The 2017 Paris Biennale art fair was the first time the eponymous jeweller Alisa Moussaieff saw the work of Anna Hu, a fellow exhibitor almost five decades her junior. It was an event that Moussaieff will never forget.

“Not only did Anna have a nice show, she managed to attract the press,” Moussaieff recalls. “There was a Chinese delegation that we tried to get — she got them, and we didn’t. I very much remember that.”

The following year, Moussaieff, who is based in London, invited Hu to her Bond Street boutique for a meeting. Hu recalls feeling intimidated, despite being the Taiwan-born daughter of a gem dealer and growing up surrounded by exquisite stones, then cutting her teeth at Christie’s, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Harry Winston before starting her own brand in New York, aged 30.

Moussaieff’s reputation preceded her, however. The house is synonymous in the industry with an inventory of exceptionally large, jaw-dropping stones, and is rooted in an illustrious gem-trading history that dates back to the 12th century Mongolian ruler Genghis Khan — who reputedly was a client.

Alisa Moussaieff first saw the work of Anna Hu at the 2017 Paris Biennale art fair © Alan Knox

But the admiration was mutual. Moussaieff immediately asked what they could do together. “This was literally before I sat down,” recalls Hu, who recently moved to Monaco and divides her time between there and the US. “She got right to the point about a co-operation concept.”

The results, in 2021, were eight co-created jewels, which highlight the symbiosis — both creative and commercial — between these two independent jewellers.

Headlining the pieces is what Moussaieff calls the “star piece — Anna’s star idea”: a magnificent titanium Metamorphosis bracelet set with a harmonious smorgasbord of coloured stones — brown, yellow-brown, and yellow-orange diamonds; mandarin, orange, and demantoid garnets, Paraiba tourmalines and sapphires, among them. The piece takes inspiration from Mozart’s 12 Variations on “Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman” (music is a recurring theme for Hu, a cellist). The butterfly motif bracelet is topped with Moussaieff’s exceptional 35.4ct marquise brown diamond, alongside a pair of old-cut, trapezoid diamonds, each more than five carats, set on the butterfly’s wing. Hu first saw the two stones set in a ring and asked Moussaieff if they could be broken up and remounted into her design.

Moussaieff didn’t hesitate. “Nobody else can do that because everybody else has a board of directors above them,” she says, adding that she found the idea “financially quite clever”, too. “The ring would have sold for ‘X’ amount and now, in this combination, the whole piece will be sold for more. So it’s not a sacrifice.”

The titanium Metamorphosis butterfly motif bracelet, features a mix of coloured diamonds, garnets, tourmalines and sapphires, topped with a 35.4ct brown marquise diamond
The titanium Metamorphosis butterfly motif bracelet, features a mix of coloured diamonds, garnets, tourmalines and sapphires, topped with a 35.4ct brown marquise diamond

Another standout piece is the architectural Sky Tower necklace for which Hu took inspiration from Tower Verre, a 320m-tall skyscraper adjacent to New York City’s Museum of Modern Art. Crafted through geometric slices of titanium and featuring an intricate, classic Chinese motif on the underside, the design speaks to Anna’s signature merging of east and west touchpoints. Meanwhile, a whopping 102.18ct brown-yellow diamond centre stone is Moussaieff’s hallmark. Had they been designing independently, says Moussaieff, Hu would have used a semi-precious centre stone, while Moussaieff’s jewel would have been notably heavier.

“Traditionally, a 100-carat stone would demand an important number of stones around it — and would get it,” says Moussaieff. “But, here, Anna used small diamonds and titanium.”

Design collaborations are commonplace between talents in fashion and even watches, but rare between jewellers. Although Hu points to a “duet chemistry” with Moussaieff — fuelled by a mutual appreciation of their individual, family-run businesses — the latter’s prized gem inventory is key to this union.

“This partnership reflects the coming together of two high-end players with a focus on large, highly prized gemstones, targeting wealthy buyers,” says Tobias Kormind, managing director of the online jeweller 77 Diamonds. Important stones, he adds, are increasingly seen as a store of wealth in tumultuous times, as “the stock markets have gyrated massively: through the financial crisis in 2008, during Covid, and now with the war in Ukraine and all the macroeconomic issues this has caused”. High quality gemstones traditionally perform well in an inflationary environment, he notes, with prices for some of the highest quality diamonds rising by more than a third in the past year, and almost 60 per cent in five years.

assembling the Metamorphosis bracelet
assembling the Metamorphosis bracelet

The eight co-created pieces are priced upwards of seven figures each and only some have sold. More are being added, says Moussaieff, who does not seem overly concerned about sales at the moment — and hints at working with other designers in the future.

With Hong Kong scrapping its quarantine rules last month, and more wealthy clients starting to travel again, she is optimistic about unconventional, design-led jewels — like the Sky Tower — finding a buyer. Plus, she adds: “If it doesn’t sell after one year, I take out the diamond and put it in one of our traditional mountings. But I [would] like to have this sold because I believe in [Anna’s] mounting.”

Perhaps Moussaieff sees something of her younger self in Hu — her passion and initiative as both a creative and business owner. “She’s quick, she’s vivacious, and a pleasure to work with,” says Moussaieff, who admires Hu’s recent travels to the US to meet Chinese clients, who increasingly reside abroad. “She does things before we even think about them. That is really a great advantage.”

Meanwhile, the 90-something Moussaieff is more like a mentor to Hu, who says the two speak nearly every day. Topics range from stone colour tendencies, to the gem market — such as this week’s momentous Sotheby’s sale of the 11.15ct Williamson Pink Star, one of the world’s pinkest and purest diamonds to come to market — and to chatting about their children.

“For me, it’s really to learn from someone who is so clever, so brilliant, so sharp and cut-throat,” says Hu. “I take that as the most priceless lesson. I really cherish every single second that she spends time with me because I know it’s historical. This won’t be repeated.”

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