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Ralph Masri Em­braces Mod­ernism

A global cit­i­zen, Beirut-born jew­ellery de­signer Ralph Masri, 28, has spent his en­tire life jug­gling be­tween Le­banon, Canada, France and the United King­dom. A decade ear­lier, he be­gan hon­ing his skills as a jew­ellery de­signer at Cen­tral Saint Martins, Lon­don.

Ralph made his mark early on. His skills were highly ap­pre­ci­ated, and awards and recog­ni­tion soon fol­lowed. In his first year as a stu­dent, he bagged the Swarovski Award that led him to work with the brand for a while. At age 20, he was the youngest de­signer to be nom­i­nated for a UK Jew­ellery Award. Shortly af­ter grad­u­at­ing with a Bach­e­lor’s de­gree in Jew­ellery De­sign in 2011, he es­tab­lished his epony­mous brand. The first show­room was opened in Beirut in 2014. Last year, Ralph was named an honorary Fine Jew­elry Win­ner at the 2016 DDFC/Vogue Fash­ion Prize, thus es­tab­lish­ing him firmly as one of the emerg­ing tal­ents in the fir­ma­ment of tal­ented de­sign­ers in the Mid­dle East.

Ralph’s cre­ations are fine-tuned to of­fer the best of both worlds – the fi­nesse of fine jew­ellery and the bold­ness of fash­ion jew­ellery. Blend­ing the two el­e­ments with­out com­pro­mis­ing on artistry and crafts­man­ship is his strong point. SHANOO BIJLANI traces the young vir­tu­oso’s il­lus­tri­ous and artis­tic so­journ.

You have grad­u­ated from the Cen­tral Saint Martins and are a re­cip­i­ent of DDFC/Vogue Fash­ion Prize. Are you a first gen­er­a­tion jew­eller?

My fa­ther was a jew­eller and my mother was in the di­a­mond busi­ness, but they’ve now moved on to dif­fer­ent fields. So al­though I started my busi­ness from scratch, I was lucky enough to have their ex­per­tise guide me along the way.

So was jew­ellery de­sign­ing a nat­u­ral choice as a pro­fes­sion?

It was com­pletely or­ganic and hap­pened on its own. Grow­ing up, I never thought I wanted to get into the field since that’s what my par­ents did, and I didn’t nec­es­sar­ily want to fol­low in their foot­steps. But I was al­ways cre­ative and knew that I wanted to end up in a cre­ative field. It wasn’t un­til my foun­da­tion year at Cen­tral Saint Martins that I dis­cov­ered I ac­tu­ally do love jew­ellery, and that led me to spe­cialise in it.

You in­terned with Pomel­lato for some time. Did that have any in­flu­ence on you and in shap­ing your aes­thet­ics?

Yes, I in­terned with them when I was a stu­dent. It had a huge in­flu­ence on me as Pomel­lato is one of the very first fine jew­ellers who had a more fash­ion-ori­ented ap­proach to their jew­ellery which I loved. And now, I, too, have the same ap­proach with my own brand. I also got to see how such a big, suc­cess­ful busi­ness is run from the in­side, and that taught me a lot.

When did you start your own brand and where do you op­er­ate from? Tell us about the first ever col­lec­tion that you de­signed. How did it fare and how was the jour­ney from thereon?

I launched my busi­ness in 2012, and my first col­lec­tion was a spin-off of my fi­nal col­lege project at Cen­tral Saint Martins for which I had de­vel­oped a small, lace-in­spired sil­ver col­lec­tion. It was a good start­ing point and right for test­ing the wa­ters. It helped me re­fine my style and find my iden­tity. The suc­cess of that col­lec­tion then led to my first fine jew­ellery col­lec­tion Arabesque Deco, with which I for­mally launched my brand. I op­er­ate out of my home­town in Beirut.

Your col­lec­tions are geo­met­ric and de­pict clean, sharp lines – that lend a dis­tinc­tive

sig­na­ture to the cre­ations. It is a blend of fash­ion and fine jew­ellery. Tell us how your aes­thetic sig­na­ture came into be­ing.

It comes from my love of ar­chi­tec­ture and struc­ture – I love cleanly de­fined shapes. I al­ways en­joyed the ad­ven­tur­ous and bold spirit of fash­ion jew­ellery and wanted to com­bine that with the pre­cious­ness and fi­nesse of fine jew­ellery which is why my work could fall into the cat­e­gory of “fash­ion fine jew­ellery”.

What in­spires you?

Gen­er­ally, it’s ar­chi­tec­ture and his­tory. How im­por­tant is it for you to in­clude colour in your cre­ations? Are there any gem­stones that you are par­tic­u­larly fond of? Colour is very im­por­tant for me, and con­trast is one of the pri­mary preva­lent el­e­ments in a lot of my work. I love work­ing on two-tone pieces. My favourites are coloured di­a­monds, es­pe­cially the pink ones.

Which metal do you mostly work with?

I only work with 18-karat gold.

How much time does it take you to com­plete a col­lec­tion? Does the in­cep­tion of a de­sign be­gin with a sketch on pa­per?

Gen­er­ally I take about six to nine months from start to fin­ish a col­lec­tion. I usu­ally have some in­spi­ra­tion hit me like an epiphany, and then I get down to do­ing a lot of re­search on that par­tic­u­lar theme. Once that is done, I sketch a lot, on pa­per and dig­i­tally, be­fore start­ing to work on the fi­nal de­signs.

I do a lot of ex­per­i­ment­ing in the work­shop which fur­ther re­fines the de­signs un­til I am sat­is­fied with the fi­nal out­come. I am very par­tic­u­lar that the sto­ry­line in my col­lec­tions is co­her­ent, and it needs to have a seam­less tran­si­tion from one to the other col­lec­tion.

What is your de­sign phi­los­o­phy?

That my work should be elo­quent and con­sis­tent and it should pos­sess a strong iden­tity.

If you weren’t a jew­ellery de­signer, what would you be?

An ar­chi­tect or a chef! Cook­ing is my sec­ond love.

The 18-karat rose gold ear­rings from the Sa­cred Win­dows col­lec­tion are in­spired by the arch win­dows and stained glass art­work of cathe­drals. Pink ru­bies and pink di­a­monds add drama to the piece.

The 18-karat rose gold Phoeni­cian ear­rings are out­fit­ted with pink di­a­monds and ru­bies.

The 18-karat white gold Sa­cred Win­dows ring is stud­ded with di­a­monds and blue topaz.

18-karat rose gold ring set with pink sap­phires from the Modernist col­lec­tion.

The 18-karat white gold ring from the Arabesque Deco that mar­ries Art Deco and Mid­dle Eastern art is set with emer­alds and di­a­monds.

The Phoeni­cian white gold ring sparkles with white di­a­monds.

Pink di­a­monds en­hance the beauty of the Arabesque Deco ring in 18-karat rose gold.

18-karat white gold Modernist ring lined with sap­phires and di­a­monds.

The Arabesque Deco ear­rings in white gold are beau­ti­fied with di­a­monds and brasilites.

The Arabesque Deco white gold ring gets its shine from emer­alds and di­a­monds.

18-karat white gold Modernist ear­rings stud­ded with di­a­monds and sap­phires in­spired by mid-cen­tury ar­chi­tec­ture.

The an­gu­lar ear­rings shaped with white gold are or­na­mented with emer­alds and di­a­monds take a cue from the Phoeni­cian script.

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