Genius behind the gems: Meet Julien Riad Sahyoun
Julien Riad Sahyoun is loved for unique designs and glittering aesthetics – but the man behind the brand believes his jewels tell stories
Stories, for Julien Riad Sahyoun, have always evoked a sense of deep connection to the world; a notion he constantly strives to express through his jewellery. But as to where his own tale began, one must look to his birthplace, Morocco.
"Growing up, I always had this attraction to nature," the jeweller says, in his soft, musing tone. "I can remember myself as a little kid just digging in the soil and collecting rocks for size."
Unaware that this childhood fascination would later bloom into a career, Julien left Morocco at the age of 19 to study business administration in France, returning home a few years later to work in the family business.
"I thought that was what was expected of me," he says. "But it actually wasn't my thing. I was in charge of heavy construction machinery and I didn't take a lot of pleasure in doing it."
So, at the age of 23 and to the surprise of his family, he moved to New York to study applied jewellery arts in the Gemological Institute of America, then moving to California for the graduate jeweller programme, which he says was where the real work began: "[It was] creating from scratch, setting the stones, you know, the real work. I covered all the activities, built my passion, and that's what actually got me here."
"Here", for Julien, means many things: it means having his jewellery worn by Britney Spears and Princess Charlene of Monaco. It means designing a mask for the Animal Ball in 2016 and having it displayed at the V&A museum. It means being shortlisted as new designer of the year for the UK Jewellery Awards 2017. It also means having his jewellery collections sold in the esteemed Wolf & Badger stores in Mayfair and New York.
When asked whether all of this attention adds pressure to his job, Sahyoun laughs and offers his own interpretation. "It's more like a positive motivation," he says. "It just makes me want to create more and tell more stories. I'm really happy with the feedback so far and that's what makes me want to do more."
If his previous work is anything to go by, "more" is something to look forward to. Julien's three collections each have their own aesthetic, embodying his signature textured style while standing completely distinct from one another. Laid out on dark velvet sheets across a large table, diamonds and varying golds catch the radiance of the room. The scene feels as if it has been plucked from the pages of a fairytale, as we sit surrounded by crimson cushions and porcelain teacups.
"People love wearing jewellery because it's beautiful. You can use the most precious stones in the world," Julien says, as he holds up his Skin necklace. Made up of 18k black, white and rose gold, the piece, worth £6,200, glitters like a treasure. One wonders if it is named the Skin necklace because you'd never want to take it off.
"What I'm trying to do with each collection is tell a story," he continues. "For me, it's very important to share my values with people because this creation represents me. And you can know a designer because you know their designs, but you can know them even better if you know what kind of message they want to deliver. And I think that's a beautiful thing."
The message that Julien's first collection delivers is one of unity. Entitled Just Revolution Skin, it represents putting differences aside to live as one. His second, Just Rebel Star, celebrates individuality. The rings, which look like crowns, are handmade and completely unique in shape and diamond placement, which means each piece is one of a kind.
Julien's most recent collection, Just Radiant Sun, pays tribute to what he calls "our most precious star – the Sun". The recurring design of its pendant commands attention in size, shape and sparkle. To emulate the iridescence of sunlight, Julien used diamonds alongside black mother of pearl to catch the light and send it bouncing back through a vibrant spectrum of colour.
"I wanted something that shows energy, like the turning of a vortex. Most of the things that are created by nature are created in this kind of spiral movement, and that is the effect that I actually wanted to show. Just the idea of bringing something to life with this burst of energy - life would not be possible without the sun," he says.
Speaking of bringing things to life, Julien's next collection will be an embodiment of his three core values – love, friendship and the soul. 3ternity, a unisex range, will feature an infinity symbol on most pieces including, to everyone's delight, skinny rings.
When I tell Julien he might just be a storyteller as well as a jeweller, he laughs. "I would be delighted if people were wearing my pieces not only because they love the designs, but because they connect to the stories," he says. "I think, at this point, if I could just transmit that, then I can say my job has been done well."