It was in 1890 Beirut when David Mouawad founded what was to become one of most respected jewellery houses in the world. In fact, one need not embark on a critical study of haute joaillerie to be acquainted with the accomplishments of Mouawad, from being the jeweller of royalties, celebrities and the world’s fashionable elite to amassing one of the most spectacular gem collections in the world, consequently earning a few spots in the Guinness Book of World Records, with the most recent being the L’Incomparable Diamond Necklace which boasts a $55 million flawless centerpiece diamond. More evocatively, the renowned jeweller has also been designing Victoria’s Secret Fantasy bras since 2001 and in the ensuing years, had produced the most expensive piece of lingerie ever created at $11 million: the Very Sexy Fantasy Bra modeled by Heidi Klum at the Victora’s Secret show.
With 20 showrooms worldwide, present-day Mouawad remains a family-run business built on artistic innovation, storied craftsmanship, trust and relationships. Yet, amongst the many superlatives billed to its name, Jean Nasr, Managing Director and nephew of Robert Mouawad, asserts that the 125-year-old house isn’t just about the florid, wildly expensive jewels; there is a piece of Mouawad for anyone who appreciates exclusivity and the fineness of wear.
What does Mouawad aim to express today as a jeweller?
I think every piece of jewellery that we make should be a form of expression. We are a company that always strives to manufacture one-of-a-kind pieces and when I say one-of-a-kind, it does not necessarily entail a lofty price tag. They can be affordable yet special because we believe that every man or woman who buys a watch or a piece of jewellery should have something unique. It’s like the colour of roses and how each expresses a different intent; everything we manufacture has to have a soul. More recently, we try and strengthen the expression of our brand by creating new lines such as the Flower of Eternity or the Rosette collection. And these have become unmistakable emblems of the house.
As a watchmaker?
From a watch perspective, we have been manufacturing timepieces for a long time. But over the last few years, Mouawad has been working to develop our own in-house movements and that is going to elevate us to a whole different ball game internationally. Being able to produce our own movements takes a lot of effort and expertise and especially so when we want to create something different, something that would bring that special lustre to the watch industry. We are very excited and it’s an achievement we are very proud of.
What does luxury mean to Mouawad?
I think luxury is an experience, from the moment you step into a Mouawad store, from the way we select and cut our stones to the way we display our goods. It is a concept that is embedded across the entire process and not just in the actual product. Even when it comes to something as simple as an engagement ring, it has to be something unique and the receiver should feel like she’s on the top of the world and that nobody deserves what she got more than her. I always say that I’ve never sold any piece of jewellery standing behind the counter; it’s always about sitting with the customer, building that connection, understanding, knowing what they like, and working together to create something that is special to them.
How has a consumer’s perception of luxury evolved over the years?
The consumer’s perception differs from one continent to the next. For instance, Asia and particularly Singapore is where consumers have acquired a very sharp eye for excellent quality. It is definitely something we did not experience thirty or forty years ago in Asia. There are certain countries where there is a demand for larger stones but in Singapore, consumers are looking for very fine quality and would rather pay for a smaller, cleaner stone than a larger one where they might feel they didn’t get the best. These changes are also reflected in design. The Asian woman wants something that is very different. She wants something that is really bespoke and unusual. Craftsmanship is also a paramount factor.
What are some of the challenges in the industry at the moment?
I would suppose the challenges have never changed. One has to strive always to make sure you procure the right product at the right price from the right sources and then even after that, you need the expertise and skill to transform these raw materials into an exceptional piece of jewellery. At Mouawad, we have our own factory to cut coloured stones and diamonds. There is a shortage of certain good quality materials so it is crucial to have the right contacts and to procure the best product in order to sell it at very competitive prices. We are sightholders so we buy directly from De Beers as well as other different parts of the world.
The other challenge is to be constantly progressing and strengthening our techniques in manufacturing. And to quote my uncle, Robert Mouawad, the previous chairman of the company, a piece of jewellery is not a piece that should slip pass under a door, it’s a piece of jewellery that should have movement, it should have volumes and at the same time, it should be something to be worn and then forgotten about – fleetingly present, light, smooth and fine. It should never be a hindrance to your clothes or movement.
Do you look at the competition’s achievements in general?
I think everyone should do that. It’s a very healthy exercise. Mouawad alone cannot dictate or impose a certain style of jewellery on the whole world. It’s important to look at what others are doing, the stones that are doing well in the market because you need a good grasp on what people are looking for. Today, for instance, people are looking for very special coloured stones like spinels, paraiba tourmalines, padparadscha sapphires. These are difficult names which, few years ago, it was rare of people to know of them. Being exposed to what’s available in the market will give you a certain direction and will widen your horizon of opportunities.
Do you see it as a necessity to balance Mouawad’s dexterity in diamonds as well as coloured gemstones in terms of design in order to remain competitive?
It’s important to mention that it’s very rare to see a piece of coloured jewellery without diamonds that’s why sometimes we refer to small diamonds as accessories because they are the ones bringing out the beauty of the coloured stones and you need that contrast. Today, with the revival of coloured gems, Mouawad seeks to modernise the idea of combining coloured stones. For example, instead of using blue sapphire and emerald, we are combining tanzanite and tsavorite or lagoon tourmaline with red spinels and mandarin garnets because the contrast is beautiful. Should this have been created 20 years ago, people would have laughed at us but this is what is unique and exquisite today. Of course, there are people who still prefer the classics and the beauty about having our own factory is that we are able to realise a spectrum of styles.
Do you ever think of heritage as a form of constraint?
Yes, definitely. There is a preconception that Mouawad, with our associations with royalties, celebrities and Victoria’s Secret, is wildly unattainable. This is a constraint because the average consumer who is willing to spend five, ten, fifteen thousand dollars will be a little bit taken aback by these high-sounding monikers. Lately, we’ve spent millions of dollars and put so much effort into changing this perception. Today you can buy a diamond timepiece for two, three thousand dollars at Mouawad. But at the same time, we have to be a little rigid in order to continue with the legacy of 125 years. Heritage is a beautiful thing to have and it needs to be observed, respected and used as guidelines for our future.
At 125 years old, does Mouawad still have any unfulfilled dreams?
That is a very good question. I think when you stop dreaming, you stop living. Every piece of Mouawad jewellery is artistic and there is no form of art that can be created without a dream. Dreaming is important because it makes people younger and when you are younger, you have a stronger heart, more energy and more will power. For Mouawad to exist for 125 years, it means Mouawad has lived the dream and should continue living the dream for generations to come.