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The Ruby

Although traditionally the ruby has been considered just one of the four great precious stones (alongside emeralds, diamonds and sapphires), in recent years it has taken a starring role in jewelry collections. According to the author Joanna Hardy, who spent three years researching a new book on the subject, the ruby’s rise to prominence has been driven primarily by scarcity. Where once fine rubies could be readily discovered in Burma, Thailand and Cambodia, today supplies are running out – which partly explains the record prices reached at auction, which have exceeded those of diamonds, per carat. Jewelers today are now having to look as far afield as Mozambique to find stones; and while many of these are not as big as elsewhere, they are 700 million years old (compared with Burma’s 50 million). Rubies come in a variety of colors, from vibrant pinks – such as the 4.3-carat Burmese stone from Boodles pictured here – and dark blood red to a glossy pomegranate shade, known in the trade as “pigeon’s blood”. And the ultimate ruby? “The Graff 8.62ct ruby, says Hardy. “It shines like a beacon even in low light – and stones of such fine quality are extremely rare. The Van Cleef & Arpels Peony Clip is also stunning: it’s as close to being perfect as a hand-crafted jewel can be.” boodles.com

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The Micro-bag

Carrying a micro-bag is not a fashion to follow if you’re a woman who normally carries everything but the kitchen sink about with her. But this is a trend that even the most practical are swooning over because, well, this season’s bags – like the one pictured, from Tod’s – are just so adorable. Not only are the mini-, micro- and nano-bags about the size of play-bags that many of us might have carried about as girls, several have also been designed to look wonderfully playful, too, shaped like elephants, embroidered with bold fruit and flower emblems, and adorned with sparkles. In short, they’re fun. Not every fashion house has focused on frivolity, though. Many designers have created a must-have mini-bag that’s a scaled-down version of an old favorite, with all the functionality and proportions of its original. The Hermès Constance Micro Bag, for instance, has all the hallmarks of the larger model, with dual compartments, elegant hand-stitching and a palladium clasp – but at a fifth of its size. The Lady Dior, too, has spawned two miniature versions: one five inches wide, and the second six inches. Surprisingly, scaling down from a full-size bag is easy to get used to. Once you’ve redefined what counts as essentials (goodbye water bottle and notebook; hello credit card, lipstick, phone and keys), micro-bags are a weight off your shoulders – literally. They’re also a great way to get your hands on a designer bag, at a palatable price point. What’s there not to coo at? tods.com

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The Houseplant

Greenery has been a motif on the fashion catwalks for the past few years, but it’s only recently that fashionistas have started to bring real tropicalia indoors and to grow plants themselves. Why their sudden enthusiasm? Not only because plants enhance a modishly midcentury interior – especially that 1970s stalwart, the cheeseplant (pictured), or because city-dwellers now understand the ways plants can improve their health and environment, believes American gardening expert Tovah Martin. It’s a deeper reason: a need to be rooted. “Everyone yearns to play in the dirt, she says. “Besides, a houseplant is therapeutic. It gives you something to nurture.” One difference between these gardeners and their green-fingered grandparents, notes Michelle Slatalla in her blog Gardenista, is the type of plants they’re growing. While in the 1950s and ’60s it might have been a violet, in the 1970s a spider plant in a macramé hanger (currently enjoying a comeback), today’s indoor gardeners prefer architectural flora that requires very little care –cacti and succulents that create a cool Californian vibe; or the fiddle-leaf fig, which is currently the fashionable choice of hip boutiques from Marimekko in Finland to Céline in Europe. The key to creating the right look, captured on hashtags such as #urbanjungle, #monsteramonday or #plantgang? Pick the plant as you would a piece of furniture, says Slatalla, and then arrange in clusters. “The look you want is a living work of art.” conservatoryarchives.co.uk

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The Dress Slipper

Originally designed as a house shoe for Victorian men hosting formal dinners, or to wear with a silk dressing gown for elegant evenings chez soi, the dress slipper is enjoying a remarkable revival among fashionable men. Almost 200 years after Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, elevated it from a practical, mud-free indoor shoe to a piece of footwear fashioned from velvet and lined with quilting, it has made its way from palaces and mansions to the catwalks of Ralph Lauren and Dolce & Gabbana. Although Hollywood stars such as Clark Gable teamed their black slippers with tuxedos, today the shoes are just as likely to be worn with jeans. Some stylists are going so far as to suggest that the slipper is the ultimate shoe for all times of day, worn with a white t-shirt and jeans for casual occasions and a navy polka-dot tie and shirt square for a business-casual look. For those who fall in love with the style, there are models for all seasons, from navy blue suede to a dashing red velvet. The slipper pictured here was created for Jack’s Club, a series of St. Regis pop-ups in honor of John Jacob “Jack” Astor IV, the founder of St. Regis. For those who want something a little more rock ’n’ roll, shoemaker GJ Cleverley even offers to embroider a skull and crossbones on its velvet shoes. Unusual? Yes. But then, if you are going to leave the house in slippers, as Esquire magazine’s Jonathan Evans puts it, “You want to feel a little bit louche, and yes, a bit rakish. Isn’t that the point?”

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The Folding Bike

We live in an era in which the savvy CEO is more likely to turn up at a board meeting on a bicycle than in a chauffeur-driven limo. The bike, after all, projects agility and all the fresh, un-starchy energy of a start-up. And folding bikes are emerging as a particularly popular way to get about, especially for commuters. They’re not as cumbersome as regular bikes; most train companies let you board with one, folded up; and they’re small enough to tuck under a desk at work. The problem with most folding bikes, until now, has been the time they take to unfold (several minutes) and their weight (mostly between 20 lbs and 40 lbs). In the past year, however, buoyed by the popularity of bicycles in big cities, several manufacturers have put their minds to creating the perfect commuting bike. Which is what? According to online magazine cyclingweekly.com, a bicycle with tires between 1.7 and 2 inches wide, which grip the road well; internal hub gears, which cut down on maintenance; good brakes and easy-to-fold parts. The new Hummingbird (photographed here) ticks all the boxes. Launched via Kickstarter, and available since May 2017, this is the lightest folding bike on earth, at 16.5 lbs. Made of carbon fiber, it was manufactured using techniques created for professional motorsport – this is a bike that its designers can justifiably claim is made to Formula 1 standards. Its folding mechanisms allow it to be unfolded in five seconds, its Hummlock “safety pin” keeps it all together, its four-speed gears allow it to be ridden on varied terrains and its Tektro brakes are powerful enough to stop quickly in a city. The only extras one might ask for are mudguards and a carbon belt drive – but those, Hummingbird says, are in the pipeline. We didn’t ask about a bell. hummingbirdbike.com

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Plywood

A clever composite made of layers of fine wood glued together, plywood has been used since Egyptian times. Although its easy-to-mold forms were widely put to use in the early 20th century to make boats, furniture, houses and even planes – such as Amelia Earhart’s famous trans-Atlantic Lockheed Vega 5B – it was only after World War II that experimental furniture designers such as Charles and Ray Eames and Alvar and Aino Aalto recognized that in plywood they had a material that, when it was steamed, could be molded into curvaceous shapes. By the 1950s, Eames chairs, with their molded plywood seats, had become synonymous with midcentury modernism and the Aaltos’ curvaceous walls had changed public perceptions of plywood in architecture. Today, our love affair with plywood has been reignited, as designers once again appreciate the beautiful forms, from skateboards to chandeliers, that can be made from this most humble of materials. Product designers such as Lozi have started to create elegant plywood pieces for the home, from lamps to planters, and furniture-makers such as Branca Lisboa have taken inspiration from natural shapes such as sea-shells to construct super-modern seats created with “bones” of steamed ply. It’s even being used to create the curvaceous walls of cutting-edge stands at art shows such as Art Basel, Miami. Why the return to fashion? Not only does plywood’s simple honesty fit well with the pared-back aesthetic of the 21st century, but the marriage of form and function in such sculptural pieces as the 1939 Isokon Penguin Donkey bookshelf (pictured here) is irresistible to those living in small homes – even to aesthetes who might never before have considered buying a mass-produced, inexpensive veneered composite. isokonplus.com

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Charcoal

The medicinal properties of charcoal have long been known: both Hippocrates (in 400 BC) and Pliny the Elder (in AD 50) described it being used to treat ailments from rotting wounds to vertigo. What the savants might never have predicted, though, is the sudden popularity of burnt vegetable matter in the food scene of the 21st century. Venture into hip restaurants from Shanghai to Houston and there’s sure to be a dish into which charcoal has been added – whether it’s a smoothie, a macaroon, (like those pictured left), or a kuro burger – which, if you aren’t familiar with the Japanese dish, comprises a blackened bun, a meat patty, a sliver of black cheese and black squid-ink sauce. It’s even making its way into water jugs – single pieces of blackened matter inserted into the bottom to help purify their contents. According to supplier Mark Parr, who provides chefs with charcoal both to cook with and to cook over, the type of plant matter from which it’s made can significantly alter the flavor. Alder charcoal imparts a sugary sweetness, he says, while oak’s heavily flavored smoke is perfect for cooking and smoking salmon. The bad news? Although charcoal is often prescribed as a medication in hospitals – the porous substance isn’t processed by the stomach, but can soak up poisons and toxins while passing through the body – it has little benefit to health when eaten in small quantities. “Activated charcoal, which is found in water filters to remove impurities, is an effective internal cleanser in quantity,” says nutritionist Angela Dowden. “But in the tiny amount you find in foods? Unlikely.” Never mind. The fashionably dark dishes look wonderfully dramatic, and can garner thousands more likes for us on Instagram. That in itself can make us feel a whole lot better.

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The toy car

You could probably buy a brand new car for the price of a replica classic these days. But that’s not the point. The beauty we have photographed here, from Bentleys London, is a model of a 1950s Ferrari F500 F2: a vehicle that took nine Grand Prix victories and became one of the best-loved cars of all time. The popularity of model cars at collectors’ emporiums and auction houses partially explains the growth in the market for motoring memorabilia in general, from model cars and helmets to driving gloves and watches. When Christie’s Geneva auctioned a collection of Rolex Daytona Cosmograph wristwatches, designed specifically for racing drivers, all 50 watches were sold for a combined total of more than $13 million. The star of the show – a unique model known as the Paul Newman, because the racing-fanatic actor always wore one – fetched over a million dollars, more than four times the expected price. According to Bonhams, the trend extends to old car-sale and promotional books from the Golden Age of motoring, which are achieving impressive prices. Even some rare Scalextric slot cars can reach well over $1,000 apiece. Why? It’s a great way for a car enthusiast to collect, without having to garage a big vehicle. Although, as motoring author Giles Chapman says, what real collectors want to amass is memorabilia from luxury marques such as Aston Martin, Rolls-Royce, Bugatti and Bentley. “It really has to be something connected with a good marque,” he says, explaining that a Spirit of Ecstasy from the hood of a Rolls-Royce will always find a buyer. “No one,” he adds, “is interested in a model Hyundai or Seat.” bentleyslondon.com

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The artist’s print

In the past, the art print was considered a lesser commodity to the original artwork, often secreted in a portfolio, or hung en masse on a passageway wall. But recently the print has returned to favor. Why? Not simply because prints are less expensive and more accessible than an original (who can find an original Matisse painting these days to buy, even if one had the tens of millions to acquire it?) Or because, with the rise of online galleries which have grown web-based art trade to around $2 billion a year, it’s now much simpler to find an original work of art and get it delivered to your home as quickly as your groceries. It’s also because prints, like this one from Hang-Up Gallery, have lost their lesser status. Indeed, since the contemporary art market began to soar in the 1980s, a slew of galleries have started up to offer prints from household-name artists at relatively low prices. “It’s a comfortable entry point for people who haven’t necessarily bought art before,” says James Booth-Clibborn, whose company, Manifold Editions, specializes in contemporary artists. He explains that prints are offered in limited edition, averaging fewer than 70, each signed and numbered by the artist. “Prints are an affordable way to collect works by leading contemporary artists. You won’t need a fortune to start your collection.” There may be another factor contributing to the upward trajectory of these once-derided artifacts. As contemporary art moves into the large-scale installation, video and floor-based sculpture, the small scale of the old medium brings art back to that most popular of all spaces: the domestic wall. manifoldeditions.com, hanguppictures.com

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The violet

Until now, the scent of a violet has been thought of as, well, a little old-fashioned and prim. But, like many perfumes beloved by Victorian ladies, the fragrance of this most velvet of flowers is muscling its way back into fashion and scenting the smartest spaces once again. Violets are part of the scent of the St. Regis “Caroline’s Four Hundred Candle”, made by Carlos Huber of the perfumer Arquiste, in homage to the glory days of Caroline Astor, the matriarch of the original St. Regis hotel’s founding family, who hosted some of the most glorious parties New York has ever seen. “The violets in this scent formula would have been the same as the ones Mrs Astor would use as centerpieces in the St. Regis ballroom in the Gilded Age,” says Huber. Why is the flower such an olfactory hit? “The scent is intriguing,” says Huber. “It comes and goes. One minute you smell it, and the next it’s gone. This chemical characteristic makes them attractive and ever-new.” Oils extracted for perfume come from the Viola Odorata, also called the Sweet Violet, which grows in the Mediterranean region and Asia Minor and produces delicate purple, white or variegated flowers that appear in early spring. The scent itself comes from ionones in the plant, which create its trademark sweetness and powdery, woody-floral characteristics that have been popular for centuries. The French Emperor Napoleon was a lover of violets (they are thought to have therapeutic properties, and help to ward off colds, asthma, rheumatic pains and infections) as was his Empress, Josephine, who wore them on her wedding day. And it’s safe to say there was nothing prim about them.