Gaia Repossi and How Opulence Can Live in the 21st Century
Inside the Mind and Studio of the Third-Generation Jeweler, Who Discusses Her Influences in Travel, Art, and Architecture
Interview: Jina Khayyer
Photography: Jeremy Everett
Gaia Repossi is the only child of the master jeweler Alberto Repossi, which puts pressure on an heir. There was no one else who could take over the family business, which was founded in Turin in 1920 by her grandfather, Constantin Repossi. But young Gaia did not feel intimidated. Gifted in drawing like her father, she studied painting at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris to become an artist. It was only once she started studying painting that she began to warm to the idea of being involved in the family business. Encouraged by her father to follow her own path, Gaia started slowly working at the firm while continuing her studies. She was 19 years old when she signed her first idea for Repossi and insisted on styling a diamond necklace with a t-shirt—a high-low mix never seen before in haute joaillerie. Back then, her father told a newspaper, “Times have changed. Mothers are now copying daughters in fashion, not daughters their mothers.” In 2007, at the age of 21, Gaia was appointed creative director and designer of all Repossi collections, turning the label into the most wanted fine jewelry brand of the moment and casually earning her master’s in archaeology and anthropology along the way.
Photographed at work by her partner Jeremy Everett, Gaia Repossi was visited by Jina Khayyer at her home in Paris to discuss her artistic approach, why pink diamonds are so precious, and how opulence can be redefined in the 21st century.
Jina Khayyer: Gaia, jewelry had the stigma of being a trophy. A present given by men only. You proposed something that became a self-buying product for women.
Gaia Repossi: That was my intention, and I’m glad it worked. At first I didn’t want to do get involved. I wasn’t interested in jewelry, because it felt like a very dusty business. I started as a consultant and worked more like an art director trying to de-dust the image of jewelry. But then I got inspired. Jewelry should not just be a decoration. It lives with you.
Your first hit series and an ongoing bestseller are the Berbere rings and ear cuffs. Where does your tribal influence come from?
I grew up in an era when wearing nothing was modern and bold. I was always interested in the African continent and in tribes, especially in Berber tribes. Through my archaeology and also anthropology studies, I learned a lot about the meaning behind tribal symbols. So while thinking of jewelry, I turn to tribes and their narratives. Every ornament is speaking. Berber women have these beautiful, minimal tattoos on their fingers, just black lines. When designing my first series I had these tattoos in my mind. And that’s how it was born. My work is mostly an echo of my mind.
“Jewelry should not just be a decoration. It lives with you.”
I read that you once said, “I grew up seeing my mother wearing the jewels that my father created, thinking of her.” Who do you design for?
I ask myself this question every day—who is that woman? We have a lot of clients that are very wealthy, but are attracted to things that are different or new in the world. And we have the modern, hard-working woman who wants to treat herself. When you’re responsible for a brand, you think of the markets, even if you don’t want to have this commercial point of view. But if you travel in a country and you see the different sizes of the hands it unconsciously comes.
Tell me about the different sizes of the hands.
Berber hands are long. But then you go to Japan and you realize they don’t just have smaller hands, they generally like small things.
So when you’re traveling, are hands the first thing you check?
Not only. But yes, to acknowledge the different hand shapes is very important. But I currently have a new frustration: opulence.
How do you find modernity in opulence? Sometimes the things that don’t match together are the most interesting. Often our imagery of a powerful woman is masculine. But what if she is masculine and glamorous at the same time? I think those opposites create something interesting. I am trying to combine opulence with a reduced modernity. I don’t know how that’s going to work. But I’m working on it.
Where do you start when creating a new piece?
It always starts with a pattern—a shape, a sculpture, a drawing, a grid. It can be the way some kid in Ethiopia wears an earring, or a line of a Frank Lloyd Wright house. My references come from contemporary art, and the effects of metal within modern sculpture and architecture. I take inspiration from the works of Alexander Calder, Cy Twombly, Franz West, Richard Serra, and Le Corbusier, as well as from the brutalist, minimalist, and Bauhaus movements. I like blending and pushing the boundaries between architecture and traditional high jewelry techniques. I also like working through systems. So one idea can be done in infinite variations. If we take the Berbere series as an example, it comes in more than 1,500 variations: one row, two rows, three rows, seven rows. Thin row, thick row, colors, pavé. I like the idea of infinite possibilities.
Do you do all the drawings yourself?
Yes. But my hand drawings only give the direction. It’s very rare that I send it to the atelier and the atelier goes, “Oh, we have it!” The 3D drawers on the team—there are only two, and one of them is an architect—develop my drawings. And then we work with jewelry carvers who carve wax by hand to get a final print.
Where are the Repossi workshops?
I still work with my grandfather’s atelier in Valenza, near Turin. It’s a gold craft town where he started his business. But we also work with a bigger atelier in Valenza. We produce 85% of the jewelry in Italy.
And where do you produce the other 15%?
In France. We have one workshop here in Paris. The head of the atelier has been with us for almost 40 years.
“I currently have a new frustration: opulence.”
Your latest collection is called “Staple,” which you promote for men too, modeled by your partner, the artist Jeremy Everett. This is the very first unisex high jewelry piece. How did you come up with this idea?
The idea was born a year ago. The editors of Fantastic Man came to my office and said, “Can you please do an earring for men!” At first, I was like, “No, sorry, it’s too difficult, I don’t do earrings for men.” But then I talked to Jeremy about it and asked him to help me to think of it. Jeremy has this big scar on the ear, so we decided to work on stitches and straight lines.
“Serti Sur Vide” is probably the best example of your sensibility, blending modernism and tradition. You use classic teardrop solitaire diamonds but mount them in a super modern way. Is it difficult to get your father on board for expensive ventures like this?
No, not at all. He pushed me to come up with a fresh idea for a classic and chic solitaire ring. My father collects stones. So we had this beautiful 23 carat diamond for a long time, and he asked me to mount it. When I saw it, I was like, “Oh no, I can’t do that.” It is so hard to work with a solitaire. Hard to make it not look conservative. I tried to reduce it—tried the stone here, then tried it there. And then I tried two together, mounted as minimal as possible, which looked amazing. I also wanted the piece to blend in with the color of the skin, that’s why we used rose gold. I wanted to create a solitaire you could wear without showing off. I even lately mounted rubies with rose gold. Which you are not supposed to do, because the rose gold brings the ruby down.
What kind of gold should the ruby normally be mounted with?
What sells the most? Rings, cuffs, earrings?
It used to be rings. But then the ear cuffs started being this new thing. Even too much. Now everyone wants ear cuffs.
Do you prefer white, red, or yellow gold?
I like red gold, which is our rose gold. I like it because it blends with the skin.
Pink, white, or black diamonds?
I love pink diamonds.
Because they are rare and very difficult to find. And because they blend with the skin. I like jewelry that can be invisible.
Interview: Jina Khayyer
Photography: Jeremy Everett