Rapaport Magazine

Extraordinary Jewels

An exhibition of jewelry from the house of Alexandre Reza at Sotheby’s looks back at his legacy and forward to the future.

By Amber Michelle

54.70-carat unheated Ceylon sapphire, with 149 oval and pear-shaped diamonds weighing 34.69 carats. Designed by Alexandre Reza, circa 1975.
Photo courtesy Alexandre Reza.
Spectacular gemstones, ingenious design and fine craftsmanship are what define the legendary jewelry houses. The bespoke jewels of Paris-based Alexandre Reza epitomize these qualities — and more. “Alexandre Reza’s legacy forms an integral and important part of the history of post-war jewelry,” notes David Bennett, chairman of Sotheby’s jewelry division for Europe and the Middle East.

A History of Jewelry
   Alexandre Reza comes from a lineage of jewelry makers dating back to the nineteenth century in Persia, where his family passed the art of jewelry making from father to son. In 1922, Agadjan and Genia Reza emigrated to Moscow, Russia, where their son Alexandre was born. In 1925, the family moved to France — first Paris and then Nice — where they took up the craft of jewelry making once again. Growing up, Alexandre was surrounded by fine precious gemstones and as he grew into adulthood he assumed increasingly greater responsibilities in the business, taking over the stone trading division of the company when he was just 18 years old. He traveled the world in search of the most exceptional stones and eventually developed an impressive client list that included business titans, celebrities and titled elites.
   Around 1950, Alexandre moved his stone trading company from Nice to Paris, where he supplied some of the biggest names in the business, including Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels and Boucheron. At the same time, he began creating jewelry for some of the most renowned jewelry houses, as well as for his own private clients.
   Fast-forward to 1971 and Alexandre moved his company to one of the most exclusive addresses in Paris — 21 Place Vendôme. Eight years later, he opened his own studio at the same address and began producing jewelry for the eponymous A. Reza House. He continued to search for the finest gemstones in the world and was known for having one of the largest and most amazing private collections of gems ever assembled. He used these gems to create pieces characterized by symmetry and volume, with open space being an important element of each design, allowing light to flow through every jewel. A few years ago, Alexandre retired and his son Olivier Reza took over the firm, where he continues to uphold the exacting standards of his father while bringing the jewelry designs into a new era.
   “I will continue giving every single piece of jewelry the time necessary to achieve something that we consider fitting to our values and perspective on design,” comments Olivier during an interview at Sotheby’s New York. The interview coincided with “The Extraordinary Jewelry of Alexandre Reza” exhibition, which showcases the historic and contemporary works of the master jeweler. The exhibition will be on display in Sotheby’s offices in London, Beijing and Doha, the capital of Qatar, during 2014.
   “We use the best materials and there is no industrialization,” continues Olivier. “We are keeping our company an artisanship. Jewelry is a more complex art form than painting, film or video. We use precious materials and it is a three-dimensional form of art that has a complicated manufacturing process that is hard to do and the jewelry has to be functional.”

Wearable Art
   While Olivier stays true to the core values of the company, as times change, so do the tastes and lifestyles of its customers. The challenge is how to remain true to the core values of the firm while developing a design vocabulary that is relevant to a contemporary clientele. Olivier says that for him, there is nothing better than a client saying, “This is great; I’ll be able to wear it.”
   Olivier achieves this wearability by being open-minded about design and by designing for the stone that he is using in a piece. So vast is the gemstone collection composed by his father that Olivier draws upon that resource when he creates a piece. “Good design is always about composition and proportions. You can have a great design but if the proportions and colors are not right, it won’t work,” he observes. “It’s the same for art, architecture, everything.”
   The new designs by Olivier continue his father’s tradition of exceptional gems, fine craftsmanship, volume and elegance, but the lines of his pieces are more elongated and the shapes are more geometrical with simpler lines. Balance is an integral part of the designs.
   “I try to achieve perfection and create something timeless. You can’t rush design,” concludes Olivier. “I must make sure that the design embellishes the stone, but also makes the piece functional and spectacular. Once that is achieved, you can make the piece. It is not about design trends or themes. Our designs are not driven by mood, demand or trend. We wait until we have the perfect stone, or we put something aside and wait if we have to. We select the material and then take the time to make the pieces.” 

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - January 2014. To subscribe click here.

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