While Other Kids Played with Toys, Jewelry Designer Valérie Messika Played With Diamonds

by Aria Darcella
Valérie Messika

Valérie Messika was raised on diamonds — her father, André, was a diamond trader who started his career in 1972. Valérie inherited not only his love for precious stones but also his entrepreneurial streak. She launched her fine jewelry line in 2006, and has since built a loyal following of both fans and celebrities. The Daily caught up with her to find out what she learned from her father, her time at the house of Chanel, and the backstory behind her collaboration with Gigi Hadid.

What was it like growing up around precious jewels?
When you’re young, you don’t understand that diamonds are exceptional. I have small girls, and they’re used to seeing diamonds. I understood quite early on that diamonds would be a connection with my father, because he is really passionate about them. He used to come home and we would play with them together. We have a playful relationship through the stones.

Were you expected to follow in his footsteps?
I am his first-born child, so I grew up with a little pressure on my shoulders. My younger brother is handicapped, so I knew that he would never join my dad’s business. I would be the one to carry it on. With all of the respect I have for what he’s done and what he’s built, I thought, “Why not try?”

(Edwin S. Freyer)

When did you begin formally working with your father?
In 2000. My father said, “Give me one year of your life to come inside my business.” He was only about trading diamonds — not about making jewelry at all. I used to travel with him. We would go to India, Israel, Belgium, and South Africa. I learned all about the buying side — I followed him to every meeting. After two years, he asked, “Are you okay with this business?” It was wonderful, but I wanted to evolve. I could smell something in the air — women can buy jewelry like they buy perfume or a bag, which can cost quite a lot of money. Why not make jewelry in the same price range, but branded exclusively with diamonds, a cool attitude, and something feminine? Why not just launch a brand? He said, “Okay, I’m your partner. I’ll give you all the diamonds you want.”

How did that shape your design ethos?
I wanted to have a connection between the diamond and my skin. The DNA of my brand is to make the gold disappear and to make the diamond appear like a tattoo on the skin.

You worked at Chanel. What did you learn there?
So much! I learned that to be a brand you have to have strong value, and not to become a copy. When I was at the house, the department of jewelry and watches was brand-new. They used to speak about Mademoiselle Coco Chanel like she was there. I understood that if one day I was to create my own brand, I would have to respect my history, my roots, and the story I wanted to tell — and to never, ever forget why I started. Now, 15 years later, I’m always reminded of what my goal was when I launched. That’s why I decided to do only diamonds — because that’s my expertise, my origin, my roots.

Did you ever work with Karl Lagerfeld?
No. I used to work with Jacques Helleu. He is now dead, but he designed the Chanel J12 watch. Also, with Lorenz Bäumer, who used to be the designer of the high jewelry of Chanel.

What was one of your earliest career milestones?
[Opening] my store on Rue Saint-Honoré five years ago. It was a big step for the brand to have a store in a shopping area that mixes lower jewelry and higher jewelry on a fashion street. It embodied my message of thinking about diamond jewelry as a fashionable version of the diamond.

Your atelier is beautiful. What kind of things are you drawn to aesthetically in your everyday life?
Light is very important. There are a lot of windows, even on the rooftop. Having light and [the ability to] see the sky is very important. I don’t know if it’s the reflection like a diamond or something, but my eyes can’t ever be blocked by something. In terms of style, I love geometry. I also love things that you don’t expect — contemporary and modern decorations. I love collecting art, as well.

Valérie Messika and Natalia Vodianova (Getty Images)

What’s it like to see your pieces on the red carpet?
The first famous person who wore my jewelry was Beyoncé. The first time I saw her, I was absolutely shocked. She’s really strong and feminine and contemporary — she’s all the things I love to have in my imagination when I create jewelry for women. For me, it’s not only [about being] worn by Scarlett Johansson and Kristen Stewart — it’s the way that they mix the jewelry with an amazing dress, hair, and makeup.

Who would you love to see wearing your jewelry?
Kate Moss. Her face is strong, and she’s very feminine.

How did you meet Gigi Hadid?
To celebrate my 10th anniversary, I had the idea of collaborating with a woman who can co-design with me. I’m inspired by fashion, and of course Gigi Hadid was at the top of my list. At the time, I never imagined that she would accept it. I’m not small, but I’m not as big as some brands. I was lucky to meet her in Paris during Fashion Week. We fell in love with each other!

What do you love about her?
Even though she’s young, she knows exactly what she wants. Her vision for the jewelry is exactly the philosophy of Messika — it’s cool. You can wear diamonds with jeans, leggings, whatever. This is what Gigi loved about the brand. There is a new generation of young women who choose Messika diamond pieces as their first fine jewelry purchases. Gigi really embodies my success with that younger generation as the face of the brand.

What’s your favorite idea that she has brought to the table?
The safety pin. She came up with a punk version of the Move earrings, called the Move Addiction. It’s the first collection we designed together, starting from the earrings, and it looks like a safety pin is in your ear.

What do you have coming up in 2019?
I’m working on my new collection. It’s going to be shown just after the FLAs. I’m going to Switzerland to present during Baselworld, alongside Rolex, Patek Philippe, Chopard, and Bulgari. I’m also showing a big high-end jewelry collection.

What’s the theme?
The theme is about Arizona. That’s why it’s funny. I worked with new materials, like wood. It’s quite new, and it’s really fun.

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