Who said that jewelry has to be serious?
Nobody did. But for almost the whole history of jewelry, this has been the direction followed by brands and designers by tacit consent. And consumers had to accept it and go with it.
Suzanne Syz’s art grew into a new wave in the world of jewelry in the ‘90s, and she still goes on with the same drive and joy. To get the message and the sense of humor of her pieces, think of New-York in the ‘80s, of Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, of the American artistic melting pot of that time – that was Suzanne when she started, and these people were her entourage.
The Louvre got the message and in 2016 bought a pair of earrings for its permanent collection. Elizabeth Taylor, Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis and the Archduchess Francesca von Habsburg-Thyssen, are among the happy owners of Suzanne’s pieces.
The conversation I had with Suzanne definitely made my day.
You started making jewelry because you couldn’t find any jewelry that really “spoke” to you. That was in the ‘90s. Has the situation changed, or you still make jewelry for yourself?
The situation today has changed. There are many designers from all over the world who bring some fresh air to jewelry making. Of course, I still make jewelry, I don’t make jewelry particularly for myself, it’s not like it was at the beginning. Now I do whatever comes up that I think would be exciting and challenging to make. But I can keep some pieces for myself if nobody springs to it.
You are very challenging in your jewelry. You work with uncommon materials like titanium, aluminum.
I always want to bring the best and the most comfortable in wearing jewelry. When you are a woman, you think of the fact that you have to be able to wear it all day long. In the old days, when things were made in gold and other materials, jewelry was much heavier. That’s why in the XIX century they did it in silver so that wasn’t so heavy. But the problem of silver was that it was getting dark and wasn’t looking that good.
I aim to find the best, the most comfortable material that I could also color. You know that I love colors, and so to me aluminum and titanium have a big advantage. Aluminum even more than titanium. In titanium, you have about four basic colors that you can do, but in aluminum, you can do much more. And you can make it matt, I like that.
I love the challenge of using new materials. We also use a titanium wire that is usually used in the medical field. I think the technical part nowadays is more exciting than ever. There are so many designs in my head that I couldn’t have done until a few years ago and now I finally can, which is wonderful.
That’s really great that you found a team that can bring your bold ideas to life.
Absolutely, we have been very lucky. That was a challenge as well.
In the beginning, they weren’t used to do such crazy things and they used to look at me and say “I can’t do it”. I’d reply: “we will find the way and we will do it”. You have to be optimistic and if you have the passion you will be able to realize your goals. Now the wonderful thing is that these couple of ateliers that I work with, are all specialized in one certain thing: one in aluminum, another in titanium, the other is specialized in setting. It is difficult to do setting with titanium and aluminum as they are much harder than the gold. In Switzerland, we are lucky to have people who are really talented in the field.
Among the pieces, you made for yourself, which is your favorite?
There is one piece that I’ve done a couple of years ago that I still wear a lot because it’s easy. It’s the ‘Hit the Bullseye’ earrings. They are fun, they are easy and they look spectacular with everything I wear.
Your pieces give an impression of lightness and joy. How are your ideas for jewelry born? Is it an instant impression/flash of inspiration and you immediately know how a new piece is going to look like, or is it more of a rational process that involves analysis and long projecting?
My ideas are very spontaneous. When I have an idea for a piece I try to close my eyes and see it, I can clearly see it in 3d. I’m not that terrific with designing, I can draw a sketch or explain to people the technical side. I can explain to them exactly every detail because I see how it has to look when finished. And that is a big advantage.
The most wonderful moment is when it finally comes out of the atelier and you see it, it’s so exciting. It’s priceless when you see it on a client and they fall in love with it. That’s the moment when as an artist, as a designer, you are very happy. I’m the happiest when a client says that my jewelry makes them happy. It means that they receive the message and that’s so great.
Has the pandemic affected your artistic vision somehow? Have you discovered new sources of inspiration?
Absolutely! Not being constantly interrupted at the office by phone calls, by everyday life problems that get to everybody and you have to find the solution. Here I was in the middle of nowhere (Suzanne spent the lockdown in her house and winery in Tuscany) and I really enjoyed these almost-3-months. I’m somebody that can very well live by myselves. I was surrounded by my dogs and I have a couple of wonderful people who live nearby. So we were like a little community. An affect lockdown had on me is that I had plenty of ideas and I wrote them down, spoke to the office in Switzerland every day: look for this material, look for that. So it was – in a way – very productive.
Because of the pandemic, many annual events have been canceled. Basel Design exhibition is one of them and you used to always participate in it with your collaborations with modern artists. The year 2020 has proven that digitalizing is now inevitable, as well as an opportunity. How had these new conditions affected your work, your business?
We were getting ready for the Art Design Basel of June. At the beginning of the year, we were already preparing a show with an American artist Matthew Lutz Kinoy. We had to produce some pieces, we did in Milan, but couldn’t have them because of lockdown issues. In the end, the Basel exhibition of June was canceled, then they canceled the show in Paris in October and the London exhibition was canceled as well. It’s a pity for the artist, it’s a pity for us. We don’t know yet when we’ll show it.
Digitalizing is a part of my life as an art-collector – artists send me pictures, we communicate, get organized, so I’m used to it. Now people realized that you can do a lot with Zoom, etc. We often contact our clients online, but mostly these are people who already know us. Maybe I think a little bit in an old-fashioned way, but if it’s about jewelry you want to see it, touch it, try it on. And if a client comes over to the office you must be attentive to take all the new measures, the same thing about exhibitions, it’s becoming more complicated. Running a jewelry business is not easy at the moment, but we were lucky to go on through that period. Unfortunately, not everybody could do that.
Do you have any taboos as a jeweler? What will we never see signed with your name?
I will never do a copy of one of my creations. That was my stubborn idea from the beginning: give the best design and quality to people, and give them something unique.
We can make color variations of a piece, like 4-5 different color schemes, each of them exists only once. And of course, our classic Life Savers series, which we do in different stones, metals and now we do it also with enamel.
Sometimes I’m asked to make a piece which a person had seen on somebody. I always say: No. You won’t be happy with having a copy of somebody’s piece. I will make something that responds to your personality. It’s much better I think. I hope my designs will be modern even after 30-40 years and will bring joy to the owner.
Not many designers follow this path. There’s one I admire very much – Suzanne Belperron, an amazing designer of the ’50s. She was so much ahead of her time, materials wise, and setting wise as well. She had a strong character, worked in a difficult period of post-war France.
When you come to this business as a woman, you should be aware – you must be better than men. That’s the only way to survive.
Have you ever received a request to be a designer for a jewelry brand?
Yes, I had been offered and I was very honest with people: I like to do what I have in my head, I won’t probably be that good if I worked with somebody who gives me directions.
For example, about 16 years ago I did some creations with leaves. Let’s suppose, these days a brand asked me to create a series of pieces all with leaves. I would honestly say that I did leaves years ago and I think they are done. Producing the same motif, the same things again and again is simply boring. The same with flowers – it has been done hundreds of times, we saw them already, and they are done! I want to bring something new to the client.
But if I had a totally free-hand…though, it doesn’t exist. Nobody wants to take a risk. It happens sometimes that you’re doing what you like no matter what and end up asking yourself “how am I going to pay this and that”. It’s good to have some financial support behind. I was very lucky. When we started collaborating with artists (and artists want to be paid immediately) we had a lot of costs and had to survive. In the end, it was worth wise, it was great to bring something new to jewelry. Bringing contemporary art into jewelry was something nobody had ever done, so I never regret it. I had a lot of fun.
Please, reply to the following questions quickly, without thinking too much.
Your favorite jewelry designer/brand ever. I think you have already answered this question before.
Yes, it’s Suzanne
Your favorite gem
Paraiba. Bright blue like the sea and it catches the light so beautifully. The second, of course, is natural color diamond, not heated. I always work with natural stones, I have never used a stone that was heated. Nature does it better. It’s scandalous that some big brands use heated stones, it’s sad, I think. Because when you pay that much for a jewelry piece, you have to have the best.
Your favorite drink (alcoholic and non-alcoholic)
Mohito! And I love fruit smoothies. Of course, I like my wine.
Sea or mountains?
I love the sea, even if I’m originally a mountain girl, born in Switzerland. When I was in my 20s and lived in New-York I adored Long Island, but now it has changed a lot. I searched for a place like that in Europe, without much hope though. And once I arrived in Portugal at my friend’s place in Comporta. And there was that beach! You’ll find the finest sand there. There are 60 or 70 kilometers of the beach. And there is nobody, it’s such a luxury. The water is not very warm there, but I’m fine with that, it’s healthy. Comporta is my favorite place on Earth. After Tuscany.
Favorite holiday destination?