Suzanne Syz – witty jewellery for aristocrats

I haven’t been writing long introductions for some time. Why? Since the most important is to give you a chance to feel the hero, find something that speaks to you personally and connects emotionally, and meet in any reality… I’ve seen Suzanne Syz in pictures. That is why you will find plenty of illustrations throughout the text. It seems that her real life is all about art, the art that most of us have only seen on photos…

– Has anything wonderful happened to you this year?

– We had a wonderful time in Art Design Basel in June, which we did just before Paris Fashion Week. We presented a great collaboration with Alex Israel there. He’s one of my favorite artists. Since last year we decided to invite contemporary artists to reinvent the jewellery box. This year we invited Alex Israel, who did 5 limited edition sculptures, which were actually jewel boxes. In fact, you open a frozen yogurt and you can put a piece of jewel inside. It's pretty heavy, because the box is made of crystal glass on the top of it. We were showing these sculptures in the booth in Basel, which was a remake of an ice-cream corner. I don’t know if you have seen the pictures, but we actually had a real ice-cream machine there. It was quite funny. And we also found the furniture from the 50s. We had a great success.

“Suzanne Syz, from the very beginning, has been a great supporter of my work. We share love of all pop things, and also love of sugar and sweets. Frozen yogurt has been an important part of my life since childhood, when my father opened a neighborhood frozen yogurt shop in LA. From my conversations with Suzanne, it became clear that a jewelry box is not only a place to store jewels, but also a vessel for the storage of great memories. The collaboration was inspired by The Bigg Chill, my marble and styrofoam sculpture of frozen yogurt named after my father’s shop, and my memories of hanging out there almost every day after school,” said Alex Israel.

“Frozen Yogurt jewelry box” – a collaboration of Alex Israel and Suzanne Syz at Art Design Basel
“Frozen Yogurt jewelry box” – a collaboration of Alex Israel and Suzanne Syz at Art Design Basel

Which part of your life was more interesting: the first or the second?

The second one. We grow up and have more fun, right?

– But how did it start?

Actually, when I moved to New York. I like the country, very exciting. It was in my early 20s: I met all the artists in New York, went to the atelier of Andy Warhol, made friends with Francesco Clemente, Julian Schnabel…

Andy Warhol “Eight Elvises” (1963). In October 2008, the painting was sold into a private collection for $ 100 mln. 
Andy Warhol “Shot Blue Marilyn” (1964). In May 2008, the painting was bought by a collector Stephen A. Cohen for about $ 80 mln.
Andy Warhol “Men in her life”.
In 2010 a black-and-white image of Elizabeth Tailor, her third husband Mike Todd and a future husband Eddie Fisher was sold to
an anonymous buyer at New York Phillips de Pury & Co auction for $ 63,4 mln.

– But it’s more like the first part, not the second.

– Yeah, it’s the first part, that’s true. I was still very young. But then it became a little more quiet: I had babies, moved to Switzerland, so, much less fun than in New York in the 80s. No Studio 54, all these fun night clubs, nothing of that area. (Author’s note: “Studio 54” was an iconic nightclub and world famous disco in New York). And when my children grew up, I said, “I don’t find the jewellery that I like, which is fun and contemporary, really contemporary.” So that’s when I started creating my own designs of the jewellery.

– How old were you?

– It was like almost twenty years ago. 

Suzanne Syz ring in bronze with pink tourmaline and pink diamonds

– What is so special about art that people strive for it?

– I think it brings a lot of joy into your life. I cannot live without it, in my case it’s particularly contemporary art. I love contemporary art and I’ve been very lucky to be living among contemporary artists for the last 30 years. 

A fragment of Suzanne Syz’s Tuscan villa. The sculpture by Tomas Sch?tte is on the coffee table. Over the couch – the painting of Francesco Clemente. © Photo: Davide Lovatti

Have you loved only contemporary art during all your life?

– No, not only. My father loved modern art (Author’s note: Modern art was popular from 1860 till 1960), but I was always strong for contemporary art. However, I have a small collection of old master drawings that I started collecting when I was very young. I was fortunate to meet a director of the modern library, and he introduced me to old master drawings from the 15th to 18th century. So, I do know that part probably less, of course, than the contemporary art, which I’ve been collecting for 35 years. But what I like in the drawings is that you can do it only once. You cannot redo it, like in oil painting. I like when it’s a sort of spontaneous.

– Do you draw yourself?

– No. I can do sketches for my designs, but I’m not good at drawing. My father was great at aquarelle, but I’m not.

– Tell me about contemporary art. I guess, contemporary art isn’t too expensive, is it?

– You see, it’s a sort of a fashion thing…

All the new names, new artists are not expensive. I always try to support young artists, because you want to live within now, with what represents our time. And that is also why I create contemporary jewellery. There have been amazing jewelers in the last centuries, who made beautiful things, but they belong to the past, but why don’t we create things that belong to today?

– How do you support them?

– I buy them as much as I can. They are not expensive when they start. Sometimes market rises them up, but it’s not good for young artists. It’s better to do it slow.

– How to make art high-priced and sought after?

– I think in my case it’s about quality and gems. We only use natural stones, which means they were never heated. Design also plays a big role. A lot of my clients like contemporary art, so they understand what I'm doing. And my jewellery doesn't scream necessarily, “I'm very expensive”. But it says, “I'm different, I can be fun, but still have great quality.”

Suzanne Syz La Fattoria di Caspri Tuscanvilla. The mushroom of 2.6 m height was made by Carsten H?lle based on one of Syzanne’s jewels. © Photo: Davide Lovatti

– How to make a piece cost, for example, 50 000, not 5000? How do you achieve this?

– I think it's really about the choice of the people, who like your things. I mean, I've been 15 years in the market, and it takes years to get to that point when people know and appreciate your works. I'm not a big brand, so I don't have hundreds of millions for advertising, therefore it takes much more time. But, the good news is that you won’t be a mass. We make niche jewellery, about 60-70 pieces a year. They are all one-of-a-kind, I never repeat a piece, and that's what people appreciate in my designs. They know that they will be wearing absolutely unique jewels.

– Have you ever thought to create not only one-of-a-kind jewellery?

– I always wanted to make only one-of-a-kind jewellery. Because I think that every woman is unique, and you don't want to put on an expensive piece that exists even in five copies. My clients are people that have seen a lot and can afford anything they like. So they look for something special and unique, that is very different from anything else. I guess that's where our market is.

Suzanne Syz ring in quartz with Paraiba tourmaline and diamonds

– How do you find clients or how do clients find you?

– Now many people come over Instagram, because we have about 5000 followers there. But a lot of people get to know us because it works by mass, that for me is the most wonderful thing. For example, somebody wears my piece and people ask like, “Oh, who is this? Is this Suzanne Syz?” And that is wonderful, but it takes time, because we don't have any advertisements apart from people like you, who introduce us to the world. That’s very different from big brands. So it's much slower, but I love it, because it's like a small family that grows. They come to the shows we do, because we do twice a year at Ritz as a part of Paris Fashion Week, like you've seen, we do shows in New York. This year we participated at Art Basel for the first time.

– What were the responses?

– After Basel we had enormous number of responses. Because these are people from the art world, who love what I do. But then we had very good responses in America too, because they understand my kind of humour. We do very spectacular pieces, as well as wearable everyday jewels. However, they still stick out and are different. And I think that’s what my clients like.

– Who was your first customer? How did you sell your first piece?

– Elizabeth Tailor was my very first customer.

– Really? Did you know her?

– I met her in Los Angeles.

– But did you present it to her or did she buy it?

– No, she bought it. Actually, it was Michael Jackson who gave it to her, because he had been buying a lot of jewellery for her at that time.

– Oh, really?

– It was at least twenty years ago, when I created my first pieces in Geneva. So I wore this beautiful necklace, which is in my book, with turquoise stones and round pearls, set with a big clasp of pink sapphires. She was sitting across to me, looking with her big violet eyes. And I thought, “Oh my God, what do I have? Something is not right, because she keeps looking at me.” At some point she said, “I just die to have your necklace. Who made it?” And I said, “Oh, it’s me.” I’ve just started, and haven’t done a collection, just a couple of pieces. And she asked, “Can I buy it?” I said that I had to find out the cost, because I had just brought it yesterday with me from Switzerland. So I needed to call early morning to Switzerland, while it was night in LA, and ask about the price of the piece. And then she wanted it so badly, so I went to her home. It took her 4 hours to come down, but she looked gorgeous! And it was very exciting for me, because I had a moment of dream.

– Sounds like a fairytale! Is it truth?

– Yeah, completely! It’s not made up, I really lived that. Four hours sitting on a sofa at Elizabeth Tailor’s home. She had an assistant, who came in like every hour and said, “I’m so sorry, Suzanne, but Mrs. Tailor is going to be ready in a short time.” And there was another hour! (both laughing.) But she was the biggest Hollywood star at that time.

– Has she bought more pieces?

– No.

– So it was a nice advertising?

– Oh, it was fantastic for me! I couldn’t believe it, my first piece… I didn’t even intend to do anything like this, because I did it for myself. So it was very funny. 

Suzanne Syz turquoise necklace, bought by Elizabeth Tailor, with a clasp of pink and blue sapphires

– I’ve read that your husband is one of the richest men.

– Oh, no, he’s a banker and we own a bank, but…

Syzanne Syz wedding ring with chameleon diamond and color sapphires put on a reverse side. ©

– I mean that it’s important to be in a particular society. You should sit in front of Elizabeth Tailor to sell her pieces, shouldn’t you?

– Yes, it’s a big luck.

– I mean, maybe it also relates to high price.

– Of course, I’m fortunate to have a lot of friends, who help me. Because they know I am honest, and I do whatever I like.

– What do you mean by honest?

– I mean I’m honest about what I’m doing. I’m not selling anything, I don’t have to make up a story. I’m coming from the contemporary world, that’s what I love and they know that. They have known me for 30 years and they know what I’ve always been collecting…And if I make a collaboration with an artist, it’s not a story made up, like so many of them in our fashion world. It’s the story of my life, you know, I think people are very sensitive to that, because they feel if you are honest and you don’t have to play a person. You are what you are and you see what I am, I’m not playing anything. And I think that’s what people see.

– Tell me, did you have any challenges in creating new pieces?

– Yeah, those baskets where a huge challenge. There are hundreds of little sapphires, that you have to set together, but the earrings shouldn’t be heavy. They have to be comfortable, and it was a big problem.

– How did you decide to do them?

– I saw all these Sicilian baskets and said, “Oh, they are so funny, let’s do something like that!” My atelier answered, “You are crazy, this is going to be so complicated.” But I said, “Come on! We can do it.” (both laughing.)

Syzanne Syz earrings with sapphires and diamonds in the form of baskets with live savers

– These earrings are very beautiful! Which stones are used here?

– Thank you. These are morganite and aquamarine. And they look good on blonde girls. Moreover, they are very light because of aluminum. Very exciting thing with the new material like aluminum is that you can do it in any color. I mean, I have so much more creativity!

Suzanne Syz earrings in aluminum with aquamarine, morganite and diamonds

– Why did you decide to use aluminum, not titanium?

– Because of the coloring. In titanium you can only do about four colors, which are green, blue, grey, the natural color of titanium, and lilac. Only thanks to aluminum we could do such bright colors, like pink and red, as in my new bracelet. Orange and green. In titanium the colors are less pop and bright. We also have a ring in black, and I’m going to do it in white. Those are brand new colors that we are experiencing with. So, this is going to be fun. 

 Syzanne Syz bracelet in aluminum with diamonds in the form of a paper box 

– Maybe you have told it many times, but how did you decide to make jewellery? I mean, how did it happen? Did you wake up in the morning and say, “Okay, I’ll create jewellery”? 

– It was a sort of a thing like that. Once I was looking for something particular to go with an outfit I was wearing to a party, and I thought, “I don’t believe, that nobody does anything funky, fun, but with serious stones.” 

– But what were your first steps? 

– Then I started looking for ateliers with the best masters, and I found them in Geneva. Swiss are watchmakers, and it is a very precise art. They are masters. 

– Did it take a lot of time to find masters? 

– It takes a bit of time, but once people saw that something what I was doing was a challenge, but the outcome was spectacular, they loved working with us because they said, “You only make unique things, for us it’s never boring. We love working with you, because every time it’s something new. Something that we have never done before.” So it’s fun. 

Suzanne Syz earrings in bronze with brown diamonds on the top, pink spinels and diamond slices cut from the rough. “We took the rough and cut it like parmigiano. Then we polished it.

– Is it easy for you to break up with people?

– Not at all. I have people that work with me since the very beginning. We have existed for 15 years, before I was studying in different ateliers to learn technically how to use the materials, because when you are a woman and you work with mainly men in workshops, you have to work much harder. Because they say like, “Oh, we can’t do it.” And I would say, “Yes, we can do that. And I’ll tell you how to do it.”

– Are you a strong woman?

– Yes, I think so. I never take “no” for an answer. (both laughing.) Because I think, it’s important. When you have an idea, or a dream, you go ahead and work so that it’s coming out right.

– But tell me, how did it happen in your life? When we have everything in life, sometimes we get bored. For example, you have money, you have friends, why should you make jewellery?

– Because life is so much richer. When you work with people, you become richer. In any culture I meet people, and we have wonderful time together. So it’s a great exchange.

– This is life.

– Yeah, that makes difference. I have never been a lady that does shopping for hours, because it bores me. I like to be creative, that is really my passion. I make people happy. The happiest moment for me is when people text me, “I wore your earrings last night, and everybody said, “Oh my God, I’ve never seen anything like this! You look so beautiful.” That makes me happy and makes my work wonderful.

– Have you ever had hard times, depression?

– Yes, of course, we have hard times at the beginning, especially with the financing. I don’t have a support, and I don’t need it from my husband. I want to do it on my own.

– Why?

– Because I’m an independent girl.

– Do you have a person, who changed your life?

– Yes, my children. I have two wonderful boys, who are adults now. They have just married. One married a year and a half ago, and the other one – three years ago. Moreover, I have amazing daughters-in-law.

– But how did they change your life?

– Well, becoming mother changes your life. And I was very lucky, because I think I'm a boys' mother. I was like a boy, when I was a kid. I was the oldest in the family, so I had a father who raised me like a boy. He was a fan of cars and we did races. When I was just ready to go in the car he said, "Come with me to Italy!" So I know how a motor works, I can read a map! (laughing.) I have my knees full of bruises, because I was always playing with the boys, falling from the trees. Therefore, I was lucky to have two boys, because we were doing a lot of fun things together, like snowboarding.

The hall of La Fattoria di Caspri Tuscan villa. On the wall – a portrait of Suzanne and her son Mark by Andy Warhol. © Photo: Davide Lovatti

– I will read you some phrases. Tell me if they are somehow connected to your life:

Once taking a risk, you can remain happy for the rest of your life.

– Taking risks has always brought me happiness. Because if you don't risk anything, you're not going to get any further.

– Provide some examples, when it was a real risk.

– I've taken lots of crazy steps, you know. I wasn't scared, because I'm always positive. I love to buy property. I bought a real estate in Italy where I do natural wine. When I bought it, I was invited by my very good friend to Portugal. I fell in love with the place, and Jack showed me a house next to this place, and said he would love to have me as his neighbor. But I couldn't buy this house, because I've just bought a place in Italy. So then he called me one day and asked, "Susanne, do you still have that beautiful table that you bought 20 years ago?" And I’m an eccentric collector of furniture, art and all kind of beautiful things. And he said, "You know, this table is worth a lot of money, you could buy that house!" So I thought and said, "Okay, darling, you can take the table, and I buy a house!" So that was really crazy. I've always been taking risks. I found stones that were actually too heavy for me to buy, because I'm a small company. But then I fell in love with it and had to have it. So I took a risk and said, "I'm gonna pay all my bills afterwards!" The reality is that you're so in love with the stone and you buy it. And then the bill comes...How we're doing it? I've been lucky and it worked out. So, taking risks is stressful sometimes, but it's a good thing.

– Another phrase is, "Arts needs to be patronized". Do you agree or not?

– Yes, artists need people that support them. We need people who can afford to make museums to show us to others. I've been looking for a few years to find the right building where I can show our 400 pieces.

– And where is it?

– In Geneva. I redecorated the building, which is just next to the Four Seasons hotel. So, if you ever come to Geneva, I'll be very happy to take you there, because I have great sculptures and crazy things that I've collected over the last 30 years. You might enjoy. So I think yes, artists need people to support them, because art gives us so much joy and so much interest. We're in the world that is very insecure now, therefore people need some distraction and joy in their lives, and artists bring that. But, at the same time, artists bring us back to reality, because they represent today’s world. If something wonderful happens, they might put in on a canvas. But if something horrible happens, they also depicture it, because it influences us in some ways.

The painting of Francesco Clemente

– During our life something happens by chance or due to our work. To your mind, how these things were balanced in your own life? Was it more by chance or because of your hard work?

– I think it's a mixture of both. I very much believe that, if you encounter somebody, it's often not by coincidence. It has to happen. But you are also a part of that process, because if you're open, you will probably have more people coming into your life. Because you're positive and you attract people.

The painting of Francesco Clemente 

– When is your birthday?

– April, 15. I'm Aries.

– If you could meet anyone in the world who had ever lived, who would you like to meet?

– Dalai Lama.

– What would you ask him about?

– About his wisdom and life experience.

– What do you value in men?

– Humor.

– A piece of advice you could give yourself at 18.

– Be yourself and have good fun! (Laughing.)

– Tell me something about yourself that could surprise people if they knew about it.

– I'm crazy and very curious.

– But I can see it, it's not a surprise for me. You look so happy!

– I am very happy. It is a good time of my life.

– What are your plans for the nearest future?

– In the nearest future I'm going back to Geneva, preparing all the pieces for Fall. And then the holidays.

– Where are you going?

– To Italy. We have to finish the winery.

– Do you sell wine?

– Yes, we do, absolutely. We do about 25 000 bottles of red wine. And it's called Caspri.

– Will you sell me the bottle?

– I'd love to.

Suzanne Syz
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Tatyana Pfaifer

The founder of Jewellery Masterpiece