In the early 1990s, the Dubai-based Spanish craftsman Pedro de Aranda was called upon to create a sculpture of a solid-gold falcon for Sheikh Zayed, the founding President of the UAE. De Aranda rendered the piece in his Paris workshop and brought it over to Abu Dhabi. A few months later, the then president of France was gifted the bird when he visited the UAE, and it made its way back to Paris. “And that is why I never create the same piece twice,” says de Aranda. “Because you just never know where it might end up.”
The 65-year-old gemmologist and designer is the founder of Prologue, a family-run enterprise that has been creating one-off objets d’art for almost a quarter of a century. Yet Prologue is not a name everyone is familiar with. A deliberate decision, says de Aranda, because: “We don’t have a store, we don’t advertise and we keep a very low profile. Most of our clients are members of royal families, so we have to follow certain protocols and precautions. Also, when we make something for a client, they are also essentially buying the design of the piece.”
The sculptures that de Aranda creates are upon request, and crafted from the finest gemstones and precious metals. From a falcon taking flight (pictured) and horses in the desert to oud receptacles, the objects are replete with Arabian motifs. “In this part of the world, collectibles reflect heritage; they are things our clients want to display prominently in their homes or offer to guests. An Eiffel tower model won’t work in the UAE, and why should it?”
However, de Aranda adds that trends are changing among the younger generation. “They have more international tastes. They want less gilt, for example.”
The designer confesses that sometimes a client’s vision may clash with his “old-fashioned views”. For a recent project, a perfume case, de Aranda was told not to use any yellow gold or black. The warmth of yellow gold lends radiance, he says, while bronze looks less dull when tarnished with black. “The final product did not look complete to me, it lacked oomph,” he says. “However, the client was happy with it; it was exactly what she wanted to display in her home.”
While de Aranda handles the design side of things, his wife Corine – who was the managing director of Chaumet – handles administrative and sales operations, and his oldest son, Carlos, is putting expansion plans in place. “Before, we only did one-of-a-kind pieces on order. But my son is bringing in bigger orders – which government agencies need for, say, graduation ceremonies for the Dubai Police or Army, or to give dignitaries for National Day. However, sometimes they may not realise why the materials we use and the quality of our finishing costs as much as it does. We are not interested in competing with mass-produced Chinese products.”
And then there are collectors for whom money matters little. When de Aranda created a miniature Ferrari in gold for a member of Brunei’s royal family, engineered to perfection and complete with a gemstone-encrusted remote control, a young child present at the palace promptly took over the control. The next thing de Aranda saw was the car flying over the balustrade and landing in the swimming pool below. He still got paid in full, of course.
In addition to orders, de Aranda creates 40 objects of his own every year. Currently, he is working on Life Behind X-Rays, a large-scale piece that resembles an English club, with a bridge table, pool table and bar, but all the characters are skeletons. Each detail is crafted with precious stones and polished to perfection, including the minuscule bottles that are carved in stone with citrines, tourmalines and crystal.
Prologue is headquartered in Dubai, but also has a workshop in Thailand, where a team of 30 craftsmen and graphic designers work on the pieces, some of which take up to two years to complete.
Read this and more stories in Luxury magazine, out with The National on Thursday, May 11.