Frédéric Zaavy

It is with great sadness that we advise that Frédéric Zaavy, the Parisian jeweller, passed away on September 15th 2011 in Paris. He designed and made Fabergé’s collection of high jewellery which was unveiled at the company’s re-launch on 9th September 2009.

Not only was this Fabergé’s first collection of high jewellery since 1917, but Frédéric Zaavy was also appointed a Fabergé workmaster, the first such appointment since the Russian Revolution. It had been thought that Frédéric’s treatment for cancer in late 2008 had been successful. Unfortunately it returned with vengeance in the summer of 2011.

Tatiana Fabergé, great granddaughter of Peter Carl Fabergé commented upon hearing the news, ‘Like my great grandfather, he was an artist-jeweller who worked with both precious and semi-precious stones and combined superb craftsmanship with an eye for design and colour combinations. Consequently he took the jeweller’s art to a new plateau. He will be greatly missed.’

Katharina Flohr, Fabergé’s Creative and Managing Director, who worked very closely with Frédéric explained why his work was so special, ‘It was his dedication to perfection and the sensitivity seen through the eye of a painter who painted with stones. It was – and indeed still is – the emotional engagement that you have when you hold a piece of his work in your hands.’

The following is based on an interview with John Andrew, a Fabergé Heritage Council Member, in the summer of 2008

Frédéric Zaavy was born in Paris on October 9th 1964. He was the third generation of a family of diamond merchants. After a classic French education in which he undertook courses at several art schools including the École des Arts Appliqués and the École des Beaux Arts, he decided not to enter the family business.

Instead, at the age of 20 he decided to travel the world. ‘I was determined to be financially independent’, he told me, adding, ‘I had almost no money to take with me, so I was forced from the very beginning to quickly improve my rudimentary knowledge of stones.’ He learnt about rough precious stones and rough diamonds in a number of countries in Africa and South East Asia, including India. ‘I also became heavily involved with dealing in polished rare coloured stones and large polished diamonds, including coloured ones, in New York, Tel Aviv, Antwerp and Bangkok’, he revealed. He continued, ‘At the age of 23 I was already well known in the world of rare stones. Even at that time I was sometimes buying and selling stones for over three million dollars each.’

So, how did he progress from dealing in rare stones, to making jewellery? He explained, ‘The turning point came in 1994. In that year I decided to combine my knowledge and expertise in rare stones with my artistic streak by creating one-of-a-kind jewellery pieces. At this time I was living between New York, Bangkok and Paris. Having made the decision, I set about learning about and mastering jewellery techniques in Paris. Two years later I established my first atelier there.’

The new workshop comprised Frédéric, a master jeweller and a master setter. However, by 2002 there were six master jewellers and four master setters. ‘Since the beginning I have been totally independent with regards to my artistic style. I believe that I created a new definition of craftsmanship in the world of jewellery making’, he told me. ‘Over the years I have developed a network of private clients and knowledgeable jewellery collectors in the US, South East Asia, Japan and Europe.’

Frédéric Zaavy signed a contract of exclusivity with Fabergé on April 22nd, 2008. The company purchased his existing collection of 45 pieces outright and commissioned further creations so that approximately 100 pieces would be available for the 2009 launch. Following the payment of further monies, Fabergé therefore becoming his benefactor, on July 1st 2008 he signed a new rental contract for a larger atelier and offices near Place Vendôme, Paris and recruited new master jewellers as well as setters. Since 2008 Fabergé has taken delivery of 134 pieces designed and made by Zaavy. At the time of his death, a further eight pieces were in the process of being crafted for Fabergé in his atelier.


It is always good to have some serendipity. In May 2007 Tatiana Fabergé recommended Frédéric Zaavy to Fabergé – indeed, images of his work were shown at a seminar the company held that month. While the Fabergé project had developed beyond the embryo stage, it was still a fledgling concern with no CEO being identified, yet alone recruited. The months past and the team grew. In early February 2008, Tatiana met Katharina Flohr, then the company’s recently appointed Creative Director met for the first time. During a conversation following their meeting, the two were discussing jewellers. Katharina said, ‘And of course there is that brilliant one who exhibited in New York last autumn’, there was the briefest of pauses while she searched her memory for the name. ‘You mean Frédéric Zaavy?’, Tatiana asked. She did and the two then enthused about his creations. Tatiana suggested that the time was ‘right’ to meet him.

Later that month Frédéric presented his collection to Fabergé in London. One member of the team was moved to tears; Sean Gilbertson, a main director, rang his wife and suggested she come immediately as there was some incredible jewellery to see. It is fair to say that there was a definite WOW factor with the 45 pieces Frédéric showed. However, there was a lot more. Like Carl Fabergé, Frédéric is an artist-jeweller and was regarded in certain quarters as the most talented one of his generation.

In 2008, some of those with cognisance in this field regard him as the ‘new’ JAR (Joel Arthur Rosenthal, the elusive Parisian jeweller whom is very selective to whom he sells his creations). Although FZ’s reputation was beginning to grow – for example, he featured in the American edition of Vogue during March 2008, together with other rising jewellers – he was still relatively undiscovered, which clearly was beneficial to Fabergé, as indeed it was for Frédéric’s link-up with the company.

And the rest was history. Katharina worked closely with Frédéric approving his final designs for the additions to the core of the collection and making frequent visits to his atelier to watch the creations progress.


The following are three extracts from an interview with Frédéric Zaavy (FZ) by John Andrew (JPA), a Fabergé Council Member. It took place at Frédéric’s atelier in Paris on March 27th 2009.

Part 1
All these millions of stones I am using are like musicians in front of me that I am conducting. Now I am about to basically bring the symphony together.

JPA: Earlier you were talking about stones and stones are ‘all impressions’. What do you mean by this?

FZ: I believe Fabergé could have said the same thing. I have the proof of it. When he did the Mosaic Egg, the colours that are there are impressions. It means a few things. Obviously first of all to me colours are connected to impressions. They are related to my own impressions. Obviously as well, my definition of colours has something to do with what they call impressionism because to me there are two very important things here – colour and light. The connection between colour and light is impression. So, for example, I want to create in my future work examples of impressionism. What do I mean by that? Sometimes, I would like to use green that will look like red. So how come somehow light or shadow could be described as a blue colour when it is actually black? This is where impressionism comes to work. Of course, to me stones are impressions. You see, I am behind every stone that is set here. My people, my setters, my jewellers are working with their hands and connected with my decisions on every single piece. To me every stone has its importance. I am not just saying that to make a beautiful story out of this discussion. I really mean it. For example, I feel sure you will remember on the mochette some vibrant colours rise. This is totally about impressionism. About my impression towards the piece and towards my world.

JPA: I like the idea that every stone has its importance because in one very rare interview that Fabergé gave he was talking about stones and a particular garnet, I can’t remember its exact name, he was saying people don’t know this particular stone but the colour is absolutely fantastic. A pyrope I think. There were two kinds, one that was easy to obtain and the other that was difficult. The rarer of the two had the better colour. Is it the intensity of colour, even from stones in the same family [that appeals]?

FZ: Oh the world of gemstones is extraordinary. Crystalisation is an extraordinary phenomena in gemstones. For me it is the most extraordinary of all. This ability that nature brings into gemstones. The ability of crystalising colour and almost soul almost spirit, it is extraordinary. Yes, you could say oh it shines beautifully because it is very much crystalised. Crystalisation is something else it is much deeper than that. You could compare crystalisation to someone’s soul. Its vibrating. That is extraordinary. When you come to know stones well enough that you can recognise individuals, it is incredible.

JPA: You said earlier everyone is passionate about stones. But you are ultra passionate about stones. Whereas…

FZ: I could say stones talk to me. How does that work and what does it mean? It could mean many things. Again we could talk about vibration, energy. You could talk about…… It’s a huge question here. Is it there because of me or is it simply there? I don’t know. I think it is just there. It is what you can find in it that raises the level. It is there I believe. You know, sometimes I use such small stone 0.6mm. It is almost nothing. So extremely small. But, it has such power. Sometimes we put a little dot of you know of someone. Those stones to me are individual. I said stones are impressions. Stones are impressions, yes. They are vibrating, they are oxygen to a piece. They are also my expression.

What else could I say? I could talk for hours about stones.

JPA: On a lighter side, could you say how you got interested in stones?

FZ: When I said that stones talk to me, the truth is in my life with stones I have had extraordinary stones coming to me in a very natural way. I never had to force anything to have in my hand extraordinary stones. They are coming. I don’t know how to explain it.

JPA: You attracted them.

FZ: No, we don’t have to be too over dramatic on that. May be its part of my destiny to be so much connected with it. I don’t know. It would have been easier and simpler if I had just used oil instead of stones to do my work. There is something about this mineral life, substance which is what is crystalisation about that drives me so much. I have to say I have a personal attraction to it. Why is so? Why am I not using a different medium for my work?

JPA: Can’t answer that. Didn’t you start working with stones and then became a jeweller?

FZ: Yes, II started with paintings, then I went on to stones. I was very attracted when I was young to this world of stones. To me it was mysterious as much as difficult, not to say impossible. That was there to get me excited.

JPA: It was a challenge.

Z: Yes, stones are challenging, but for me it is not…. Hopefully it happens to all of us in our life to be fortunate enough to do something that you want to do. And this connection in stones in my life was like that. It is something natural, it is a part of myself. It is not something that I have done to make a living. I have done it with great necessity, not financially-wise, but oxygen-wise. It is like music to me. I could no live without music. Well, I cannot live without stones.

I want to talk to you a little bit about where I stand right now. I cannot simply say the cliché that I am in a new chapter of my life. It is not what I mean. Actually every day I transform myself towards a particular result, but what I am about to do right now is becoming totally myself and free to accomplish what I have to accomplish in jewellery. Of course I have done many things until today. But what I am about to make now is again different. And I think now stones are going to help me do that. Why I say that is because I think…. All these millions of stones I am using are like musicians in front of me that I am conducting. Right now we have done all these rehearsals for many, many years and now I am about to basically bring the symphony all together.

That’s where I come to another type of connection/parallel, the avant-garde. Of course, very sensitive and personally related to some of the artists who came from Russia at the very very beginning of last century who went through Europe and reached Paris (before the Russian Revolution). It is the result that I found extraordinary. Because these Russian artists reached Paris and connected with extraordinary artists of the West. And that fusion was unique in the art world I believe. The fusion.

In my work I am about to talk about synthesis. It is the synthesis in my own self that I have to reach out now. When I talk about making pieces according to constructivism or modernism. I am not talking about reproducing anything that has been made in the past. No, no, no, not at all. I am talking about definition in art that are basically transforming in my work and reaching again the surface. Now, there is a very strong logic into it. Well of course colouration is something that I have done for many years. It is in development and may be yes we could say that logically speaking this development had to bring my work to such definition. The avant-garde coming from Russia at the beginning of last century was about colouration definition reaching a higher level of understanding. This is about what I am about to face now as a challenge and a language.

Part 2
I think it is a parallel between physical task and mental research – it is very much a war that you are imposing on yourself to reach art through jewellery.

FZ: Why is it that the only artistic field that is almost never artistic is jewellery? Because I have to say, it is most probably the most difficult thing of all to apply artistic vision on substance and on metal and with stones etc - making jewellery. It is very, very difficult. It is like a combat really….. it’s a battle. Lalique was a great master of it. You have to basically conceive something which is very much material which has a definite substance to highlight the beauty of a person and at the same time to be carrying a very strong artistic and personal definition. It is very complicated. If you were to ask a sculptor or a painter to do that for someone it is almost mission impossible. It’s the mixture between the inner world of art and this outside world which is what jewellery is about. And you can sense this battle in Fabergé. Why in the history of jewellery, a few of them (jewellers) decided to spend their days, weeks, years, battling with artisanal (craft) problems, trying so hard and so much to lift their level of craftsmanship to extreme levels. Why is this so? I think it is a parallel between physical task and mental research – it is very much a war that you are imposing on yourself to reach art through jewellery. Because jewellery to start with is not made to allow an artist to reach such high levels. I might not express myself well, but somehow I find there is something about it with Fabergé. Fabergé is known for his almost unsurpassed level of craftsmanship. Style is a different subject, but he was so concerned about involving himself to reach and master the extraordinary craftsmanship. And it is very simple to recognise it in his work. I mean it is obvious as far as craftsmanship is concerned he is really extraordinary. Why to be attracted so much to complexity and difficulty? To master such a level you have to go through pain and difficulty. Actually, if I may say, I have this attraction towards difficulty. If we could have for a few minutes here a vision with the psychological angle to this work I think it would be interesting to say that there must be a link/relationship between the artisan (craftsmanship) and art, they are two words that are almost unified, but they are not. And also bring us to the idea of transformation.

JPA: What is your objective when you are creating in your mind a jewel – what are you trying to achieve?

FZ: I try to feel better. Actually for me I unload weight on my own self through this work. Somehow I have a very Proust definition of my work. I unload really. It is about to connect. Eventually to reach a connection and reaching somehow freedom. When you unload when you get to balance yourself with the outside world by making something that is floating. I think it helps. I can’t help it, I have to do it.

JPA: What do you mean by floating?

FZ: I mean a perfect connection between substance, senses and intimacy. This is very relative and personal maybe. But this is really how I feel about it.

JPA: I feel when talking to you now that when you are making something a part of you goes into what you are making.

FZ: Yah. And a part of me goes somewhere else. Again this idea of battle is there somehow. Battle. Let’s try to find a few words to describe it. Battle is good. Release is good. You reach a particular state when you are basically bringing to the surface a piece of jewellery which is either going to float or disappear. It is either disappearing or floating on the surface of life. Why I use the word floating is because something of substance and distinct weight can float like it is almost weightless. For me floating is also very spiritual – it is to be able to – with the spirit – be able to bring something of substance to become something spiritual. I don’t know what I am saying to you is clear to you. This is this artistic transformation, metamorphosis that brings me to become who I am really. That is why I come back to what I was telling you in the very beginning. Fabergé made pieces – a little animal – whatever the piece – it has its own weight to it. But when you have it in your hand, it is not heavy any more. It is just right. It is like what in the Renaissance they would describe as the golden ratio. Something of this resonance in what I trying to say here. When someone involves himself so much in a difficult work such as jewellery. I mean you can definitely feel, obviously, physical results. One of the things is the ratio between weight and volume. That I don’t get with Lalique. Lalique made extraordinary drawings. What he did in jewellery was beautifully mastered, but it was just out there already. It didn’t have the same connection with substance that some others have. He may not have had to deal with this battle.

Part 3
Many of Fabergé’s pieces that have a sense of humour were coming from or addressed to nobility and representing also noble characters representing the world of a noble state of mind.

FZ: There are two things that I have noticed very often in Fabergé’s work. One is sense of humour and the other is clin d’oeil (wink). Basically it is very much the same, but is more subtle.

I would connect a sense of humour to nobility. Many of Fabergé’s pieces that have a sense of humour were coming from or addressed to nobility and representing also noble characters representing the world of a noble state of mind. For example, my seahorse, there is something about that. He has great charisma, he’s definitely very noble, there is something royal about him and he has a great sense of humour. When he sees you he looks at you and when you look at him there is something happening that makes you somehow feel better and lighter.

JPA: Cute as well. Is there a smile on his face?

FZ: Yah, a smile. There are many different things. A smile is a huge subject.

JPA: So the seahorse laughing at a joke or…

FZ: No. It is nothing about a joke. It is about being above and being just and kind enough not to feel. Most of the people who will look at this seahorse will feel handicapped. You can see that he has an extraordinary life and he feels so peaceful about it and many people will envy that. He’s so noble, he’s not a stranger to you. He helps you as well.

My ideas are not coming from anywhere – they are there in truth. We always imagine that ideas are coming from some place. I will give you a philosophical view. It is not that it really comes from somewhere, it is how open you are with the vast, immense, open space in front of us, full of questions and visions.

JPA You obviously call on nature to a great extent.

FZ: It is not yet all behind me. Almost. I do flowers and animals. Many abstract things are coming. But flowers, yes. I love flowers. Very delicate flowers.  

Fabergé collections are available online or in the international boutiques.

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