was getting acquainted with New York’s nightlife: in a Latino nightclub in the Lower East Side, he scribbled on the corner of the tablecloth the silhouette of a flamenco dancer. He later showed it to Maurice Duvallet, head-designer at VC&A; the drawing marked the beginning of VC&A’s iconic and legendary series called ballerinas…
After three years of successful collaboration, the Rubel brothers started their own and eponymous brand in 1942. The Second World War was raging throughout Europe: the brothers were forced to stay in the U.S. while their nephew Marcel (Sophie’s grandfather) run the workshop in Paris. Meanwhile, recognition and fame hit the John Rubel flagship on 777 Fifth Avenue (where the iconic Apple Store is now located): for the next 15 years the American high-society would turn the boutique into a success story.
In the early 1950s the brothers were aging, and Marcel did not want to re-open the workshop post-war nor move to the U.S. Therefore, he asked them to come back home to help him develop the new strategy of the company: as the John Rubel brand slowly died, by 1955 the family business was focusing on diamonds, turning Marcel Rubel into one of the most important diamond dealers in France. As Gabrielle Chanel used to say, « Fashion becomes out of date, style never ». In that perspective, the legacy left by John Rubel remains timeless. As a matter of fact, it is not rare to find John Rubel go away above the estimate in auctions; like a René Boivin brooch or a Suzanne Belperron ring, his designs remain avant-garde and sought-after.
Voted one of the Most Stylish Men in America by GQ in 2009, Glenn O’Brien said, the moment he discovered the brand: « I have gone through the archives of the famous brands whose storied shops still make the Place Vendôme and 5th Avenue precious. But history always has its secrets. I just uncovered John Rubel: the great French emigré and American immigrant whose brilliant Art Deco designs brought to the jeweller’s profession a truly modernist artistry. Like F. Scott Fitzgerald or Fred Astaire, Rubel jazzed up his time, and his designs still swing with elegance, spirit and verve. » As described by O’Brien, John Rubel was a visionary: a creative with a unique point of view on jewellery and the way women should wear it.
“Every time I found drawings, I spent time studying them, analysing them closely; the details were exceptional.” — Sophie Rubel
Back in 1946, John Rubel said that « Women of today do not have to wait for a formal party to display the beauty of a diamond, ruby or emerald necklace. It is correct with a short dinner dress, or even with evening slacks and a tailored shirtwaist”. Today, his great-greatniece Sophie is the very image of elegance and chic he envisioned back then.
Digging through archives strarted as an idea and became a life goal
Sophie Rubel was born in 1963 in a family of diamond-experts. From an early age, gemstones and the diamond business had no secrets for her. A young law graduate, she started studying gemmology adding knowledge to what her grandfather had been teaching her in his workshop as a child. She built her career working in and around Place Vendôme and even became Mauboussin’s Deputy Chief Executive Officer, a Maison where she spent ten years.
In 2012, she decided to relaunch the family brand, which had gone since 1955. It was not the first time she stumbled upon the wooden trunk up in the attic of her family house but never spent the time to look inside it. She found dozens of original jewellery designs that her great-uncles had drawn. Researching the family brand, she quickly realised John Rubel was the darling of prestigious auctions and jewellery sales. « I called François Curiel, head of Christies department, who confirmed John Rubel was a must in terms of excellence, craftsmanship and creativity », she recalls, realizing she had to act. Turning the spotlight back on John Rubel became her sole goal: « Every time I found drawings, I spent time studying them, analysing them closely; the details were exceptional the details!”, she adds. With the help of Christies’, Sotheby’s and Bohmans, Sophie Rubel gathered original documents including texts and designs that she turned into a coffee table book, that tells the story of the Rubel Brothers.
The rebirth of an old-new brand
While respecting the tradition, savoir-faire and craftsmanship her grand-father taught her, Sophie Rubel wrote a new chapter in her family story. She brought effortless chic to the forefront: designer jeans, a pair of stilettos and a colourful ring worth a few hundred-thousand-dollars became the new expression of the brand. As for the 18-piece collection itself, she translated old references into new ideas, unveiling Vies de Bohèmes.
In her first forward-thinking collection, Sophie Rubel pays tribute to the emblematic women of the 20th century: feminine figures who dared live passionately like Amelia Earhart, an American Aviation pioneer who disappeared into the Pacific with her plane; Sarah Bernhardt considered as the theatre empress or actress Louise Brooks. For every legendary woman, Sophie Rubel imagined an extraordinary jewel: here, a 6.22 carat Zambian emerald mesmerizes; there, a 4.03 carat Mozambique ruby flirts with sapphires.
In Sophie Rubel’s wake, John Rubel remains an authentic legend.