Oud Resin

Oud resin

Although it has been used for centuries in the Middle East, until about ten years ago oud was almost unknown as an ingredient in Western perfumery. In Arabia, the sweet, rich scent is an important part of the culture. The resin of the agar tree is instilled into precious perfumes, and the tiny chips of agar are burnt to create a sweet smoke to fragrance homes, clothing and mosques. Due to its rarity, and the difficulty of harvesting the resin, oud costs about one-and-a-half times the price of gold – about 150lb of wood yields just five teaspoons of essential oil – and a kilo of oud costs upwards of $70,000. Roja Dove – the British custom perfumer – loved the scent so much that he launched three oud perfumes under his name. Why? “Oud is the smell of Arabia in a bottle,” he explains. “It reminds me of the people I met there and of the emotions inspired by the beauty of the landscape. For me, it’s ancient, it’s natural and incredibly heady. What more could you want of a fragrance?” rojadove.com

The Tourbillon Watch

The tourbillon watch

Like car manufacturers or yacht engineers, high-end watchmakers thrive on achieving ever-more mind-boggling feats of engineering. Except that in watchmaking it is on a micro scale. The skill of these (mainly Swiss) technicians is their ability to keep mechanisms small and light while improving the watches’ functionality; this they do by creating “complications”, or additional mechanical layers. The most complex of all of these complications is the tourbillon, invented by an Englishman to counter the effects of gravity on timekeeping accuracy and developed and patented by Abraham-Louis Breguet in 1801. Nothing is quite so desirable as a watch with a tourbillon. Why? Because the more complicated a watch, the harder it is to make and the fewer there are produced. The Breguet Messidor Tourbillon, costs $180,000. “An array of meticulously finished parts lovingly polished, chamfered, chased and scored with parallel decorative strokes by the most versatile of all instruments, the human hand.” breguet.com

Scottish Cashmere

Scottish cashmere

Some of the finest cashmere, as lovers of the fabric will attest, is woven in Scotland. It is in the Scottish Borders region adjoining England, beside the clear streams, that a Scot, Joseph Dawson, invented a mechanical process to sort and clean the fibres in the 19th century, and it is here, ever since, that designers have had their clothing produced. The hair itself comes from the Mongolian goat, which lives in sub-zero temperatures at high altitudes in the mountains of Mongolia, China, Tibet and the Himalayan region of Kashmir. It is only, as James Sugden of Johnstons of Elgin explains, when the fiber is washed in Scottish spring water, hand-spun, then colored using the finest-quality non-harmful dyes, that the very finest cashmere becomes ultra-soft. “You can feel the difference between something that has been produced in Scotland and elsewhere,” he says. “Cashmere is ruined by corrosive dyes and chemicalized water. ‘Made in Scotland’ is reassurance that that fiber has been treated in the best way possible.” johnstonscashmere.com

The Silent Logo

The Silent Logo

Logos are an important way of signaling our wealth and our fashionability – key weapons in any status-conscious society. In previous ages, richly embroidered fabrics and tapestries delineated your class and engraved signet rings denoted your lineage; now logos have become the contemporary way of communicating our lifestyle, our aspirations and our means. However, in spite of the cachet that logos afford, there has been a noticeable rebellion against over-branding. Status that is shouted too loudly has become tacky (“new money” hiss the snobs or “too obvious” snort the fashionistas). Coolest of all, some argue, are products that have no logo at all, relying, instead, on trademark design details or fabrics. Think the boxy, collarless jackets that have been signature Chanel since 1925, or Hermès scarves, with their unmistakable patterns. Or, for instance, this clutch by the Italian luxury brand Bottega Veneta. It is entirely logo-less; yet that intrecciato weave is such a recognizable signature for those in the know, who needs a logo? bottegaveneta.com

Chinese Stamps

Chinese stamps

One impact of the rise of China is the rise of the Chinese collector and the seemingly inexorable rise in price of the Chinese collectible. Everything from a Ming vase to a Shanghai movie poster from the 1930s is coveted by someone, somewhere (most likely China). Nowhere is this seen more than in the world of stamp-collecting. Steve Matthews, Chinese specialist of the stamp-market company Stanley Gibbons, says that stamp-collecting has become a national pastime, with about 20 million Chinese people collecting stamps, and increasing numbers of Hong Kong and mainland Chinese millionaires seeking to own the rarest specimens and reclaim their history. Unlike the buyers of other assets, stamp collectors love nothing more than things that have gone awry. The block of four Chinese stamps photographed here, for instance, shows some perforations are completely missing vertically, which makes it worth about $132,000. Is it the moment, perhaps, to dust out those old albums? stanleygibbons.com

Yellow Diamonds

Yellow diamonds

Look inside any high-end jeweler’s window today and one color will shine out: yellow. In the past few years, yellow diamonds have become the fashionable choice for women who want jewelery that is different from their mother’s. While white diamonds will never go out of fashion, “women now want a bit of color”, says Katharina Flohr, creative director for Fabergé. “They want something that is more fashion-conscious.” In 2011, a record for a yellow diamond was set when the Sun-Drop was sold at Sotheby’s in Geneva for about $12.4 million. While pale yellow stones are less valuable than white diamonds, stones that are a dark, vivid gold are incredibly rare – for every 10,000 white diamonds mined, only one will be a “fancy” or fiery vivid yellow. This Graff ring (pictured) is set with a single 52.73ct, fancy vivid-yellow, emerald-cut diamond, surrounded by 170 white diamonds. Pairing yellow with white diamonds, CEO Francois Graff says, “intensifies and electrifies the color of the stone to its highest degree”. Not that this petrified sunbeam needs any help to shine. graffdiamonds.com

Wooden Skis

Wooden Skis

Ask John Fry, president of the International Skiing History Association, why he believes there’s been an upsurge in wooden skis on slopes around the world, and he scratches his head. “To be honest, I have no idea. Wood was abandoned in the 1950s, when the metal ski was invented. By the 1972 Japan Olympics, everyone was using fiberglass. “Wood is a natural material, so it’s really hard to make two skis exactly the same,” he explains. “The torsing of the ski can’t be varied – whereas with modern composites, it can be. And then there’s the upkeep…” While Fry is right about the improved technical make-up of modern skis, he does recognize that “wooden skis do look nice”. So nice, in fact, that two enthusiasts have set up a website, vintagewinter.com, in order that enthusiasts can buy old pairs to adorn their chalets, homes and hotels. “Vintage winter sports items will always be in style,” says co-founder Jeff Hume. “There is something appealing about an old pair of solid-wood skis.” Which is why Pete Wagner in Colorado has cleverly come up with the perfect combination: hi-tech, ultra-strong skis that are custom-made using the most advanced engineering and materials, but finished with the sorts of beautiful wooden veneers shown here. “What people want is an old-fashioned aesthetic, but with 21st-century technology,” he says. Visitors to his website can fill out a form, and the company will design and ship skis anywhere in the world. Or simply, perhaps, to The St. Regis Aspen Resort, where they will be ready and waiting for guests on arrival. With or without wooden veneers. wagnerskis.com