Valérie Messika grew up around precious jewels. Her father was in the diamond business, and she spent a good deal of her childhood watching, learning, and falling in love with the sparkling stones. After working for him for several years, she decided to step out on her own.
She founded her eponymous brand in 2005. Messika’s approach has always been to start a collection with a blank page—driven by her passion for diamonds, and adding in a few colored gems when best. She’s always been inspired by art and design, with works by artists like Matisse, Picasso, Ron Arad, and Peter Klasen in her collection. Most recently, Messika infused fashion and fairy tales into the latest high jewelry collection.
Just three years ago, she opened her haute joaillerie atelier in the heart of Paris. Over the summer, we met Messika there to discuss diamonds, design, and art.
WHITEWALL: Tell us what it was like growing up seeing your father so involved in the diamond and jewelry world.
VALÉRIE MESSIKA: My whole childhood was filled with memories of my father and his passion for diamonds. They were our principal means of communication at that time. From a young age, he communicated his passion to me and my brother, Ilan. When I was a little girl, I remember him bringing back home incredible diamonds, and he used to let me play with them. My first real crush for diamonds was at the age of 12 when I found an envelope with tiny diamonds at my father’s place. I was fascinated by the light they emitted. He taught me how to look inside each stone, and everything I know about diamonds. That’s where my attention to detail and keen observation comes from.
My father was always playing with diamonds by sliding them between his fingers. The three moving diamonds seen in my iconic “Move” collection were inspired by this memory from my childhood.
He dedicated his life to diamonds. At only 22 years old, he set up his own business to quickly become one of the most prominent and respected diamond dealers of the industry. He spent his life traveling all over the world, searching for the most stunning stones in Siberia, India, and South Africa, among others. Now based in Israel, he supplies rough and polished diamonds to clients and the world’s leading jewelers.
WW: Was it always clear to you that you wanted to eventually move into making your own jewelry?
VM: I worked alongside him for five years, learning every secret of the industry. Even if his desire was for me to take the lead of his company one day, I had the feeling something essential was missing: creativity. That is why I decided to launch the brand, and since then I can say that I am living the dream.
WW: You’ve also credited your father with exposing you to art and beautiful objects. What kind of interactions with art did you have early on? How does that carry through today?
VM: I am particularly sensitive to decoration and design. Since I was little, my father introduced me to art and taught me to recognize beautiful pieces of art. I love to bargain-hunt at the Puces flea market of Saint-Ouen in Paris on Sundays. If I have the time throughout the year, I use it to travel to a few art fairs, such as Miami and Basel. I also like to make mood boards that help me to create my collections, define design and stones.
WW: Last year, Messika celebrated the tenth anniversary of its iconic collection “Move.” How did you want to honor that moment?
VM: 2017 represented a significant milestone for me, a time to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the “Move” collection. For that occasion, I launch a capsule collection with the talented Gigi Hadid. We have combined our respective passions for diamonds and fashion to give birth to a collection where couture meets fine jewelry. Each of us brought our own feminine touch in this collection to create pieces with strong designs, clear cuts, and striking shapes.
WW: When you founded the brand, what was your vision? How has that evolved over the decade?
VM: Thirteen years ago, when I started creating jewelry, I couldn’t imagine having 400 points of sale around the world, to have my own boutiques, my high jewelry atelier in the heart of Paris, or to have celebrities such as Beyoncé, Charlize Theron, or Kristen Stewart wearing my creations. I feel like I am living in a dream! I hope Messika will continue to evolve. We are still a young brand and there are so many things to do.
WW: Tell us about the inspiration behind the recent high jewelry collection, inspired by fairy tales and classic stories like “The Little Mermaid,” “The Snow Queen,” and The Arabian Nights?
VM: This year, I have combined my passion for diamonds with my love of fashion. I have rewritten some of the tales that once enchanted me as a child, exploring their themes with a feel for couture.
I got my inspiration from the beautifully illustrated books of Gustave Doré, Kay Nielsen, and, in particular, Edmund Dulac. I had the opportunity of observing, through adult eyes, the pages that had formed my dreams as a child. And because high jewelry is really about transposing dreams of little girls who’ve now grow up, I have created a fairy-tale collection of 22 exceptional sets, combining freedom of movement with visual magnificence, allure, and the modernity of our era.
Although inspired by the princess of the past, these pieces take on an almost futuristic allure when worn by top model Sasha Pivovarova. A global icon with striking features and a fiery temperament, she represents my vision of a modern-day heroine perfectly.
WW: You’ve said your designs always start with the stones. How do the stones inspire your designs?
VM: When I receive a stone, I always try to keep the diamond’s identity. You need to be passionate about this stone to create amazing pieces.
WW: You only work with diamonds and colored diamonds—what attracts you to these precious stones?
VM: I am faithful to diamonds. It is my DNA. This passion is my heritage. My father told me once, “In the same way that we choose our future partner with the heart, we choose a diamond for the emotion that it creates in us.”
I do use colored diamonds. For my latest high jewelry collection, “Once Upon a Time,” I created a tie necklace all in yellow diamonds and yellow gold. Also, I use black diamonds in certain of my fine jewelry collections, like “Glam’Azone” and “Move Titanium.”
WW: You’re creating high jewelry without the decades of archives and styles of other jewelry houses on Place Vendôme. What do you appreciate about that freedom?
VM: As the opposite of the prestigious houses of Place Vendôme that have centuries of rich archives of distinct styles, I start all my creations with a blank page. It allows me to create modern pieces.
At Messika, each new collection is a real jump into the void, although I admit feeding obsessions for certain jewelry techniques. I always start the process without a precise brief.
The most difficult aspect of my jewelry creation process is to transcribe my ideas into a drawing. I always have a lot of ideas, but sometimes it’s quite difficult to get the result I have imagined. At the end, and thankfully, we always manage to make it possible.
WW: Speaking of houses, in 2015 you opened a new atelier in Paris. Can you tell us about the space? What is a typical day like in the atelier?
VM: For our tenth anniversary in 2015, we have opened our first haute joaillerie atelier at the heart of Paris. This allows my creative director, my team, and I to work under the same roof.
This is where unique pieces are created by three draftsmen, two specialists in CAD (computer aided design), a model maker, ten jewelers, two setters, and two polishers—an age-old craft where each piece is a work of art, the fruit of a chain of talents. Each craftsman had his mission during the day. Opening our haute joaillerie atelier marked a new chapter on our history.
WW: Has this new site inspired your design in any way?
VM: I see this atelier as a creative environment where ideas take shape, a special space where inspirations take form.
WW: You’re inspired by travel, architecture, interior design—what are some places that most recently inspired you?
VM: Every place I go is a new discovery, and I am always fascinated by the culture and the architecture. I will say that every place I go, I get new inspirations. I recently traveled to New York and the South of France. I always keep an eye on what surrounded me and of all the sources of inspirations I can have access to.
WW: Why is it important for you that your designs be warn, that women feel comfortable wearing them in everyday life—even if its high jewelry?
VM: I create elegant diamond pieces to be worn on an everyday basis—a modern mix between timeless and contemporary pieces, but always with a little twist to it.
I like my creations to be very comfortable, even in my high jewelry pieces; a woman should be able to live her life without being annoyed by excessively heavy jewelry in any circumstances.
WW: You’ve designed collections inspired by Ron Arad and I. M. Pei. What designers and artists do you follow?
VM: I like having works of art around me—classic like Matisse and Picasso, but also contemporary like Peter Klasen.
WW: Jewelry is such a personal item. It’s worn directly on the skin, we play with it throughout the day, it’s gifted, it’s handed down from mother or grandmother to daughter. What is your most meaningful piece of jewelry?
VM: When I was young, my grandmother—one of the most amazing women I have ever met—offered me one of her rings, a pear-shaped diamond of 9.30 carats. That is my favorite piece of jewelry.