R for Reza, a Royal Jeweler

La Gazette Drouot
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Alexandre Reza (1922-2016) owned a fabulous collection of gemstones from which he made jaw-dropping pieces, making him the global elite’s jeweler of choice during the second half of the 20th century.

Born 1922 in Moscow, Alexandre Reza became the global elite’s jeweler of choice in the 1960s.
© Laziz Hamani
Born 1922 in Moscow, Alexandre Reza became the global elite’s jeweler of choice in the 1960s.
© Laziz Hamani

Unique jewelry for unique people: that is the definition of creations by Alexandre Reza, jeweler to crowned heads and the rich and famous in the second half of the 20th century, from Florence Gould to Lady Diana, the Al Saoud royal family, and the Sultan of Brunei. His success was partly due to the magnificent gems he used to compose his lavish pieces, but he was also known as one of the world’s greatest jewelry collectors. Working mainly with the fab four—sapphires, emeralds, rubies, and diamonds—Reza’s objects reflected his passion for gems, recalling that trading in stones was his initial profession.
 

From Trading in Stones to Creating Jewelry

Alexandre Reza was born in Moscow in 1922 to an Iranian father and a mother from Samarkand. In 1925, the family fled the Soviet Union and settled in Nice, France, where Reza senior, a jeweler and dealer in precious objects, opened up a shop. When he was 14, Alexandre joined him and learned the trade. After the war, he founded his own business trading in stones. A skilled bargainer, he bought used jewelry and diamonds of varying quality at good prices in Antwerp and had them recut to enhance their brilliance. His willingness to take risks and talent of recognizing the potential of gemstones enabled him to amass stocks that would become the basis of his success and continue to grow with his travels. He tracked down exceptional stones from old mines in India, Burma and Colombia and intuitively recognized the value of colored diamonds before their time. The quality of his gems naturally opened up the doors of the jewelers on Place Vendôme to him. In the 1960s, he began designing jewelry for the world’s leading houses as well as private customers, signing his creations “A. Reza”, which became “Alexandre Reza” after setting up his own house in 1981.

This ring with a 52-ct untreated Burmese oval sapphire set on a domed mount of 101 oval diamonds weighing 28 carats is so emblematic of Reza's work that it graces the cover of a book about him published by Assouline in 2012.
This ring with a 52-ct untreated Burmese oval sapphire set on a domed mount of 101 oval diamonds weighing 28 carats is so emblematic of Reza’s work that it graces the cover of a book about him published by Assouline in 2012.

Enhancing Gems

Gifted with the sharpest of eyes, Reza excelled in assembling stones and color combinations that, he believed, unleashed emotions. The designer would spend hours, even days, examining, grading and handling gems, positioning them in wax, on a model or on a bust, to flawlessly match their colors, saturation, purity and brilliance. He loved the intensity emanating from rows of same-hued precious stones. The goal of enhancing the beauty of the gems—sometimes weighing dozens of carats—largely guided the conception and design of his jewelry. His necklaces are veritable fireworks, his rings worn high on the finger. In fact, one ring, set with a 52-ct untreated Burmese sapphire on a domed setting of 101 diamonds, graces the cover of the beautiful book Alexandre Reza, published by Assouline in 2012.

Combativity and Charm

To ensure beautifully feminine creations, Reza favored rounded shapes and easy-to-wear pieces that are fluid, light and sensual, even when paved right up to the clasp. A perfect illustration is a set featuring flower motifs that quiver with the slightest breath. Of the four versions he made, one, featuring 45 carats of cabochon emeralds and 150 carats of diamonds, was worn by Sarah Salleh, the young bride of the Crown Prince of the Sultanate of Brunei, on their wedding day in 2004. But while Reza’s name is strongly associated with colored gems, his all-white diamond jewelry is no less spectacular, starting with a rich set of 312-ct pear-cut, D-color flawless stones with a center diamond weighing a whopping 49 carats. Reza’s name was long unknown to the general public but came under the spotlight in 1985 when a show at the Musée Jacquemart-André in Paris featured his breathtaking collection of 200 recreated historic artifacts tracing a history of jewelry based on original existing pieces or models in paintings. The most noteworthy items included a magnificent necklace based on the one Caroline Bonaparte wears in Georges Rouget’s 1810 painting of Napoleon I’s wedding to Marie-Louise of Austria. The necklace, including 25 superb sapphires surrounded by a diamond collar, required 1,150 hours of work to make. Creating jewelry based on old models was a technical feat as well as a stroke of genius. It not only revealed a new facet of Reza’s artistic sensibility, but above all enabled him to circumvent a ban on sales in his new shop at 21 Place Vendôme, where his studio and office were located. The lease on the shop, which opened in late 1984, contained a clause prohibiting him from selling contemporary jewelry on the premises. It was lifted three years later after a legal battle, but in the meantime, Reza went on retailing his historically-based creations. The episode attests to his determination and headstrong personality, but he was also charismatic and charming. He led a busy social life and forged fruitful friendships early on. While still in Nice, Reza grew close to the millionaire Franco-American couple Florence and Frank Jay Gould, who owned a home in Juan-les-Pins. He joined their social circle, mingling with the international artistic, corporate and political elite, from Errol Flynn to King Farouk. In the 1950s, celebrities filled the famous art deco ultra-luxury hotel Le Provençal that Gould built in 1926 and Reza bought in 1972 before selling it in 2006.

Reza’s creations occasionally come up at auction. This jointed yellow gold bracelet with 8.60 carats of diamonds and 7.90 carats of emeralds fetched €27,600 at Besch Cannes Auction in April 2023.
Reza’s creations occasionally come up at auction. This jointed yellow gold bracelet with 8.60 carats of diamonds and 7.90 carats of emeralds fetched €27,600 at Besch Cannes Auction in April 2023.

A Run of Bad Luck

In Nice and Paris, where he settled in 1958, Reza’s beginnings were undeniably auspicious, all the more so as his style responded to new market dynamics and the tastes of a large, emerging clientele from the Middle East. In the West, style was moving towards less formal, more exuberant jewelry. Success came quickly and continued for decades, including at auctions. In 2016, a brooch featuring three intense fancy blue diamonds, including one weighing 6.64 carats, surrounded by colorless diamonds, fetched 13.35 million Swiss francs at Sotheby’s—a record for the jeweler. However, the end of the last century was clouded by difficulties. In 1994, armed robbers made off with $21 million worth of stones (€44 M in today’s money) from the Place Vendôme shop. In 2001, a necklace worth €1.8 million was stolen from his Cannes boutique, which opened in 1988. To make matters worse, Reza, nearly 80 and ailing, died without planning his estate. The house gradually fell into decline. In this context, his son, Olivier, picked up the torch in 2008 after a career in finance in the United States. “The richness of the remaining stock convinced me that this heritage had to be protected,” he says today, eight years after his father’s death. Renamed Reza, in 2021 the house moved lock, stock and barrel to New York, where Olivier offers his own creations “imbued”, he admits, with his “father’s legacy”.

ALEXANDRE REZA IN SIX DATES

1922
Born in Moscow

1958
Moves to Paris

1978
Creates his own production studio

1981
Founds the Alexandre Reza house

1984
Opens a shop on Place Vendôme

2016
Dies aged 93

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