Known as the King of Black Diamonds, Fawaz Gruosi changed the world of jewellery when he founded De Grisogono jewels. Shocking the industry with his bold, ornate designs and black diamonds, some didn’t take him seriously. Today, his one-of-a-kind designs adorn A-list celebrities and the super rich; selling single pieces in the tens of millions. But Mr Gruosi doesn’t let it get to his head. He considers himself «extremely» lucky for his success, treats his employees like family, and lives life for pleasure. HelloMonaco caught up with Mr Gruosi at the De Grisogono 25th anniversary party to learn more about his humble beginnings at a jewellery shop in Florence and how he became the most prestigious and exclusive jewellery designer in the world.
HelloMonaco: Did you imagine, 25 years ago that you would be so successful?
Fawaz Gruosi: Not at all. I just started with very little money and I did what came to my mind. Some said that I would never make it, but at that time, it was a time of minimalism and everybody wanted things discreet. So I went in the opposite direction, to make jewellery big, colourful, and for three years, people were passing by the boutique and saying, «we can’t wear these things, they are too big. They are nice to look at, but they are too big». But things slowly started to become appreciated. But the success came with the black diamonds. And actually, if it wasn’t for black diamonds in my life, I would not behere with you today. Black diamonds opened a huge door. I suffered a lot those first three years, but then did amazingly well. I did strange things at the time. I increased the size, the colours; icy diamonds, which is not clear but a cloudy diamond, and after a short time it became immediately fashionable. It was a bit more difficult, but in the end, I believe we opened the door. Nobody was expecting an unknown person, like me, to be making the industry different. And today, after 25 years, I think a lot of other brands are following my style. Also, we do very [small] collections, maybe 40 or 50 pieces, it’s not much more than that. I always love to do unique pieces, so that it’s just for you and nobody else. That’s what I like to do. And I do it all the time.
HM: You started in the business quite young.
FG: I had a girlfriend when I was young, and she was pregnant, so I wanted to get married. I went home and told my mom and she said: «Are you crazy? I will never sign the paper». It was a disaster, so I told her that if she didn’t sign the paper, she would never see me again. So she got scared, and I got married. But she said: «ОК, you want to be a big guy? I give you money for 6 months, and then you’re on your own». I never believed she was doing this, but she did. So I ran around Florence to see who would hire me and the first place was a jewellery store. So they hired me and I was bringing the coffees and cleaning the jewellery… Then they moved me to London, from London, Harry Winston hired me and sent me to Saudi Arabia from ’78 to ’82 and the reason I accepted was because it was the biggest jeweller in the world. And when I left Saudi Arabia, Bulgari hired me after a week and I was incharge of marketing worldwide. So I was travelling the world and just showing the collection. Afterwards, I stopped working for a year and I opened my own little shop. And that’s how it started.
HM: What was your inspiration to start your own business?
FG: When I started, I was around 40 years old, and I started to do sketches and I was inspired by whatever was around me. It could be the shape of a glass, the colour of flowers, and then inspiration comes at the moment. It doesn’t come all the time, but it happens often.
HM: Do you differentiate your job from your life purpose?
FG: My life is a pleasure; I never felt the aggravation of «what will I do» or being scared. At that age I didn’t give a damn about anything. Anything that came into my mind, I was just doing it. And I travelled the world for many, many years. I was going from Singapore to Hong Kong, to the States, to Russia, to everywhere. But it was a pleasure. Now, with the calculation of the shops, we have around 14–15 shops; we have a lot of collaborators and many other things. Now the pleasure is a little bit less. It’s so organised, we have to do budgets, etc. and I’ve never done a budget in my life. Whatever I had, I was doing things. Sometimes I did things when I didn’t have the money, and I was taking a risk. The money I gave at the beginning was 16,000 Swiss Francs — in Italy, it’s not even a little shop of chocolates — it was impossible. And I took risk, risk, risk like with the black diamonds I invested money in black diamonds when nobody knew what it was. I told them I could pay in 60 days; they trusted me and I didn’t have the money. But it happened — I was very lucky. The stars are over there and they have protected me ever since.
HM: Do you consider yourself rich?
FG: I don’t feel rich. Honestly, I could eat just a piece of cheese and bread, but what I like is what I do. And having people around me, like my kids. I need a car, yes; I need a nice house, but I don’t need to become a maniac like a lot of friends of mine, who already have,let’s say two billion, and they keep going crazy to do more and more and more. I think it’s insane. It’s not only about money; it’s about the pleasure to do what you like and how you want to do it.
HM: What makes you happy?
FG: My freedom. I don’t have to have somebody tell me what I have to do. And I’m a very lucky person because I have a human relationshipwith all my collaborators; they are like my friends. Like my sisters or my brothers. In 25 years, I only fired one person. All of these people are very attached to me and I don’t even have to tell them anything anymore because they have been with me for 10–25 years. It’s really like a family.
HM: What kind of role does love play in your life? Do you need love? Do you need to be loved?
FG: Well, I am a very romantic person and love is essential. Otherwise,you are a piece of ice. No, I am a very emotional type of person.
HM: What does success mean to you? Can you describe it in a few words?
FG: Well, I just worked, and worked, and worked. And as I said, I didn’t have any fear. And if I were to start again, today, I wouldn’t have the strength to say, «I don’t care, I’ll just go». I [did] this for a good15 years, yes, but then it became a serious company, with a lot of collaborators and a lot of issues, so you have to follow the rules. While you’re small, it’s fantastic, you can do whatever you want.
HM: What is the future of the jewellery industry?
FG: Jewellery will always exist and people will buy jewellery for many reasons. One of the reasons could be as an asset, another for pleasure, and for others, when you fall in love you want the maximum for your partner. Jewellery will never disappear. There are too many jewellers, there are too many watchmakers. And sometimes, I look around and I think where are all these watches going? Or all this jewellery? But the market will ride and it will keep increasing and increasing. Unless something bad happens like war, or something, I can see that things will keep going.
HM: What about the future of de Grisogono?
FG: There are groups today, like Tom Group, or Swatch Group, etc. Which havea massive amount of money and they have shops, like Cartier has 500 or 600 shops around the world. Bulgari, around 400, etc. It’s another world. De Grisogono is a small niche in the market. It’s all handmade. I don’t say to the others don’t do it, but when a brand starts to produce the same exact piece, it has to be industrial to produce around 70,000 rings or earrings or whatever, in a month. They are beautiful, of course, but the love of when I’m sitting there with the[craftsmen], you can see those people working with me, they have the love of the object and they pay attention to the detail. And I will never change it in that way. We have collaborators, but we are still a family.We are today, around 110 people, divided by 14 shops and then the office. And everybody knows everybody and everybody helps everybody.
HM: We often see celebrities wearing your jewellery at parties. Is it possible to sell jewellery without celebrities?
FG: Yes, of course. Actually, I sell the most important things with people who don’t want anyone to know. And it’s been like this since the very beginning. Lately, I can say we do around 200 to 300 unique pieces a year, besides the collection. And that is the part that I really love. When the clients buy something and I’m there with the clients, you can see the human relationship. And they are proud because they are the only one having the same thing. Then, we have a small collection, let’s say there are between 60–70 pieces in a year. And I like to change often, because I don’t want to be stuck on one model. We have one model, which works more than the rest, for more than 12 years now, which I gave the name of one of my daughters, the Allegra Collection. The [new] Allegra Collection, which we presented at the Basel Fair, is coming out now. We call it Allegra 25.