Rapaport Magazine
Style & Design

Fred’s legacy

A new exhibition chronicles the legendary maison’s history, from its Parisian beginnings to its Kathmandu connections.

By Sonia Esther Soltani

Paris, 1936. A newcomer on the jewelry scene, the 28-year-old Fred Samuel, established his boutique on the chic Rue Royale and started handing out engraved business cards introducing himself as the “modern jeweler-designer.” This was “quite visionary” of him, notes his granddaughter Valérie Samuel, vice president and artistic director of Fred.

Today, it’s the modernity and timelessness of Fred’s designs that Samuel has made her mission to publicize to a wider audience. Having worked with both her grandfather and father, she left the family business when it joined the LVMH group in 1995, and returned in 2017. She’s the brains behind Fred’s first-ever retrospective, which will take place in the French capital in 2022 to celebrate the maison’s 85th anniversary.

The exhibition will offer an unprecedented opportunity to discover the colorful personality and career of Fred Samuel, born in 1908 in Argentina to French Alsatian parents. The charming, lively and well-liked jeweler made his name handling some extraordinary gems. One of them was the Blue Moon, a 275-carat Ceylon sapphire set in the middle of a diamond tiara, which Fred sold in 1980. He also established a close relationship with the Nepalese royal family, for whom he created superbly intricate and transformable jewels. Keen-eyed jewelry lovers and movie-goers might have spotted a Fred necklace on Julia Roberts’s character in Pretty Woman, and the brand has been associated with stars such as Catherine Deneuve and Jerry Hall.

Establishing archives

Valérie Samuel’s return to Fred four years ago was the impetus for a much-needed effort to safeguard the house’s legacy. “At the time, there was not really any archives or heritage department,” she recalls. “It was very important for me to try to get all our archives back in order to tell the story of who Fred is, who Fred Samuel was.” She regretted that the best-selling Force 10 bracelet — which launched in 1966 and features a buckle and sailing cable inspired by her grandfather’s love of maritime sports — had overshadowed his other achievements.

The serendipitous discovery of hundreds of boxes in a warehouse has enabled her and her team to put together a large-scale digital archive, compiling motifs, gems, and correspondence with clients. Letters exchanged between Fred Samuel and the Kathmandu royals from 1950 to 1995 are a touching testimony of the deep connection that bound three generations of crowned heads and three generations of jewelers, notes the artistic director.

Not only does the archive reveal the true narrative of the storied Fred maison, it’s also a powerful source of inspiration for the contemporary team to “really set the design language of the brand,” she says. Her playful, elegant creations range from the transformable Pretty Woman high-jewelry series to a men’s collection that launches next month and pays tribute to Force 10. They all showcase the same joie de vivre her grandfather displayed during his lifetime.


Article from the Rapaport Magazine - September 2021. To subscribe click here.

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