|“This is seriously chic,” mused an American editor. She was admiring a stack of sparkling rings, the color of macaroons, in the gilded salon of Paris’ Hôtel d’Évreux. The aforementioned jewels are the handiwork of Selim Mouzannar, arguably one of Beirut’s best kept secrets. For the last two years the Lebanese jeweler has been exhibiting his délectable creations at the Vendôme Luxury trade show in Paris. Mr. Mouzannar had barely set up his own stand before buyers started picking over his one-of-a-kind creations. No surprise, considering collectors throughout the world have been attracted to his unique hand-assembled pieces, which take up to a year to conceive.
He is part of a new generation of Lebanese designers who have focused their attention on showing the world what Lebanese creativity and savoir faire can produce. “The first year we participated in the Vendôme Luxury trade show, we were blown away by the level of response we received and it has definitely increased our visibility,” said the Lebanese jeweler.
Born in Beirut into a long-established family of jewelers, as a child Mouzannar recalls discovering his grandfather’s collection of precious Ottoman jewels; lovingly preserved in velvet lined boxes. Those first encounters would have a long lasting influence on his creations.
“I take a scientific approach to jewelry,” explained the designer, who studied mineralogy in Paris at the Institut National de Gemmologie and the Université de Nantes. From there he traveled to the Far East, settling in Thailand where he worked for a precious stones mining company. “For six months, I worked in an open-air ruby mining pit near the Thai-Cambodian border.” said Mr. Mouzannar, who next traveled to Yemen and Saudi Arabia where he spent four years working for the jeweler Robert Mouawad, known for having one of the largest stone collections in the world.
Instead of joining the century-old family business, Mouzannar launched his own jewelry line upon his return to Beirut in 1993. Today he employs some 50 craftsmen at his atelier, which sees a steady stream of loyal clients from Lebanon, the Gulf and Europe. “Returning to Beirut was a return to the source for me. Beirut’s history and positive energy are a part of who I am,” added the designer whose latest collection is named after the city of his birth.
Long a crossroads of cultures and religions, his Beirut-inspired collection fuses modern settings with ancient techniques, such as the use of flat-cut sapphires, rubies and amethysts set in yellow or white gold. “The flat rose-cut was an Ottoman technique brought to Lebanon. It creates a shine that is much softer to the eye,” explained Mouzannar of his creations, which often posses the quality of an heirloom.
“We all have a sense of nostalgia for a bygone era, and I am always inspired by Beirut’s traditional architecture, a lot of which was destroyed over the years,” added the designer, whose rings and earrings use motifs inspired by the distinctive arcades and balustrades found in Beirut’s old mansions and souks.
Already carried by haute retailers in London, Istanbul and Dubai, Selim Mouzannar now has his sights set on New York; making him a name to watch for in the coming years.