London-based, family-run niche high jewelry house Moussaieff has made a name for itself out of its deep understanding of fine and rare gemstones, carefully honed since 1850 when Shlomo Moussaieff traded the most ravishing natural pearls in Bukhara (modern-day Uzbekistan) along the Silk Road and established a jewelry shop in Jerusalem four decades later. His son went on to supply the greatest Belle Époque Parisian jewelers with rare Oriental pearls and gemstones sourced from the Persian Gulf. Today, the house is run by the doyenne of diamonds who also serves as the house’s creative director. With over a half-century of experience under her belt, Alisa Moussaieff, 89, together with her late husband (named Shlomo just like his great-grandfather), opened their first boutique on Park Lane in London and a workshop in Paris in 1963, selling exceptional stones and fine jewelry to royalty, world leaders and discerning collectors.
Alisa Moussaieff explains the decision to set up the company’s headquarters in London, today employing a team of 40 people. “The international market in London was buoyant. The Middle East was just waking up. London was the center for affluent people from the Middle and Far East who went there to shop and that’s where we wanted to be. London is still the center of the world. It will always be the center of the world.” Nonetheless, Moussaieff can rely on a greater family network of gem-dealing cousins, second cousins and other relatives located around the world in places like Hong Kong, Cambodia and Italy, as well as its connections in Antwerp, to source the highest-quality stones.
Born in Austria in 1929, Alisa Moussaieff married into the family business in 1948 and learnt on the job, guided by her own judgment and instincts when sourcing gemstones, as when she started, few people received a formal jewelry education. Self-taught, she picked up values of excellence and patience from her husband’s ancestors. Blessed with an artistic sensibility and a natural talent for jewelry design, she quickly recognized the esthetic potential of her husband’s colorful, joyous and vibrant culture of the East and proceeded to mix strong contrasting colors and round geometric forms. When conceiving a new jewel, the starting point of her creative process is always the gemstones, never the design. She needs to see the physical products on the table to decide which stones work best together.
Over the years, the house has amassed a first-rate gem collection, including the 5.11-karat shield-shaped Moussaieff Red, one of the planet’s largest fancy red diamonds, which was discovered by a Brazilian farmer and weighed 13.90 karats in the rough, and the Moussaieff Blue, a flawless blue diamond that broke the price per carat world record upon its acquisition in 2007. Alisa Moussaieff has never strayed from her single-minded passion for diamonds, not only for their intrinsic value, but also their heritage, emotional and spiritual significance and life-enhancing qualities. “If you don’t understand gemstones, you can’t make jewelry,” she insists. “You need to have basic knowledge of gems and also the sources of gems.” It is this time-honored understanding of magnificent stones that allows Moussaieff to keep crafting jewels where the most incredible gems take center stage.
Check back next week for Part 2 discussing the importance of the city of Paris to Moussaieff.
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