Selim Mouzannar: A modern history

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The Lebanese designer on seeing the world and making happy jewellery.

Selim Mouzannar fled his native Lebanon in the midst of a civil way and went on to carve a path across the world and into fine jewellery. He tells Kathryn Bishop about studying in Paris, referencing ancient eras and finding inspiration in unusual places.

When I meet Selim Mouzannar – a man whose jewellery career I have followed for a number of years – he smiles broadly, cocks his head to one side and asks: “Am I seducing you yet?”

It is a provocative question, but unfortunately Mouzannar is simply referring to his jewellery designs; heritage-inspired collections that echo early jewels from his native Lebanon as well as Russia, Turkey and ancient Greece; old cut round- and pear-shaped diamonds are placed in black rhodium settings, contrasted by the punchy hues of rubies, peridots and blue sapphires.

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His rings feature upturned stones to mirror the bulbous shapes of renaissance Russian architecture, while snakes coil around the finger, with staring gemstone eyes. For the neck, Mouzannar has created, among others, a collection called Kaztak, a range of multi-charm necklaces based on Ottoman trinkets and charms, modern heirloom pieces with multiple chains, gold tassels and stone-set dove charms and watch fob T-bars.

While his jewellery breathes ancient charm, it finds a very modern audience; he counts Rihanna as a fan of the brand, with the pop star wearing his diamond Crossover ring on the cover of the April 2013 UK edition of Elle magazine.

To get a true feel of his collections you must see them up close, a necessity I checked off my list in March when Mouzannar rolled into London as a guest designer at Annoushka on South Molton Street. It is in this setting that Mouzannar and I sit to talk jewellery, and where I am most definitely seduced by the twinkling of his designs, stories and desire to create jewellery that pays great respect to jewels of the past but gives them a fresh twist suited to today’s jewellery client.

Professional Jeweller: You have just arrived in London with some new collections showing at Annoushka. How did this guest appearance come about?
Selim Mouzannar: I have been in contact with Annoushka for more than 18 months. We were planning to launch a collection here and today [March 5] is the day. I have brought most of my collections here and some brand new designs, which are being shown here even before my shop in Beirut. The new pieces are additions to the Beirut collection.

PJ: How long have the new Beirut lines been in development?
SM: Beirut is my original collection that dates back to when I first started designing, but these new pieces took about a year. I have added new details to the shank and the head of the rings are now a curved shape. Firstly, I wanted to use another shape and, secondly, I wanted to change the band to give it some more character. The designs are inspired by the old arcades and architecture of Beirut. The rings’ settings are cut out like arch shapes around the edge.

PJ: You work with both diamond and a kaleidoscope of coloured gemstones, but do you have a favourite gemstone?
SM: I don’t really have a favourite, so as much as I don’t want to say I love this stone [more than another], but it also depends when and how I am using a stone, which style of jewellery and which context.

PJ: You have a Heritage line of diamond jewellery with a number of pieces that look rather like wedding and engagement rings. Was that a conscious move?
SM: My father and grandfather were jewellers and produced conservative collections, so we have ours [Heritage] to mirror that. I design with respect to the lightness of the structure of my jewellery, without the heaviness of some wedding jewellery.

PJ: Have you been inspired by the designs your father and grandfather made?
SM: Yes, but I have added some happiness to what they did. The conservative side of my grandfather and father’s jewellery also had some sadness. When you think of vintage there is nostalgia but also sadness. So I have tried to make jewellery that is a bit more optimistic, modern and fun.

PJ: You studied in Paris at the Institut National de Gemmologie before travelling around the world, spending time in Belgium, Saudi Arabia and Thailand. Have your travels shaped you as a designer?
SM: For sure. Each country has influenced my character. In Europe the message I got was mainly one of tolerance compared to home [Lebanon was in the midst of a civil war when Mouzannar left for Paris]. Europe was full of openness and friendliness and it taught me, besides techniques, the message of non violence and this has translated as a certain softness in how I design.

PJ: You use a lot of rose gold. Is it to give your work a Lebanese heritage feel, or is it to follow trends?
SM: No, no. I’m not a guy who’s caught by one idea. I also make my jewellery in platinum, white gold and a lot of yellow gold. But certainly for the Beirut collection I feel rose gold is much more suited to the designs and the stones also fit with rose gold.

PJ: Your work has a lot of detail, even down to engraving your name on the shank of rings. Do you like to ensure every part is well finished?
SM: Yes. In the back of a piece of jewellery, everywhere. Every part is considered and you can see through most of my settings and the backs of the designs.

PJ: Where do you draw most of your inspiration from?
SM: You know, my collections can be inspired by something really specific, while for other designs I just don’t want to complicate them with too many stories. Designing for me has become a natural process, it just develops and flows. My ideas come from everywhere, from a dish I might be eating, or while I’m under the shower. My work is always in a state of metamorphosis.

PJ: How do you design? Are you always making new pieces, or do you work seasonally?
SM: For me, seasonal is like you are caught in some slavery work and you need to hit a deadline. When [my work] comes, it comes, and I am happy with working like that. Maybe it’s a little bit pretentious but I have the privilege not to worry now, after 30 years of hard work, about how I want to gain money. As a result my making process is much more relaxed.

PJ: Where are you based yourself?
SM: I’m in Beirut mainly but I’m always moving. I went for more than 20 years exploring around the world before settling back down in Beirut.

PJ: Do you have a hero designer or someone you admire in the industry?
SM: I like some people more than others but I cannot tell you as the others will be unhappy, and you cannot be caught saying today I am inspired by this guy and tomorrow it’s another one. But for sure, there are great designers in jewellery and I believe there are many more. I’m not at the centre of the world.

This interview was taken from the April issue of Professional Jeweller. To read the issue online, click here

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