An Exceptional Rainbow of Rare Stones

We publish courtesy of  New York Times


LONDON — Alisa Moussaieff, head of a multimillion-dollar jewelry enterprise specializing in exceptionally rare and precious stones, has a relationship with the raw materials of her trade that is both romantic and practical.

“We deal in everything that is beautiful, rare and valuable,” Mrs. Moussaieff said in an interview.

But beyond mere beauty, “top quality gems, by virtue of their rarity, keep their value, even in uncertain economic times.”

Even as global investors have increasingly come to the same conclusion, turning to gemstones as a safe asset class, Mrs. Moussaieff, 80, along with Laurence Graff, has continued to hold sway in the market as among the world’s most important buyers of precious stones. Her legendary collection of colored stones, amassed over the past half-century, boasts some of the world’s most exceptional diamonds, not least among them the Moussaieff Red, the world’s largest fancy red diamond.

Three years ago, Mrs. Moussaieff opened a lavish new store on New Bond Street, London’s exclusive jewelry district, a stone’s throw — for extravagant clients — from Graff, Asprey, and Harry Winston. In such opulent company, it might seem a challenge to stand out from the crowd. But what immediately distinguishes her displays from those of her competitors is the sheer volume and variety of spectacular parures and sparkling gems on offer.

Still, for Mrs. Moussaieff, show is one thing, work another. When design fever seizes her, she quits the Bond Street store, with its plush showrooms, multiple offices and concealed V.I.P. rooms, and heads back to the tiny back office of the shop that she and her husband first set up in the lobby of the Park Lane Hilton Hotel, when they moved to London in 1963.

Pushing open the door of the windowless room, in the center of which a table is barely visible under piles of gem certificates, tools, wires and colorful loose stones, she said: “This is where I live.”

“My billionaire clients don’t mind sitting here with me. I throw diamonds on the table, and together we choose the stones and the design. Out of this chaos are born many beautiful pieces.”

Mrs. Moussaieff has always been the driving force of the business that she officially took over when her husband, Shlomo Moussaieff, son of an established Jerusalem jeweler and descendant of a family of Bukharian gem dealers, retired in 2004.

Today, assisted by her daughter Tamara, now the house of Moussaieff’s designated stone buyer, Mrs. Moussaieff uses her significant buying power to acquire the world’s rarest gems while catering to a clientele of celebrities, royal families, wealthy Middle Easterners and a growing base of Asian and Russian customers.

Though her business has built a reputation of unwavering commitment to size and quality, Mrs. Moussaieff has a very personal approach to precious stones — an approach that she calls her “eccentricity.”

“I am not impressed with the size of a diamond, nor by its purity,” she said. “Something can be imperfect and still be extremely beautiful. For me, a stone must have charm and a life of its own, apart from its certificate, which just helps sell it.

“A certificate is what it is, but your eyes are your eyes. You may repolish a stone to improve its clarity, but the question is, will it keep its charm?

“I prefer to have a less good certificate but a more charming stone. It is a luxury we can afford.”

Charm comes in many shapes and sizes. In 2001, Moussaieff acquired a triangular, or trilliant-cut, internally flawless red diamond, weighing 5.11 carats, the biggest Fancy Red ever graded by the Gemological Institute of America. The exceptionally rare stone — which she renamed the Moussaieff Red — was exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington in 2003 and at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County last year.

“We paid over $8 million for the stone, including to the intermediaries without whom a deal could not have been made,” she said.

Diamonds may be forever, but ownership, if you are a jeweler, is not.

“We will eventually sell it,” she said. “I will be sad to see it go. For the time being, I am happy to live with it.”


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