The excited giggles from the throng of teens outside Palais de Tokyo turn into hysterical screams as Wonyoung of Korean girl band IVE pulls up for FRED’s gala dinner that evening. The newly minted Korean ambassador for the French jewellery brand looks completely dazzling with FRED diamonds adding that extra sparkle as she works the red carpet like a pro. Along with a coterie of celebrities, the 18-year-old K-pop idol, who boasts 6.2 million followers on Instagram, is in Paris to celebrate the launch of FRED’s latest high jewellery collection Monsieur Fred Inner Light, as well as to experience the Maison’s first-ever retrospective exhibition.
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Titled “FRED, Joaillier Créateur depuis 1936”, the showcase unfolds across 12 themed rooms. The first one sets the tone of the exhibition with the display of FRED’s incredible Soleil d’Or, a fancy intense yellow emerald-cut diamond of over 100 carats that the House recently re-acquired. In another, the life story of brand founder Fred Samuel is told – from his time serving the country to the love letters and the jewellery (including beautiful diamond-studded flower brooches) he dedicated to his wife, Therese – through family mementos, photos and portraits that allow for an intimate peek into the private life of this man. Subsequent rooms tell of the strong ties that the brand has with sailing, as evidenced by its signature Force 10 collection; its connection with Hollywood; royal commissions by the Highnesses of the Kingdom of Nepal, and its relationship with Grace Kelly, the princess consort of Monaco, who was a good friend and fan of the brand. Also not to be missed is the space dedicated to the collaborations that FRED has worked on throughout the years. These include a list of illustrious names such as French national treasure, Jean Cocteau; interior designer and enfant terrible Vincent Darré, as well as Japanese prodigal fashion designer Tomo Koizumi.
Born in Argentina before settling in the South of France, Fred Samuel set his sights on being a modern jeweller when he established his jewellery house in 1936. And his signature creations speak of his forward-thinking approach to design. At a time where jewellery was mostly kept in safes and worn only for special occasions, Samuel envisioned designs that people could enjoy wear for the everyday.
Thus, Force 10, a house signature, takes inspiration from the founder’s Mediterranean lifestyle with the visionary pairing of sailing cables with precious metals and gems. Baie des Anges harks back to his pearl know-how and presents the gleaming orbs like treasures caught in a fishing net. The coloured stones of Pain de Sucre illustrates the brand’s joie de vivre, while the more recently launched Pretty Woman collection finds its roots in Samuel’s love for his wife, and showcases the House’s dalliance with Hollywood. (One of the most memorable scenes from the movie Pretty Woman involves a young Julia Roberts reaching into FRED’s blue box only to have the dashing Richard Gere snap it shut in jest.) It’s these icons that make up the backbone of the Monsieur Fred Inner Light high jewellery collection. FRED Vice-President, Artistic Director and Samuel’s granddaughter Valerie Samuel tells us more.
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How did the exhibition come about?
When I joined the Maison more than five years ago, I wanted to reconstruct our archives. It’s a part of my family heritage and it was a subject close to my heart. Out of sight, preserved for decades in thousands of carton boxes that weighed almost 10 tonnes, were almost 7,000 drawings and gouaches, photographs, and hundreds of other documents. So, with the impetus of [FRED CEO] Charles Leung who joined in 2018, we decided to tell the story of the Maison and to exhibit our patrimony. We launched the FRED Cherche FRED campaign in 2021 [to seek out unique pieces owned by individuals] and, to my surprise, we found the Soleil d’Or diamond. It’s incredible that this diamond, which now weighs 101.57 carats, has returned to the Maison. It was the key piece to the puzzle, as this diamond beautifully represents the luminous spirit of FRED. Another most touching discovery was a brooch that my grandfather had gifted my grandmother. He had kept it throughout the war and it features a diamond-studded en tremblant flower.
This exhibition is the Maison’s first-ever retrospective and it reveals more than 450 jewels and exceptional objects, and almost 300 unedited documents from our archives. We’re taking a journey back in time and discovering golden jewels from the 1950s, enamels from the 1960s, and hard stones from the 1970s, as well as pearls and other gemstones. It is very important that we explain what the Maison represents and [tell of] its 85-year-old, bold spirit. But it is equally important to showcase the vision and the personality of the man behind the brand, Fred Samuel. This exhibition feels like it has been written in the first person.
Which Monsieur Fred Inner Light high jewellery piece is the most audacious?
In this collection, there is an entire chapter dedicated to this audacity and creative instinct; [designed] with the mantra, “dare the unexpected”, notably with the transformable pieces that really push boundaries. It’s a nod to the passion Fred Samuel had for cultured pearls: He was one of the first merchants to import them in the 1930s, when fine pearls were still the norm. In terms of know-how, the Force 10 Winning Spirit chapter is incredibly bold with an aquamarine doublet on diamond pavé, and the FRED Hero Cut diamond – a new, exclusive diamond-cut with 32 facets.
Why is light the theme for the high jewellery collection?
In his memoirs, Fred Samuel says: “I have often believed that living so close to the light, being in daily contact with the sun, whets one’s appetite for lightness. Placing a diamond or a glass of water under the sun cannot be compared to an artificial light, even if it’s the most sophisticated light.” This was a constant source of inspiration throughout his life; this light that was cradled in his childhood in Argentina, his romantic trips to the French Riviera, and also his creations.
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