Jewelry & Watches

A Conversation with Valérie Samuel, Artistic Director and Vice-President at FRED

As the founder’s granddaughter, Valérie Samuel joined the house of FRED and made from the past a springboard for the future. Along with CEO Charles Leung, their aligned visions renewed the personality and success of the “Modern Jeweler-Designer”.

With FRED’s DNA running through her veins and the knowledge of jewelry that her grandfather passed down to her at a very young age, her passion for precious marvels is a value she shares with the Maison. Join us and discover what she shares about the House and its current adventures.

How did you decide to come back to FRED and what is your vision for the brand? 

Life is a series of encounters, and mine and FRED’s is truly a story of this kind.
I followed my own path ever since I left the House, yet I stayed in constant touch with the presidents and was always tuned in with what It was achieving.
5 years ago, it was the right time to come back; I was mature enough, and had gained my own experience, learned a lot and wanted to contribute to the growth of the House that I so cherish. I also was very much in line with the vision and really wanted to focus on the family, the DNA, and revive the values – which was a great challenge for me and the reason why I came back.

FRED’s collections were obviously familiar to you even before you came back. So, when you did, did your take on these classics – such as Force 10, Chance Infinie and Pretty Woman – change? 

The House was a running train and I hopped on board when I joined it. I needed to go with the direction of the brand, because 20 years had passed since I left, and I was discovering it all over again.
When I came back, Force 10 was the focus of the brand. It was an iconic line, and I knew that the House has so much more left to say other than this collection, even if it remains a best-seller that offers people of all ages what they are looking for. This idea was also about enriching Force 10 and Chance Infinie, which was newly launched at that time, and most importantly find a place for these two collections in the history of the House: why are they meaningful? What are their values?
With Force 10, we wanted to talk about sports values and continue to enrich the collection since it’s the product of a passion for sailing – a sport my father enjoyed as a European champion. It was his idea of taking a cord, twisting it, turning it into a bracelet, and bringing together steel and gold at a time when this combination didn’t exist, and this made the perfect gift for my mother.
Then, Chance Infinie brings us to the land of endless love and luck with the “8” symbol, which is also a lucky number. We all know that my grandfather had a life of joy and magic, but we also know that he took a chance on this brand, and it wasn’t all easy as he was in France during World War II and went through a lot. These are things that we don’t recover from easily in life, but he always had hope to progress and take a chance, even in the hardest of times.
So, these are collections that carry so much of Fred Samuel’s philosophy and that of the House. As for Pretty Woman, it’s a collection that we relaunched last year. It was a celebration of a moment in the history of the House, embodied in the wonderful movie “Pretty Woman” featuring the magnificent diamond necklace and the stunning Julia Roberts.

Is this collection iconic thanks to the new Pretty Woman creations that you designed?

I wanted to enrich it and relaunch it. The challenge was to do so at the end of a pandemic, as we didn’t know what the world would become. The idea was to launch it in high jewelry with 22 unconventional pieces that give women the freedom to create their own look through the special color of the rubellites that adorn it, as well as in jewelry pieces ideal for daywear thanks to their sleeker design. This double collection also stands out by the “heart within a heart” motif, which adds dynamism to the creations.

Tell us about the signature that makes the heart motif at FRED so special.

Creating a heart is very complicated because you either love it or hate it. So, this heart carries a certain modernity. The signature is the T-shaped buckle inspired by Force 10. What also makes this heart very feminine is its movement, as it accompanies its wearer with every move they make while its diamonds sparkle. This was a way to give it a new identity that becomes an emblem of FRED.

Where was the Pretty Woman collection selling the most and do you think there was a specific market for it?

Well, the heart is a universal symbol, it’s a very strong message. So, it was embraced everywhere in the world. Certain markets sold more high jewelry creations, while others sold more fine jewelry pieces, but in general it met universal success. This collection also presents another signature, which is “Your way your love” – it celebrates Love as a feeling, in all its forms, whether it’s the love between a mother and her daughter, that between two sisters, friends or a couple. We addressed through it every person. There’s a beautiful story about the birth of a small girl which her grandmother celebrated by buying a piece of this collection for the 3 generations. Her gift was a Pretty Woman jewel, along with one for the mother and one for the grandmother. Three generations will wear a jewel from the same line.
Another beautiful story that happened here in Dubai is a son who wanted to celebrate the 55th birthday of his mother whose life wasn’t easy and was entirely dedicated to her two sons. He said that she deserves everything she wants, “I will spoil her on her birthday, and she is a pretty woman, so I chose this sautoir fully set with diamonds.” I was happy I was at the boutique to witness it and be close to our clients and their stories, their emotions and occasions, because we at FRED celebrate life’s simple and big moments. My motto is “Dream, live and celebrate” because every moment should be appreciated, and no one knows what tomorrow will bring. Therefore, there’s a jewel for every person and every occasion and I find that in Pretty Woman, like in Force 10, the pieces are personalizable and range from casual chic to informal glamour, which makes them easier to style, mix and match according to your look.

This year is about high jewelry at FRED, and this comes with big moments in the journey of the brand. Can you tell us about your strategy when it comes to high jewelry, which was the cornerstone of the House?

High jewelry is what the house is renowned for. In the 90s, we were among the 10 biggest jewelers in the world. With high jewelry collections like Pretty Woman, Le Soleil d’Or and Blue Moon, we were selling many exceptional sets to clients from the Gulf. Simultaneously, we were known for our Force 10 collection. In fact, we had the chance to have best-sellers and iconic creations such as Force 10, paired with this dreamy high jewelry that contributes to the imaginary and to our status as renowned jewelers. And with time, high jewelry wasn’t necessarily the only focus of the House. Now, here we are back to a high jewelry collection that will be launched in September and will celebrate these 85 years of creative audacity, as well as our founder. It will also be a big moment for FRED because we will be holding our first retrospective exhibition in September at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris.
We can’t stop ourselves from expressing our know-how in this field; even if it wasn’t at the heart of the exhibition, it will be a way to enrich the purpose and the House’s vision on innovation and high jewelry.

FRED is in quest for all the FRED pieces from all around the world for a while now – in our region in specific, so what are some of the beautiful discoveries that you witnessed in this research?

I came back to the House almost 5 years ago, and one of the things I wanted to focus on was to rebuild our archives, our heritage, to be able to really tell the story of the Maison. So, we debuted this treasure quest to collect our archival pieces that would really allow to build the history of the House. Last year, I launched “FRED seeks FRED”, a communication campaign inviting anyone who owns one or more pieces from the Maison to contact us via a dedicated email address: heritage@fred.fr. We received many absolutely incredible testimonies from people who shared with us not only the jewels that they own, but also their story. One of the oldest stories as far as I remember was about an Australian client who sent us a picture of 3 rings on her finger – noting that Australia is not a market where we are very present. She was on a trip to Paris and she visited FRED and ordered 2 rings with circles and squares that we designed for her and didn’t accept but to pay upon receipt. When she received her rings, she loved them so much that she ordered a third one. She still remembers the charm these rings casted on her and deeply appreciates the fact that we didn’t ask anything from her in advance, we trusted her. This was the most beautiful discovery as it touched me and the House very deeply. I also rediscovered a ring signed by Fred Samuel and it’s a ring designed before the war reminiscent of the 1930s. It’s a big ribbon in platinum with a diamond. As you know, in 1942 the house took the name of FRED instead of Fred Samuel because of the war. So, receiving testimonies dating back to when the house was named Fred Samuel was as incredible as visiting my grandfather, the “Modern Jeweler-Designer”.  I also found many advertisements where they speak about Maison Samuel, “the most beautiful pearls of Paris”, dating back to the 1930s.

In the past, the pieces were signed. Did you find any pieces that you identified to be designed by FRED without being signed?

We are able to identify if a piece is designed by FRED in many ways. It’s either we know the piece and are familiar with it, we have it in our books and in our references, or in general, we can identify it with the hallmark. If I ever find a piece with a hallmark that is not in our books, it would be more challenging; we can always identify it by the style but sometimes, there are jewels that someone claims are designed by FRED, but we are skeptical because they are not exactly the House’s style.
That said, we used to design a lot of custom pieces, and we weren’t actually limited by a certain style. If a client visited us and wanted us to design a piece around certain gemstones, we did research to offer them many choices which lead us to places that we weren’t necessarily familiar with in terms of style. Like in haute couture, this gives a richness of expression that will be displayed at the exhibition, where there will be a hallway that will highlight all the know-how of the house and its different facets – from our grained gold to our sequined gold, the hard stones from the 1970s and the 1980s, the mesh, and the watch collections where we collaborated with the biggest manufactures to create FRED timepieces… I think people will be surprised with what they will discover about the Maison.

You landed in the Middle East last year. What is your vision for the region and what would you expect from it regarding FRED?

We’re very happy to have had the opportunity of opening our first boutique at Dubai Mall last November, and to officially be present in the region because we have deep connections to it. Our colored gemstones in particular are of interest to our clients in the Middle East. It might be our first boutique but certainly not our last, as we will continue to enrich our presence in this region and to share our creations with a clientele that appreciates their beauty, who is authentic and generous, and whose eyes sparkle at the sight of our pieces. They are experts in jewelry and it’s really pleasant to present them with our novelties and our iconic collections.

We notice that your collections don’t only address women, but men as well. What are your thoughts on this, and how will you work on enriching men’s offerings, especially that in the Middle East, men love bracelets and having a jewel that represents them?

Men’s jewels at FRED are a story of love ever since the beginning. Fred always offered gifts for her and for him. It has always been our vision. Today for example, the large model of the Force 10 bracelet is equally sold to men as it is to women. I also launched a line within the Force 10 collection entitled “Winch” where I went back to the basics of the collection – which involves the use of cables and gold in a bicolor piece – and worked on a pure aesthetic in rings, earrings and pendants that are iconic in both the history of the House and in men’s designs. So, this collection is well-thought for men, and noting that they have their own territory, I enriched it with the use of titanium and black diamonds. The success was immediate. As for Force 10, men usually look at it like a watch and match the color of its metal to that of their watch’s case. They also like stacking, and Force 10 is perfect for that, especially in its double loop version.



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