She’s often referred to as The First Lady Of Jewellery – and with good reason. As the head of the vastly successful family gem and jewellery business she built with her late husband Shlomo Moussaieff, Alisa Moussaieff has co-created an empire which has boutiques in London, Geneva, Hong Kong and Courchevel, as well as a sparkling reputation for creative exuberance. Here, she reflects on Eastern influences, ethical mining and the digital revolution.
You were self-taught early on in your time in the jewellery business. Do you recall any epiphanies in those early years?
In 1984, there was a magnificent jewel sale which took place in the midst of an all encompassing world wide recession. The atmosphere in the sales room was worse than grim, with no hands going up as major items were hammered down. Suddenly, the 50-carat D Internally Flawless diamond came up, just as the hammer nearly came down to mean “item unsold”, my husband and I looked at each other and simultaneously put up our hands. Needless to say, this item which was bought very cheaply went up drastically the next year and turned out to be one of our most successful purchases. Also, we got immense publicity value because we were virtually the only buyers. The lesson is that with top, top quality real gems, the value endures.
Who did you learn the most from and in what ways?
Unequivocally, my husband was my best teacher, originating from Bukhara where strong contrasting colours in artistic combinations were the aesthetic norm. I readily embrace all that he taught me. Though I’m originally from Vienna, the jewellery which I create is very eastern in feeling. In addition, I also try to be fast in deriving lessons from changing market situations and fluctuations and make necessary adjustments.
Did Mr Moussaieff learn a large amount, via osmosis, from his family as a youngster?
Mr Moussaieff descended from a long line of jewellers. His ancestors are said to have adorned a garment of Genghis Khan. His father pioneered Mississippi pearls in Hong Kong in the beginning of the century. He imparted the young Shlomo with his extensive knowledge of jade and pearls which he acquired there.
How are consumer priorities are changing?
With the advent of such blockbuster films such as Blood Diamond, ethics and fair trade have come to the forefront. The level-headed consumer who is exposed to vivid viral images of unfair trade practices and needless suffering cannot and does not wish to remain indifferent. He’s aware of his subtle but very real power to bring about positive change: for example, insistence on a Kimberly certificate when buying diamonds.
How important is creative derring-do to the business? Is it essential not to be “safe” and conventional?
Completion is fierce at the high end of our business which is why a good portion of our designs are what are considered stylistically “safe” – that is, we have had positive sales experiences with these or similar designs in the past. To this belongs the middle or middle-upper entrance level categories. However, when we reach the top, top categories, both financially and quality wise, we pride ourselves on our extreme originality. Thus, we sometimes combine unconventional materials, colours and textures that make that extra special pieces that embody the “wow factor”. These “wow factor” jewels have traditionally, – for the last 50 years – ensured our enduring place in top, world-class “haute joaillerie”.
Do you design things very spontaneously, instinctively? Or revisit pieces again and again, in order to get them right?
Both. Spontaneity is important to my creative freedom and design panache. However, as the jewel progresses from design on paper to the tangible stage, practical issues inevitably surface and adjustments need to be made to achieve a perfect final product.
In what circumstances do you get your best creative ideas?
Creativity can originate anywhere but it always emanates from unusual objects. Thus, while swimming in the sea I was inspired by the highly unusual and captivating movement of the jelly fish which resulted in the Paraiba jewel. I also use modern and ancient art as inspiration, and the varied collection of my husband’s ancient artefacts.
Your clientele is forever changing – jet-set clients at the start, then Middle-Eastern customers, then Asia… What do you expect the next shift to be and why?
The bulk of the next shift will also be in Asia as this is where the most serious buying power is today focussed. We feel that demand from the Middle East will continue to be strong even though their total spending budget is less. We feel that in places like India and Middle-Eastern countries, it is simply inconceivable to have a wedding without jewellery.
Has the digital revolution changed the industry at all (some say it’s made demands and tastes for goods more ubiquitous, for example)?
The digital revolution has made significant changes to our marketing strategy: because a larger proportion of our profits come through Instagram sales, we need to focus on designs that photograph well and are clearly visible on small devices. Because so many Instagram sales originate in the Far East we like to invest a lot in designs which are popular there such as small coloured diamonds in necklaces and rings. This, of course, doesn’t come at the expense of our “high power”, high value, stone intensive artistic creations. These, of course, need to be physically visualised and are reserved for the select few discerning clients who will examine them on our premises.