The Stone
The Reza
Family Legacy

Olivier Reza discusses what makes a modern heirloom.

Words by: Sam Broekema
Photographed by: Jennifer Livingston

Surrounding Olivier Reza’s desk in New York City are two computer monitors, family portraits in handmade frames, a toy schnauzer, and a tray of the rarest natural diamonds in the world. Add to this an eclectic and considered collection of modern and tribal art and you get it. This juxtaposition of the modern, the sentimental, and the precious is what makes the Maison founded by his father, Alexandre Reza, like no other.

Natural diamonds are in his DNA. The Reza family worked as gem dealers for generations in Iran, working with private clients and eventually the storied houses of Place Vendôme in Paris. “Even the fact that my father’s family was based in Mashhad, in Iran, in the 18th century, was because the Shah, the ruler at the time, selected several families from Tehran to manage the Persian treasure. It had been a very long tradition in my family to trade gems and the community we come from is known for that. When my family settled in Russia, they did that. Then, when they moved to France, they did the same thing. So, it’s part of who I am, this attraction to beautiful materials.”

The heirloom is a very important concept because it’s the guide for every decision we make.

Alexandre Reza amassed an unparalleled collection of gems that made him world-famous, but his business sense helped him spot an important gap in the market in the 1970s. The historic brands did not respond to a new demand for yellow gold and matching sets of a single kind of gemstone. Swooping in to capture this demand, the house of Reza was born. For both father and son, the jewelry always begins with the stone.

“Heirlooms for us have a lot to do with what we aim for. It starts when we select a stone and decide it needs to be part of the collection,” explains Reza. “We think about heritage, we think about timelessness. I project myself years out, not knowing what will be, but I know that, as a human being, I will still love what I am seeing now. If it’s good, it will make sense. I not only think about the client of today, but I think about the human body. And if it works today on the human body there is no reason it won’t work tomorrow. Continuity, value, longevity, all this comes down to timelessness. The heirloom is a very important concept because it’s the guide for every decision we make.”

It wasn’t immediately obvious that Olivier Reza would take over the family business. “I did so many things. I went to law school, I went to business school, I worked on Wall Street. I did fine in all these things, but it took me a very long time to feel good about what I was doing. That really happened when I was able to do [Reza] full-time.” 

Reza credits his best education to his time in the auction world. “At Sotheby’s, I was an investor on the board. What I learned in general from auction houses was like an incredible school. I bet the majority of dealers have been trained at auction. I was trained at auctions as both a buyer and seller. You just see a lot of things. Museums have pretty static collections. Auction houses see things come and go. They allow you to correlate what your instinct and eye tell you with what the pricing mechanism of an auction house tells you. You see what’s nice and you can verify during the auction whether it achieves a good price. It’s a validation mechanism. It is a place where you get to see a lot of different things and understand what is quality and not quality. You educate your eye, and you also get validation on whether something is good because market pricing is such an honest indication of value.” 

He still remembers the feeling of seeing paintings by Salvador Dalí and the blue diamond of Mrs. Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, which set the highest price per carat for any diamond sold at auction at the time.

It is telling that he equates nearly priceless diamonds and paintings. Art and gemstones share an important connection for Reza. “I heard the director Francis Ford Coppola quoted as saying, ‘For me, every movie is an adventure and if you look at the first movie I did and the last movie I did, they’re completely different.’ I feel very close to that statement because every time I design a piece of jewelry, I take it as an adventure. And every artist out there has been inspired by others in their category or in other categories, and by their surroundings.”

“Art is a very important part of my life. Every time I discover an artist, I like to dig in and see what they’ve done and how they’ve done things differently, how they have approached a subject. It has really opened the power in forms and shapes. I find it extremely fun and exciting to be able to take some of those forms, shapes, and techniques, that are done with worthless materials, and make jewelry that doesn’t resemble them but is inspired by them. I take on the challenge of adapting some of those ideas into ornaments that fit with the human body and enhance the human body.”

I realized recently that the time I spent with my father and listening to him talk about his jewelry had really sunk in and had become a reflex for me.

Some things can’t be learned in school or through research and must be passed on from generation to generation. “I realized recently that the time I spent with my father and listening to him talk about his jewelry had really sunk in and had become a reflex for me. How a stone is set in a way where you can see part of the body is something that he taught me. He said, ‘Look, a stone is beautiful at every angle.’ It’s important to have a design that reveals part of the body the same way a dress will reveal some skin. Then, make sure that the body of the ring is curvy. You have a cleavage in the ring so it’s not flat. Play with curves and make it visually interesting, create perspective. That is something that I learned from him, and I repeat in my own designs.” 

So, what’s next for the Maison? “I try to go at it day by day. I’m focused on three things. One: making great pieces that I would own.” Reza sets the bar high, “Everything we make I always ask myself if it’s something I’d own. Two: building an extremely desirable and trusted brand. And three, treating every client with care and giving them an amazing experience. I feel if you do those three things, everything will come.”