Aside from celebrating the 10-year anniversary of KaterinaPerez.com at VicenzaOro in January, I also had the pleasure of attending a talk at the event dedicated to the relationship between gemstones and haute couture. The forum session, titled 'Dior Joaillerie - The secrets of couture that inspire jewellery', was hosted by Assogemme, the Italian Association of Precious and Related Stone Companies, and featured Dominique Dufermont as the guest of honour.
Before the talk, I had the chance to conduct an exclusive interview with Dominique about his more than 20-year career, which spans time at Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, and now, Dior. I wanted to find out more about his path to becoming an in-house gem specialist at such a notable home of luxury. There was also the small matter of how Dominique works with Dior Joaillerie's Creative Director, Victoire de Castellane, to bring the brand's latest high jewellery collections to fruition.
Continue reading to see some of the best bits from our conversation, which covered everything from childhood passions, re-cutting stones to enhance their character and discovering the perfect pair of matching gems.
Katerina Perez: When did you first discover a love of minerals and gemstones?
Dominique Dufermont: Well, it started at first with my dad, who was a mineral and fossil lover. He started to educate me when I was a young boy about minerals, about fossils, so that's why I decided to study geology first. During my studies, we had a conference on gemmology, and it was like a discovery. I said to myself, 'this is what I want to do'. So, I finished my studies in geology and switched to gemmology!
For me, in a gemstone, you have the best of nature. This is combined with a high [level of] know-how when transformed [by craftsmen], and in the end, you have something with a lot of symbolism. But it's also useless; it's the price you want to put on it. This combination is why I love gemstones!
KP: When selecting gemstones, are you using your intuition, knowledge or maybe a gut feeling? What do you rely on?
DD: At first, it's a feeling. When you open a gem folder, there is one – 'it is this one first' – you just know. You need to have a heartbeat for the stone, and then you check the quality; is it a high jewellery stone, or is it more a collection jewellery stone? Then you find a range, but first, it is to get an emotion from the stone. That's the most important. It's like a permanent quest: you find a beautiful stone, you enjoy it, you get poetry from the stone, and you are fed by this. When I select nice stones, I feel happy. But what I like is what's coming next, and it's not only about the top stones, top diamonds, and top emeralds but also ornamental materials. For example, when I find a new piece of Namibian chalcedony, I feel very lucky because this material is hard to find now, especially this blue colour, this translucency. When you have something unusual, you know, and that is what motivates me to go on.
KP: From a practical perspective, do you normally choose a stone to fit a Dior design, or does the design sometimes flourish because you have discovered a set of amazing gems?
DD: We mainly work on design after [sourcing] the stone. But it could be both ways; it depends. Victoire de Castellane is in love with colours, she likes to play with colours, and sometimes she starts with a centre stone, and then we need to find the other ones to play around with. She is very open to discussion, so we can propose and have an exchange of ideas. Also, when I find a beautiful stone, I like to present it to her first to get her feeling; if she doesn't like the stone, I won't retain it because she's the one she has to get inspired by the stone. I'm more like the technical part, in a sense.
KP: Do you ever recut gemstones to perfectly match a design, or if you feel it has greater potential?
DD: Yes, at Dior, we have this liberty. If I find a stone of good material and good colour but the cut is so-so, I can improve it. That's something I like a lot. I used to work with a cutter at an atelier just after my jewellery studies, so I really like this when you can make improvements to get the best out of the material.
KP: Are there any memorable gemstones that you have seen in your career at Dior?
DD: There is one, La Montaigne, an intense yellow diamond of 88.88 carats. It is the combination of it being a very big stone and a very good cut to achieve this perfect number. The last one I have in mind – a wonderful and hypnotic white diamond – I cannot talk about it; it is still a surprise! It is something we are working on for a client.
KP: What would you say are some of the challenges you are facing right now when hunting for gems?
DD: Looking for beautiful sapphire pairs, couples. With sapphires, it sounds easy to find, but the quality we are looking for in high jewellery is extremely high, so to find nice pairs – a couple – is very complicated. As soon as you get to fancy shapes like pears, and you want to find a beautiful match at three carats per stone, it is not so easy. When you want perfect matching colours or cutting, that is a permanent quest. One might be deeper than the other and look darker, so the fire, the display of colour, won't be the same. And we want to, as far as possible, reach perfection. You must respect the material and also be very demanding of the quality you are looking for.
KP: Have you spotted any gemstone trends in recent years?
DD: From what we've witnessed from the last month, there was a focus on top rubies. We were quite successful with beautiful rubies, maybe because red is the colour of Dior and there's a link there, but rubies were very good. I love spinels, and it is my personal quest to look for the best ones. We can see there is still education needed [for clients]. When you reach a certain price in jewellery, people tend to focus on the classics but to explain why a 10-carat Mahenge spinel could also be an investment [needs to be] communicated more. Some markets are more advanced than others in this.
KP: Do you think this is happening and that clients are more clued up on what they're looking at and more open to buying different gemstones?
DD: I think so. High jewellery is very specific, and people understand that it is not only gold and stones but a piece of art. And when you have a branded piece of art with a signature on it, not only Dior but all the jewellery maisons, this adds more value and more interest. We can see in the Chinese market, for example, with the interest in estate jewellery and how this market is now more knowledgeable on names, locations, and the types also of new production in high jewellery. Clients know Suzanne Belperron, but they also know the latest signature of Van Cleef, Dior or Cartier. I think people are now focussing on creativity.
KP: The perception of buying gemstones is someone like yourself travelling the world and going to offices in far-flung locations, but what is it like in reality?
DD: I am not buying so much on the market because it is very hard to find the quality you want. You need to work with a network of providers who know you, know your taste and can propose stones to you. I share a lot with the people I work with to explain what I am looking for, the price range, and the quality. I do attend the marketplace, however, to keep an eye on things like VicenzaOro and Tucson and to get the chance to pick something I wouldn't have had in mind. I always want to have room for that. When you're moving around, having some meetings, selecting stones, and you're working in the alleys when suddenly your eye is caught by something, and it's a feeling that I love. You say, 'ahh, this, let's have a look!' To leave the door open to this, to not be locked in your certainties… you always must challenge yourself.
Now, jewellery is booming; all the maisons are working very well and are very successful, so it's very exciting. But the counterpart is that it's more challenging to find top stones. High jewellery maisons are [searching for] the same range of quality so it's a kind of friendly competition… but you want to have the first sight of a stone. In this situation, yes, my relationships are more than important. In the end, we all share the same passion, so it's not just about the trade; it's about sharing a moment, talking about the stone while having it on the table and saying, 'look at the cut, look at the material,' or 'it's from this origin, it's a long time since we saw something like this,' you know, it's really sharing about stones first.
KP: You have found synergies and built professional relationships; do you feel it is important to pass this along?
DD: Yes, that's why I want to leave my door open. I remember when I was a young buyer… you need to find people to help you, to educate you, to push you. I am very lucky to work in this beautiful Maison, but I also feel it is my duty to help other people entering this industry because, in the end, we share the same passion, so that's why it's important also to help others.
It's easy to forget about the many people who make high jewellery possible when staring at a finished creation. I hope my conversation with Dominique brings you inspiration and ideas about where your passion for minerals could take you in the future.