This article originally appeared in The New York Times international edition on 24 March 2017.
S uccessfully reviving a legend is not easy. But for Olivier Reza, son of the renowned gem dealer and master jeweler Alexandre Reza, the house’s renaissance over the last eight years has been a crusade.
He closed retail outlets worldwide to concentrate on creativity in the Reza atelier and its gilded 18th-century salon in the Hôtel de Fontpertuis on the Place Vendôme here, home of many of jewelry’s major names.
In 2014, Mr. Reza put together a traveling exhibition, a mix of his father’s pieces and his own new, contemporary designs, to announce the comeback of the Reza brand.
And in August, he opened Reza at the Ritz, a boutique with a smooth modern look at the recently renovated luxury hotel. While the hotel gallery that links the Place Vendôme to the Cambon side is lined with jewel-stuffed vitrines, Reza is one of only two jewelers with a boutique there. And it now is the house’s only public retail space.
“The Ritz is a symbol of savoir-vivre and savoir-faire, the right place for us to provide some visibility on our creations,” Mr. Reza, 42, said during an interview in the house’s salon, just steps away.
While he continues to use some of the large collection of flawless, natural and untreated gemstones that his father collected over the years, Mr. Reza has been developing the house’s artistic direction in his own style — putting more emphasis on design, which he said he considers as important as the quality of the stones in creating jewelry.
"The Ritz is a symbol of savoir-vivre and savoir-faire, the right place for us to provide some visibility on our creations"
“Design is always a challenge,” he said. “It’s like a fight between the stone and the design each time. When the stone beats the design, I’m not satisfied. The design has to hold its own.”
When a friend and client, who had commissioned a ring for his wife, asked, “Am I am buying the stone or the design?” Mr. Reza said he felt his design emphasis had been vindicated. “In this case, the design was up against a beautiful D-color Golconda 10-carat diamond,”
Mr. Reza said. “Beat that.” Mr. Reza’s way of designing is as much made-to-measure as the finished pieces. There are no collections; each piece is created as he is inspired.
Most of his work centers on unique pieces, like the Arlequin, a pair of diamond-studded pendant earrings with Brazilian sugar-loaf emeralds. It is one of his transformable designs: The earrings can be clipped together and worn as a brooch. Another piece, the Horn of Plenty earrings, has cascades of pigeon-blood rubies and diamonds.
Both the Arlequin and the Horn of Plenty were presented at the European Fine Art Fair earlier this month in the Netherlands; the house exhibits at such prestigious art fairs three or four times a year.
Recently, he added a focus on haute jewelry that uses smaller but still high-quality stones, to create pieces priced at less than $100,000, about 94,700 euros.
© DMITRY KOSTYUKOV/THE NEW YORK TIMES/REDUX
“They catch your eye and are surprising, but also must be beautiful,” he said of the haute jewelry, which “corresponds to the time we live in.”
Rather than designs targeted at daytime, nighttime or special events, he has conceived of pieces that are wearable anytime, anywhere.
One example: the Ruban (or ribbon) earrings, whose delicate diamond-studded loops are lined in contrasting colored gems like sapphires, rubies, emeralds or colored diamonds, and seem to dance up the ear. “They attract a lot of attention and do exactly what I want them to do,” he said. “They are easily wearable, but very different, and make a statement about the woman who is wearing them.”
“The designs can be simple,” Mr. Reza said, “but they have to maximize the beauty of the stone. For me, it’s all about shape, colors, composition and contact with the materials, and the need to provide an emotion at every angle.”
Another is the diamond-studded Spirale ring, which looks like an abstract sculpture in miniature, and seems to reflect the creative inspiration of his own art collection. “There is no art form that I don’t like,” he said. “I love contemporary, modern and old master paintings. I love sculptures, antiquities, African and pre-Columbian art.”
The Reza hallmark — the creation of important pieces showcasing sumptuous precious stones — still is celebrated. Mr. Reza brought out the Dentelle (or lace) necklace as a spectacular example.
“I wanted something delicate but complex,” he said of the Dentelle design. The intricate pattern is centered on an extremely rare and flawless emerald-cut, 9.46-carat octagonal old-mine Colombian emerald, with one lozenge-cut and two marquise-cut Zambian emeralds. There also are trapeze-cut diamonds and brilliants arranged in a setting of white, yellow and black (for contrast) gold.
The setting was sent to cutters, who tailored each jewel to fit the design; such pieces can take 12 to 18 months to complete.
In every Reza design, “there is artistic composition, but the other thing that doesn’t get enough credit is functionality,” Mr. Reza said. “It needs to be wearable on the human body, where it is constantly in motion. These pieces need to be worn — on an ear, on a hand, as a necklace — so you can see what they were made to be.” Rather than scale models, which jewelers traditionally used in designing, now 3-D printed versions are made to assure each piece will be both comfortable and beautiful.
"There is artistic composition, but the other thing that doesn’t get enough credit is functionality"
Mr. Reza has a lot to live up to. His Moscow-born father, whose family fled the Russian Revolution, came to Paris after World War II and was soon renowned for his ability to discover exceptional old-mine gemstones from Colombia, India, Burma (now Myanmar), Thailand and Sri Lanka.
“He founded his own house in the 1950s and soon was trading and making jewelry for all the big Place Vendôme names,” Mr. Reza said. “Then he opened his Place Vendôme store in 1984.”
As he traveled, Alexandre Reza gathered rare old-mine diamonds, emeralds, sapphires and rubies. That remarkable collection, said to be among the world’s largest, was the reason Olivier Reza abandoned a successful career as an investment banker to take over the business when his father retired. “The most important aspect is the gems, waiting to be alive again,” he said. “I realized I had a huge head start.”
But Mr. Reza still has some of a banker’s sensibility. Jewels are the safest investment, he said. “A beautiful emerald or ruby never goes out of fashion.” “My only advice is to buy the best,” he said.