PARIS — Think no brand can pull off cultured pearls, steel cables, transformable and a functional compass in the one high jewelry collection?
Parisian jewelry house Fred can. After all, these are just some of the ideas left behind by founder Fred Samuel and explored afresh in a new 24-piece high jewelry collection titled “Monsieur Fred Inner Light.”
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“He was this jeweler who never did anything like anyone else, taking that sidestep,” said Valérie Samuel, artistic director and vice-president of the jewelry house founded by her grandfather in 1936.
Her starting point was a sentence from her grandfather’s memoirs, where he wrote that the “word ‘radiance’ has never left [him]. The light of the sun and stones, of course, but also the inner light that shines deep within each of us.”
Engraved on each piece is the sun under an arch, positioned to “symbolizes the light throughout the day, but also the journey through a life,” Valérie Samuel explained, pointing out that important stones were also set using an arch-shaped claw nodding to his first shop.
But that’s where any nostalgia stops. While the collection should also be considered in tandem with its first retrospective, opening on Sept. 28 at the Palais de Tokyo, it is no backward-glancing homage.
Rather, it’s meant to serve as a springboard for what comes next in its 86-year-long history and a manifesto to “how the fourth generation [counting Fred Samuel’s father, who was also a jeweler] can take the spirit of the house further,” according to chief executive officer Charles Leung.
“At this moment [in the house’s history], we need to reinforce our style, that people might not know so well. So instead of jumping into crazy, imaginary [worlds], we go to the root of our DNA,” such as removing the importance of gender in jewelry design or transformable elements, he continued.
For Valérie Samuel, this intensely personal collection “takes even more meaning after having discovered the man behind the house” through the upcoming retrospective. Signatures like the “Pretty Woman” necklace, the Force 10 line or the Chance Infinie designs might ring a bell, but “you didn’t know where they came from,” she felt. “Now you’ll have that connection.”
Central to it is the personality of Fred Samuel, from his creative sense and sunny disposition to his unshakeable belief that one can create their own luck.
Each of the six chapters is named after one of his character traits, summarized in a mantra inscribed on the pieces, and takes cues from his life’s story and elements that have marked the house, like pearls, his passion for sailing and the Soleil d’Or diamond.
Starting with the Creative Instinct set, built around more than a hundred South Sea and Akoya pearls, and which nods to the beginnings of the jeweler, who was the first to bring cultured pearls to the Paris jewelry scene in the ’30s.
In contrast to the elegant classic rows that earned him the reputation as the provider of the “most beautiful pearls of Paris,” the pearls are recast as lustrous clusters adorning the edges of a collar, cuff and ring like seafoam on the shore — a nod to Fred Samuel’s passion for the sea.
A quartet of pieces named after the now-returned Soleil d’Or gem feature emerald-cut vivid intense yellow and white diamonds, arranged to evoke sunlight on water. The 101.57-carat inspiration remains unset and takes pride of place in the retrospective.
Two sets center around another house signature: colored stones, sapphire-hued ones in particular.
In Faith in Destiny, it’s a 28.7-carat unheated Ceylon sapphire that takes pride of place on a transformable piece that can be worn as a necklace, a bracelet, a brooch or even an Albert chain on a suit. That embodies Leung’s intention “to sell to men on the idea that [high jewelry] can offer something masculine and stylish for them as well, and they won’t end up looking funny.”
As for Joyful Spirit, Valérie Samuel used doublets and triplets — thin slices of hard stone layered to reinforce their color — under sugarloaf shaped rock crystal to recreate the play of light on a mosaic-lined pool.
Since the technique is often used to bolster stones of lesser quality, using it in high jewelry could raise eyebrows. But she remained unfazed, saying that “respecting these techniques that are not always well understood” was part and parcel to high jewelry’s position as “a technical laboratory to push the limits of know-how.”
Hearts take pride of place on a necklace nodding to Fred Samuel’s generosity, the family’s taste for this cut and “Pretty Woman.”
With 50 different ways to wear it — the central motif featuring an 8.25-carat gem accounts for 12 of them — Samuel wanted to talk about “all kinds of love” and give “casual chic, everyday wear” a high jewelry twist.
Playful functionalities and transformability contribute to jewels that could believably be worn regularly is also important, said Leung, who feels that current high jewelry trends are about “competing with the fine arts market, offering [items] for storing value or speculating.”
“I think we should be thinking about the joy here a little bit — without the need for 10 bodyguards in tow,” he joked.
Taking a starring role in the Force 10 Winning Spirit set is the new 32-facet “Hero” diamond cut, inspired by the shape of sails. “This is the heart for men,” said Leung, commenting about the motif’s resemblance to Superman’s shield and how it fit with the idea that “we can all be our own hero.”
The Hero cut added va-va-voom to five pieces of this chapter inspired by the Force 10 collection’s codes of steel cables, nautical manacles and overall maritime inspiration — if the gradient aquamarines, cut from a 1,250-carat rough hadn’t been enough.
That said, having a functional compass on the four-foot-long transformable crossbody necklace is still the set’s biggest surprise — or not, given family precedents.
“We are a family of sailors, so we know the importance of finding your way,” said Valérie Samuel.
Finding it but while always walking to the beat of their own drum the whole way. “The Fred Samuel attitude is still very present in everything we do,” she conceded.