This Women’s History Month, we’re putting a well-deserved spotlight on some inspiring female founders in the fashion, beauty, and lifestyle space. Next up, Valerie Messika, the visionary leader behind Parisian diamond Maison, MESSIKA Paris. Since launching the company in 2005, the creative director now oversees a team of almost 230 (mostly female!) employees across the globe. As the daughter of world-renowned diamond dealer André Messika, a future in the industry was practically written in her destiny. But the outcome—a brand that has 450 global points of sale and a projected $180 million turnover in the next two years—is a story that’s fully her own. Read on to find out more!
What’s your earliest memory involving jewelry?
Since I was a little girl, my father used to bring home some incredible pieces, and he would always let me play with them. He would explain each piece and what made them special. He transmitted his passion to me naturally through the years. I loved working with my father and sharing our common passion for diamonds. Another vivid memory that I have is of my grandmother. She is one of the most amazing women I have ever met. When I was a little girl, she offered me one of her rings—a pear-shaped diamond ring with a 9,30 carat stone. It is my favorite piece of jewelry! It has a strong sentimental value for me as I was very close to my grandmother.
Did you always know you would end up following in your father’s footsteps and work in the diamond/jewelry industry?
If my father did not work in the diamond business, I do not think I would be here. His passion is the starting point of this beautiful.
What did you learn from your father’s career early on that you still apply to your day-to-day?
He taught me how to look inside each stone—into the heart of the diamond—and everything I know about diamonds. That is where my attention to detail and keen observation comes from. My father always reminded me to: ‘Be humble. Never copy someone else’s work. Keep a focus on using diamonds as this is what the family name is known for,’ and of course, to ‘keep you integrity intact.’ I always say that my father is a wise young man with the energy of a teenager and the soul of an old man. We share a lot of ideas, even if we do not always agree on everything! You can be sure that I take each piece of his advice into deep consideration.
Tell us about the early days of launching MESSIKA. What was the goal from day one? How do you stay true to that today?
When I founded MESSIKA Paris 16 years ago, there was a real fear and apprehension around diamonds and most women were only wearing the diamonds in their engagement ring, or for very special occasions when dressing in more traditional evening wear. A lot of women also thought of it as a stone to grow into and to wear with age, as a preconceived notion. I created MESSIKA Paris as I wanted to change this idea and break these barriers. I feel that MESSIKA Paris has succeeded this as today, MESSIKA Paris can be considered a luxury fashion house.
What did the original offering look like and how has that expanded?
16 years ago, we were creating jewels that sat on the skin like a diamond tattoo. There were also pieces with arabesques which have completely disappeared. We were also creating the founding designs which truly took off [and started] the most recognizable of the collections, called MOVE. The direction we have taken over the years is to work on our DNA, our style, our way of executing our jewels—the perfection of the lines and proportions—which has given the physiognomy and specificity of our jewelry with greater skill and strength of excellence. We have also expanded into the development of Haute Joaillerie six years ago.
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What challenges have you faced as a female CEO? And how would you advise others who want to follow in your footsteps?
The challenges as a CEO are to see your House grow and structure itself, manage growth, human resource issues, hiring the right people, delegating, outsourcing, etc. I think growth management is just as complicated as one might think. When you are successful, it can be easy without every step being so precious and fragile along the way. It is important to surround oneself with the right people and to delegate to people who are competent where you are not. My advice for those who would like to follow in my footsteps is that if you want to be a business leader, you must find your voice and your passion. When we are passionate about something, we find our voice easily, and we execute it and have fun while working. Further, try to find something unique to set you apart from others, and never deviate from the guidelines set at the beginning. When Coco Chanel launched her brand, she had values and DNA and she respected them. At my smallest level, I wrote my ground rules from the start and set them in stone as the core values of MESSIKA Paris. Despite the evolution and changing trends, I always remain true to these values.
What does an average day look like for you?
First and foremost, MESSIKA Paris is a family business. I work with my dad, my cousin, and my husband. We all share a passion for our work, which enriches our relationships. For me, it is a strength. My family is very important for me. I would never give up anything compromising the design of MESSIKA Paris jewelry. It is a very important moment for the House, and I like to be present across all stages in the process: sketches, stone selection, etc., right through to the setting of stones, and final details. I start all my creations with a blank page. I work opposite of the prestigious Houses of Place Vendôme which have centuries of rich archives of distinctive styles. In MESSIKA Paris, each new collection is a real jump into the void; although I admit feeding obsessions for certain jewelry techniques. I always start the process without a precise brief. The most difficult aspect of my jewelry creation process is to transcribe my ideas into a drawing. I always have a lot of ideas, but sometimes it is quite difficult to get the result I have imagined. At the end, we always manage to make it possible and create the unexpected!
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How do you continue to motivate yourself and stay creative?
I often source some of my inspirations from the latest trends in top fashion. I imagine ‘Haute Couture’ Jewelry as fashion accessories. I am also inspired by the culture and the architecture of every place I travel to. I always keep an open eye to what is surrounding me and try to remain open to all sources of inspiration to which I have access—across art, architecture, fashion, nature, and street style. I like to push the limits of creativity across jewelry. I have always been fortunate to work with diamonds with a free, bold, and adventurous spirit. This is why I always try to imagine innovative and audacious pieces in diamonds, like the diamond chain connecting an ear-to-nose piercing, and the diamond mask presented in one of my High Jewelry collections called “Born to Be Wild”.
How would you describe the work culture with a female-driven team?
I think what makes a House that is run by women quite special is that there is a little bit more of an emotional quotient. I think we have a little bit more empathy toward collaborators. As women we are quick to be understanding of personal and familial affairs. I am very empathetic, especially for women who have young children as I have a young family of my own and understand the importance of having a balance. I would say that empathy and emotional quotient are the two things that are a little bit more developed across a female driven team; especially so when a female is running a business.
What are you the proudest of so far in your career?
My first challenge was to transform diamonds into jewelry, but also for it to be light and easy to wear like a tattoo. I am the proudest of founding my Parisian High Jewelry Atelier that was opened in celebration of our 10th anniversary in 2015. This allows my creative director, my team, and I to work together under the same roof. This is where unique pieces are created by three draftsmen, two specialists in CAD (computer aided design), a model maker, ten jewelers, two setters and two polishers. This is a special place where an age-old craft can be found and each piece is a work of art—the fruit of a chain of talents. Each craftsman has his mission during the day. Opening our Haute Joaillerie Atelier marked a new chapter in our history.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received that you wish to tell every aspiring female founder?
Stay focused, know your priorities, and stay passionate. Most important is also to keep your femininity, and what that means to you. We see more and more women with leading roles. This has a greater impact to encourage more women to go ahead and follow their instinct. Instinct is what has always guided and driven me; even before founding MESSIKA Paris.
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What message do you want to send to the world with your creations?
MESSIKA Paris is fashionable and timeless at the same time. My goal was and remains in creating new ways of wearing jewelry. I have this vision where the diamond mustn’t be worn, but rocked in an innovative and easy to wear way. Jewelry is an opportunity to express your personality. This sensitivity is found in many of my creations across fine jewelry, and High Jewelry. The diamond accompanies women through all moments of their lives. I am fascinated and touched every time I see a woman wearing a jewel from MESSIKA Paris.
Any new projects or collaborations coming up that you can fill us in on?
Everything is going so fast! I hope MESSIKA Paris will continue to evolve and expand. We are still a young House and there are so many things to do. Just recently, we have expanded into the Asian market. We are also exploring new areas for the brand and House; especially in the wedding market. And without giving too much away, there are also more designs to come which can be shared across the sexes.