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.