Selim Mouzannar grew up wandering through inspiration-filled souks in his native Beirut. It is no surprise that the French-Lebanese designer’s eponymous fine jewelry line is filled with enchanting motifs and imaginative combinations of colored gemstones.
We first noticed some of the chic-est necks in town adorned with his star choker necklaces, but it was his textural link collection, with its unique brown elements and Brutalist feel, that showed us the designer’s real breadth. As if we weren’t already taken, we had the pleasure of meeting the charming Selim at Couture 2016, where his Amal Necklace, with its Colombian emeralds from the Muzu mines, won the coveted Couture Award in the colored Gemstones category.
Here, Selim captivates us with stories about the rich history that jewelry has woven through his family tree, his love for the color rose, and approach to jewelry as an art form.
-Jenna Fain for The Stone Set
When did your love of jewelry begin? How did you pursue it as a career path?
I’m a third-generation jeweler so I grew up around jewelry. My grandfather and father were jewelers. As a child, I would frequently visit the old gold souks in downtown Beirut where I would be surrounded by the beautiful jewelry, including golds and precious stones. I was fascinated and these experiences at the souks are seen throughout my work. However, I am an independent spirit and have traveled and studied all over the world for inspiration instead of relying solely on my family’s jewelry heritage.
How did growing up in Beirut impact you and your designs?
I know different facets of Beirut. I remember the beautiful, peaceful city where I grew up, and then I remember it completely bombed and destroyed. Although I grew up in a progressive and tolerant family, the violence surrounding me definitely affected my mind and soul. Jewelry has always been an escape of mine – creating beautiful objects in the middle of chaos and war.
My main collection (Beirut) is a homage to my city. It takes its roots and inspiration from the shape and soul of Beirut’s traditional homes and old souks. The jewelry features elements and design details that take us back in time from the angle of an arcade to the vault of a souk’s main gate. Lebanon was ruled for over 400 years by the Ottoman Empire, therefore the typical jewelry has been heavily influenced by their traditions which are translated in my designs, but in a contemporary way.
What was it like to attend the Institut National de Gemmologie in Paris during the 80s?
In 1980, long after the war had started in Lebanon, my journey first began in Paris where I studied at the Institut National de Gemmologie. This phase of my life is very dear to me as it is where it all began to fall into place. I.N.G brought the scientific side and Paris the soul.
Describe your jewelry brand. What makes it unique?
I believe in sharing traditions and our capacity to enrich them through beauty and emotion. My jewels are sparkling, powerful, colorful, contemporary, innovative, yet traditional. Mixing ancient techniques with modern ones is key for me.
What are your favorite pieces?
There are many pieces and many stories. What I enjoy however is to think of how a specific piece will beautify the woman who wears it. How it will make her feel special. I look more for the emotion it will convey.
Why are you drawn to stars and floral motifs?
The Stars collection (Istanbul) is a tribute to the city of Istanbul which also has a very rich heritage like Beirut. The culture and customs of its predecessors remain and are coupled with a more contemporary way of doing things, however it has never forgotten its legacy. Ottoman style mixed with Mediterranean countries, such as France, has heavenly influenced the region.
You love gems! Which are your favorite to work with and why?
The rich colorful world of gemstones is in my blood and I love the color of rose-cut stones. It is soft, peaceful and elegant.
Your designs are intricate. Does technology play a part in your process?
Our studio is a high performance workshop. We are always looking for innovations in the jewelry industry, yet, the human touch is vital to the finished product.
What lessons have you learned as a jewelry designer?
Jewelry has taught me a lot about life but not enough to understand it. My moral duties in life are tolerance, beauty, inclusiveness and optimism.
Photography by Emerald Carroll for The Stone Set