Lebanese-born, Ralph Masri is known for being a globetrotter who lives between Lebanon, Canada, France, and the United Kingdom. For the love of jewellery, art and history, the jewellery designer graduated with a degree in Jewellery from Central Saint Martins in 2011, and shortly after he decided to return to his home country to set up his eponymous brand.
From Lebanon to Dubai and New York, Ralph Masri is making a buzz with his modern-looking pieces, so we caught up with the young designer at his Beirut showroom to find out more about the influences behind his passion for sculptural shapes and the steps to building his label’s strong identity.
We know that your parents are already part of the jewellery industry; did they have any influence on your decision to take part in the jewellery industry?
Yes, I did grow up in this environment but I must say my family never had anything to do with my decision. At first I never considered going into jewellery, but I have always been very artistic and creative as a kid, and I have always loved drawing and sketching, so I knew from the start that I wanted to do something creative. My first love was painting, but I realised that it is not realistic as a career so I decided to pursue a degree in graphic design at Central Saint Martins. Once I moved there and had my foundation year in London, this is where I realised I actually do love jewellery, and it is a field that I really enjoyed so I switched my degree. It happened organically, no one pushed me into the field, and my parents were shocked when I told them that I was going into jewellery after all. Once I graduated, I came back to Beirut to launch my own business.
What triggered your passion for jewellery?
There was no one trigger, it was the combined elements of everything that I loved. It combined creativity, drawing and sketching with working with my hands, like creating 3D models. I love working with my hands, and to this day I make my own jewellery. Even though I have craftsmen that I work with, I make all the prototypes and the original pieces, and then during production I collaborate with my craftsmen.
Tell us why do you lean more towards sculptural shapes and ancient cultures?
I am a history freak! I always loved history and architecture; these are my two main sources of inspiration. Especially our own heritage here in Lebanon and the Middle East tends to be my starting points. Again, it is very important for me to make my pieces look contemporary and have this universal appeal.
What makes your design process different than any other designers?
I don’t know if my process is different, but usually with me I have a moment of an epiphany, and this is my inspiration, so I have a moment where I love one thing and decide to research that one theme, which ends up being developed into a collection.
What is your take on the world of independent fine jewellers in the Middle East?
In the Middle East I think it is still very primitive, compared to how much fashion, music or film is evolving, when it comes to jewellery I believe we are very much behind. It is still an old-school industry; we don’t have institutes that teach jewellery. So, you don’t have a lot of young people getting into the field and starting their own thing unless their family is in it. Yes, in the Middle East I must say it is lacking and from an educational standpoint it is not being taught enough, but again on an international level you have a lot of fresh talents rising in fine jewellery.
Why did you decide to come back to Lebanon and not stay abroad in London? Do you have any regrets?
No, of course not! For one I think Lebanon is a great base and geographically it is close to Europe and not far from many other countries. However, from a production stand view we have amazing quality here and at a much lower cost. Plus, Beirut is my home; I came back for this reason because I like the feeling of being home and close to family. It made sense from every angle.
What is Ralph Masri’s Philosophy?
The most important thing is the identity of my work. I am less interested in sales and more interested with my work being coherent, and having a strong and recognisable identity.
Name one surprising secret talent that no one knows about you.
I am an amazing cook! Food is one of my other big passions of life, for me it is very comforting and it takes my mind off things.
In that case, what would be one type of cuisine you would live off?
I have a weakness for Asian food.
What is your biggest design inspiration for 2018?
My latest collection is called ‘Modernist’ inspired by modern architecture. You can see it is very geometric, minimalistic, and it also continues a story for the rest of my collection’s architectural spirit. I love statement pieces that are clean and simple.
How many collections do you produce a year?
Do you go by the Fashion Week schedules?
I didn’t before, but now I do. I am working with a representative in New York, who takes care of my press and sales outside the Middle East, and they represent all their designers in Fashion Week, so now if I want to be part of all this mix where all the buyers and press are there I have to commit to the schedule. So basically, I launch a big collection once a year, and every season introduce capsules of new colours and styles to the collection.
Who is the ideal Ralph Masri woman?
She is an independent woman with a bold taste who buys her own jewellery. With our brand, it is more about successful women spoiling themselves, because of the simplicity of the design, and it not necessarily the product a man would think of as a gift.
Name a role model you would want to wear your designs.
Queen Rania was one of them, and it actually ended up happening. I think she is a great role model for women, not only in the Arab world but internationally.
Which piece is your top seller or that you may call your signature piece?
My Arabesque Ring and Earrings, both had a lot of love from press and clients.
What is next for Ralph Masri?
The launch of my Modernist collection!
By Dana Mortada