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Looking back over a lifetime in the jewellery trade and reflecting on his considerable success, Fred Samuel said simply that “I knew that the brilliance of the stones I loved so much would help me to make my way in the world.”
Born in 1908 to French parents who had emigrated to Argentina, Fred Samuel grew up in the vibrant city of Buenos Aires. No doubt influenced by his father’s profession as a gem dealer, Fred moved to France aged 16 to study jewellery. Here he met and married his wife Thérèse Halphen with whom he would go on to have two sons, Henri and Jean, the first born in 1936, the same year he opened his eponymous boutique on the rue Royal.
Immersed in the artistic melting pot of 1930s Paris, he was socialising with artists, writers and musicians in an environment rich with ideas. Alongside contemporary influences, childhood memories of Argentina infused colour and vitality into his jewellery designs of which he said, “My creations are inspired by life, light, movement, energy.” He was particularly fond of the sea and pearls feature heavily in his work. He was an early and vigorous supporter of the introduction of Japanese cultured pearls into France and Parisian fine jewellery, a fact that didn’t necessarily endear him to other jewellers as much as it did his clients.
At the outbreak of War he joined the Foreign Legion and when he returned to the business he was forced by the General Commissariat for Jewish Affairs to place the yellow Star of David in his shop window and remove his surname, Samuel, from all signage. As the situation deteriorated he left Paris for the Free Zone in 1942 but was arrested and it would be almost three years before he would return to Paris.
Now known simply as ‘Fred’, the business concentrated on producing their signature bold, colourful jewellery and accessories and built a loyal clientele that included Marlene Dietrich and Barbara Hutton. In 1962 they collaborated with Jean Cocteau to create a gold medal, the first of various artistic partnerships that was to be formed by the firm. Four years later Fred Samuel’s passion for the sea and sailing was embodied in a bracelet designed by his son Henri who married a woven steel yachting rope with a gold clasp, creating the first ‘Force 10’ piece in what is now a major collection of the Maison.
When the firm established a branch in Monte Carlo in 1976, Princess Grace and her daughter Caroline attended the opening and Fred became an official supplier to the Royal House of Monaco. Fred’s love of gemstones meant he was always seeking interesting and unusual specimens both for stock as well as for bespoke client orders. Two exceptional stones he acquired were the Soleil d’Or, a yellow diamond weighing 105.54cts and the 275ct Ceylon sapphire which he set as the centre piece in a diamond tiara and sold in 1980.
In the 1980s a branch was opened in New York and in 1990 a specially created Fred necklace became one of the most famous pieces of jewellery in movie history. When Richard Gere presented Julia Roberts with a blue velvet box in the now famous scene from the film Pretty Woman, it contained a stunning and specially commissioned ruby and diamond Fred necklace. The LVMH group acquired the firm in 1995.