There’s a reason that the standalone fine jewelry department at The Saks Shops at Greenwich is called The Vault. It contains some of the most glorious pieces anywhere by some of the biggest names in gems. Pre-COVID-19, shoppers would fly in from around the world just to make their selections.
Holding pride of place at the back and center of the store with a glass and amber boutique accompanied by an elegant gray room for trying on its creations is British-based Graff, celebrating 60 years of crafting precious stones into works that are often inspired by nature.
It is there that we meet Marc Hruschka, the recently appointed president and CEO of Graff USA, along with Graff store manager Stanley Luongo and sales associates Yuko Uchibori and Yasuko Luzzi. Painter Felicity Kostakis, WAG’s February cover subject, and Romona Norton — co-chairs of the Bruce Museum’s “Art of Design” fundraiser — are also on hand.
Delightful as this is, things weren’t supposed to happen this way. WAG was scheduled to cover Hruschka’s talk with Jill Newman, a contributing editor to Town & Country magazine, at the seventh annual “Art of Design Luncheon” March 12. But what was it that the poet Robert Burns said about the best-laid plans of mice and men often going astray?
The coronavirus had hit WAG country and the luncheon was rescheduled for September, with Hruschka once again slated to take part. But he and his team gamely and graciously agreed to meet with us. (This was before the tristate order to self-isolate.) Such is Graff’s commitment to the Bruce.
“From a brand perspective, if you look at the history of Graff and the design of Graff jewels, we’ve always seen jewelry as art,” Hruschka says, seated in the gray salon beneath a white floral design. “It feels as if it’s a natural fit with the Bruce.”
With a bone structure and physique as cut as any faceted diamond and 25 years in the luxury industry, Hruschka nonetheless displays a down-to-earth and easygoing manner as he discusses the process that turns precious stones — rubies, sapphires and emeralds but most famously diamonds — into Graff creations. The diamonds are primarily sourced from Africa.
“Every stone is touched by a Graff,” Hruschka says of this family business. “(Founder Laurence) Graff and his son Francois (global CEO) have the most exquisite eye for what is unique and special.”
The stones are cut and polished at three locations — two in Africa with the primary one in Antwerp, Belgium — before being shipped to the London atelier where they inspire gouache designs. The stones are then placed on paper and clay maquettes to see how they will look and sit on the body; mounted on hammered and beaten gold or platinum; and finally plated and polished.
The stones are actually polished several times in the creative process. At The Vault, they dazzle in cases and on the earlobes, necks, wrists and fingers of the ladies in attendance. Few Graff diamonds, however, have sparkled like the record-setting Graff Lesedi La Rona, which at 302 carats is the largest square emerald-cut diamond in the world. (It’s also the name of the company’s new collection of six fragrances at Harrods in London and due here later in the year.)
As grand as the Lesedi La Rona is, the eye is equally beguiled by the company’s botanical and butterfly inspirations. Besides Laurence Graff’s interest in fragrance and wine — the 11-year-old Delaire Graff Estate in South Africa includes a vineyard, where Graff wine is made and distributed, art from his personal collection, a spa, a restaurant and lodging — Hruschka says that “Mr. Graff has always included some examples of nature in his themes — flowers, with peonies being his favorite.” He notes that last year at Switzerland’s Baselworld jewelry expo, Graff presented its Peony Collection, which included a watch that looked like a diamond bracelet, arranged in a complex herringbone design. The peony “petals” glided aside to reveal white, pink and yellow pavé diamond dials.
“Whether peonies, king of flowers in China since the Tang Dynasty, heralding good fortune and a happy marriage, or Carissa blooms, Greek for ‘beloved,’ a native of South Africa with its pure, white, five petal blossom, both have flowered in fruitful collaborations between the designers and craftsmen at Graff,” Sarah Hue-Williams observes in an article for Graffiti: The Graff Magazine that’s illustrated with a floral suite of drop diamond earrings (18 carats), an open choker (54 carats) and a bracelet (seven carats).
But the company’s signature is the butterfly. As Hue-Williams writes: “This iconic motif has featured prominently in Graff’s history and, over the decades, the House has continued to delight with butterfly creations in many different guises,” as in a V-shaped diamond butterfly necklace (45 carats) and drop earrings (10 carats).
But will jewelry lovers care about this in the time of the coronavirus? Hruschka thinks they will want to hold on to something of value. “They will look at brands with legacy.”
Legacy is important to Hruschka. He is proud to work for a luxury jeweler that has such continuity, overseeing 10 of its 60 stores worldwide.
“There are only a handful of global brands that remain family owned and have that vertical integrity,” he says.
Perhaps one of the reasons this means so much to Hruschka is that he himself grew up in the business in Seattle and Texas.
“My dad was a master jeweler. My mom trained in design. I went to work with my father. He put me to work in those quiet moments. I grew up with filings and dust.”
Still, he says, “I never thought I’d be in it for a career.”
And yet, he has made a career in the luxury industry, mostly with such luxe jewelry brands as Cartier, Chopard North America, John Hardy, Tiffany & Co. and Van Cleef & Arpels as well as with Chanel and Montblanc.
He loves the tactile quality of jewelry — “having that tangible object.” Perhaps that’s what this Westerner also savors in the great outdoors. (A Greenwich resident for 15 years, he now divides his time with his wife and four children between Manhattan and a 20-acre spread in Austin, Texas.)
What he really loves about jewelry, though, can’t be put into a box with a bow and worn:
“We help people celebrate the moments in their lives. It’s an honor to be part of that.”