A LEGACY OF GEMS
It’s telling that my interview with Nagib Tabbah, scion of the Lebanese jewelry dynasty, begins with a discussion of definition.
He’s been reading Maurice Saatchi’s concept of “one-word equity,” the idea that in the future, companies will be defined by a single word because people don’t have the time to read anymore. The writer in me rebels. Without words, how is genuine communication possible? But Tabbah’s enthusiasm is contagious. So what, I ask, is the word for the family business?
“I would say ‘Infinite.’ First, because creativity is infinite, it’s only limited by your imagination. Second, craftsmanship is also infinite, because you are always challenging those you create with, and finally because your clients want the pieces you make for them to be timeless, infinite.”
At Tabbah’s Karantina atelier, you’ll find cutters, polishers, goldsmiths and setters, every specialty needed to create a piece of jewelry from start to finish. In this respect, the house is unique, for these days, even most high-end jewelers outsource some of their work – usually the final setting of the stones – rather than retain all the necessary in-house specialists.
But then Tabbah is also one of the few high-end houses that still offer a bespoke service. Clients can have pieces custom-made, either of their own design or worked up with the house. The service accounts for a fraction of business, although being able to make a wedding necklace for say, Princess Charlene of Monaco, does burnish their credentials. And with the effective demise of high-end bespoke jewelry-making elsewhere, it also brings in clients from all over the world.
The bulk of business is in ready-made, whether these are high-end or casual pieces. The Beret ring, for example, is an icon that recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. Tabbah are jewelers who believe that because every piece serves as their calling card to the world, every piece must be worked to the best of their abilities, and so bespoke, high-end or casual, everything is made by the same craftsmen. “We don’t have a team that does the casual jewelry and another for the high-end. So the Beret ring is made by master craftsmen. I have the same person doing both, the most amazing craftsmanship for a casual ring.”
In the 155 years that the house of Tabbah has been making jewelry, tastes have changed radically, even in the world of high jewelry. The glittering designs of the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s are no longer fashionable, and most modern women aspire to be stylish rather than glamorous. Changing tastes do not mean that the desire for impeccably made pieces has diminished, but as jewelry has become more accessible, financially and conceptually, the work of the jeweler has also changed. These days, it isn’t enough to make something sumptuous, one also has to weave a story around it.
This is why the real jewel in the Tabbah crown may be the collective expertise amassed over the course of the past 150 years.
Aïshti by the Sea, Antelias, Ground Floor, T. 04 717 716 ext. 354
Allenby Street, Downtown Beirut, T. 01 975 777
Words by Warren Singh-Bartlett