Fawaz Gruosi has become a superstar on the international jewellery scene and at 63, he shows no signs of slowing down. The Geneva-based founder of Swiss luxury jewellery brand De Grisogono discusses women, diamonds and the future with Luxury London
Charm is an impossible thing to define, but very easy to spot. I can therefore confirm that after meeting Fawaz Gruosi, founder of De Grisogono, he has it in diamonds. And judging from the steady stream of female celebrities pictured with him over the years, I am not the first woman to think so.
This year, De Grisogono opened its new London flagship and while the design project was undertaken by the David Collins studio, Fawaz played a big hand in terms of the overall look and feel. The sumptuous interior, from the emerald green and ruby red upholstery to the amethyst floors, complements the vivid gemstones on display. The space is divided into three separate areas – the Corte, Stanza del Tempo and Grand Sala – based on the idea of a traditional Italian house to tie in with the founder’s Florentine heritage.
At 63, Fawaz Gruosi hasn’t let standards slip, impeccably dressed in a custom-made suit courtesy of Milanese tailor A.Caraceni and a bespoke Turnbull & Asser shirt.
As he talks airily, lightly waving a cigarette around and occasionally pausing to sip his coffee, I can see how the sophisticated jeweller, with his old school Italian glamour, has won over so many female fans over the years.
The turnover for the store’s creation occurred in the record-breaking time of just 12 months, making it very clear that the jeweller has by no means settled for the slow lane in life. Fawaz founded his company in Geneva in 1993 and it currently boasts 14 stores around the world, but he insists that he wants to cap the number at 30.
“My principle from the beginning was for ladies at cocktail parties not to be wearing the same jewellery pieces,” he explains. “This is what has been happening in fashion for a long time, but it has almost never happened with us and I want to keep it that way. This is why I’m against opening too many shops. It will mean losing the charm of the company.”
The jeweller’s playboy lifestyle has been well-documented over the years (his annual Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc parties in Cannes have become the stuff of legend), but make no mistake, he has never lost his shrewd business acumen. Having started De Grisogono on a shoestring, unable to afford “to open a chocolate shop never mind a jewellery company”, this made him more resolute than ever to steer his own path.
“If you look in every major city – New York, London, Paris, Milan, Dubai – you see so much jewellery. I realised that the market needed something new, something different.”
While financially hard up when starting his business, Fawaz had a wealth of experience in the industry (albeit no formal training), starting as young as 18 working for a jeweller before being taken on by two heavyweight brands: Harry Winston followed by Bulgari. As Winston’s representative in Dubai in the late ‘70s, Fawaz was given a taste of true luxury, looking after clients when the oil boom in Saudi Arabia had resulted in “money falling from the sky”.
Like something out of Wall Street, he was taken out for lavish lunches and dinners and barely worked three hour days, but he confides how he soon got tired of the high life. “Life was getting too easy and I was scared, scared because I realised I was starting to develop the same mentality as them. There is nothing wrong with that if you have the money, but I didn’t. If I had stayed another three years, I don’t think I ever would have left.”
Following this, he went on to work for Bulgari for eight years under the mentorship of then CEO Gianni Bulgari. A huge contrast to Dubai, after three months of being confined to Gianni’s office living off an apple and a yoghurt every day and “nearly dying from the cigarette smoke from six in the morning until midnight” (when he no doubt picked up his habit), Gianni gave the then 33-year-old Fawaz the post of looking after VIPs worldwide.
“It was probably the best time of my life”, he reminisces. “Bulgari was considered God at the time and pieces were selling like hot cakes.”
However, according to the jeweller, a family disagreement resulted in the CEO walking out in 1985 and Fawaz following him. Both experiences taught Fawaz some invaluable lessons, the most important of which was that he had to offer something different from a market that had become tired and derivative. “There were a lot of rich people who bought a lot of jewellery, but they stopped buying because it had all become the same.”
Therefore, after splitting from his two partners, he took his first (of several) major business risks when he started buying black diamonds, which at the time had no market value. After receiving a lot of criticism, he nearly decided to pack it in altogether, but then he received his big break in 1995 when two other big name jewellers starting using the stones too. Today, natural black diamonds are valued very highly, thereby proving that his decision paid off.
From then on, it seemed that everything the jeweller touched turned to gold as he next invested in milky diamonds. Up until that point, they had been widely disregarded as “defective stones”, but Fawaz rebranded them ‘icy diamonds’ and they were an overnight success. Along with mixing unusual stones and materials, the jeweller was breaking new ground when it came to design, experimenting with off-the-wall creations that were praised for their daring, playfulness and ingenuity.
“I was coming out with a lot of craziness, but that craziness was quickly becoming something that was considered innovative.”
A true artist, Fawaz has never sacrificed design in favour of making a profit and he therefore puts shape first, stones second. “You have to be completely crazy to cut a 15-carat ruby because it is extremely unusual and rare to find, and you lose a lot of the weight by cutting it.”
Fawaz’s motto is: “It is in the freedom of details that you find pure luxury.” In 2000, De Grisogono launched its first timepiece collection. A relative stripling in comparison to other historic Swiss watchmakers, I ask Fawaz what distinguishes his contemporary designs apart. “It’s very simple. A lot of jewellers sell classic watches that are exactly the same style as their grandfathers’. For instance, I don’t do jewellery sets because the client ends up looking like a Christmas tree. It’s like clothes. You mix colours, styles, but you have to have a bit of taste to put them together properly.”
While acknowledging at the time that he knew nothing about the mechanics of watchmaking, what he has always known is design. Therefore, tired of seeing the same old traditional styles, Fawaz instead wanted to create more simple, pared-back pieces that emphasised function. Over the years, De Grisogono has brought the watch industry forward with pioneering innovations, such as the Meccanico DG: the first mechanical watch to power a digital-style display.
Fawaz teases that the one thing his female customers all share in common is jealousy: “When a lady comes into our shop, there is typically another woman with her saying, ‘no it doesn’t suit you’, or ‘no it’s too expensive.’ So I hate it when a few ladies come in because 90 per cent of the time we lose a sale.”
However, it is clear that it is his love of women that has enabled him to tap into what kind of jewellery they want to wear. And he even goes so far to admit that one of his longest-standing clients, Sharon Stone, shares many similarities with him. “She is the one I get along with most because she’s a bit crazy like me. She’s always fun, but very difficult at the same time,” he finishes, smiling.
Today, De Grisogono is a truly global force and although its founder notes that the rest of the industry is afraid of how the current political unrest will affect sales in the future, for the jeweller it is business as usual. “I’m going on like everything is perfect.” And considering Fawaz’s life experience, you can see why.