Suzanne Syz's Pop Art Inpirations
There is a strong dose of Pop Art humor mixed with whimsical childhood memories in Suzanne Syz’s jewelry designs: multi-colored enameled earrings in the shape of small Life Savers candies, a Smartiesbracelet so realistic you’ll want to eat each enamel piece, a pair of Hit the Bullseye earrings rendered in diamonds and black enamel with tiny darts in their center. The artistic influences are hardly surprising given Syz socialized with the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jeff Koons, and Julian Schnabel when she lived in New York back in the 1980s. These encounters led to a lifelong passion for contemporary art — Syz and her husband Eric have an impressive art collection of more than 700 contemporary works — and she readily acknowledges they have strongly influenced her own creativity, infusing her designs with a healthy dose of humor and joie de vivre that reflects her own bubbly personality. Talking to Syz about those early years in New York, one uncovers a treasure trove of art-related anecdotes and fond memories such as Syz walking into Annina Nosei’s gallery, while she was hanging Basquiat’s first show. “I had the opportunity to buy a piece, but although it was his first show, they were already quite expensive, like $1,200 for a painting, which would probably be worth the equivalent of $40,000 today … that was a lot of money for me at the time, and I didn’t buy any. If only I had,” she muses. Syz recalls mustering the courage to tell Andy Warhol she didn’t like the portrait he had made of her and her young toddler, prompting the Pop Art master to create a new one: “I had been to Andy’s studio and they had taken a lot of Polaroids of me and my son, Marc, but the final painting had me with my lips pinched, like most people in his paintings, and I really didn’t like it. I felt it wasn’t me, and I thought, ‘I’m paying good money for this, so I’m as well telling him how I feel.’ He asked me what I would like and I told him I just wanted myself laughing because the painting would be, one day, for my son and that’s the way I wanted him to remember me. So he took some new photographs and did a new one.”
Warhol came back with the portraits of her and her son in three different colors and told her she could have all of them thanks to her smile! The statuesque redhead says laughing has always been a big part of who she is, “so much so that Jean Michel [Basquiat] one time drew my teeth on a napkin. We’d been telling each other dirty jokes, and we were laughing like crazy and that’s when he drew them.” Born in Zurich, Syz briefly dabbled with modelling in Paris, before moving to New York in the early 1980s with her soon-to-be husband. Swiss Gallery owner Bruno Bischofberger started introducing the couple to some of the New York artists he was championing back in Europe: “I lived downtown, we’d just married, and Bruno [Bischofberger] was a great friends of ours, and still is, and he introduced us to the group of artists he was working with.” As the pair met artists they liked, they also started commissioning works from them – Julian Schnabel did a portrait of her, while Francesco Clemente did one of her husband Eric, and McDermott McGough did a portrait of the family. After a spell working as an interior designer, Syz turned to jewelry design in the mid-1990s almost by necessity. “I couldn’t find high-end jewelry pieces that I liked and matched my personality. I felt everything was making me look older. I wanted something playful and a bit funky, something that would take the seriousness out of jewelry but still use the best stones and materials,” she explains.
She started making pieces for herself, like a pair of Sun and Moon earrings, but when Elizabeth Taylor, with whom she was having lunch one day, literally bought a turquoise necklace off her neck, she felt it was time to make it a business. Right from the start Syz decided to focus on one-of-a-kind pieces while reaching out to craftsmen in Switzerland for their sense of precision and perfection, certain the “Made in Switzerland” label would be important to her firmly held desire to champion “honest luxury.” Arguing that clients deserve to get truly unique pieces when they are paying top dollar for it, she explains, “It’s my obsession to offer unique pieces, because I think in the niche that I am, everybody knows each other somehow, and who wants to go to a party and see the same jewelry on someone else? Every piece is expensive to make and expensive to buy and I don’t believe in buying something expensive if it’s not unique.” For Syz, luxury is not only about big stones, but about using innovative materials to create unusual designs. For her most recent creations, many pieces employ titanium in different colors. “I have been working with titanium for about seven or eight years. I love the metal because it’s as light as a feather but very strong, so it gives me the opportunity to work the metal very differently than gold,” she explains, adding that that lightness allows her to play with large stones and scale without making the jewelry too heavy.
Her ability to mix materials shines in a sculptural titanium cuff which encases irregular, large, thin slices of diamonds, and in a delicate earring using ultra-thin slices of white jade with white diamonds to create the lace-like earrings set in titanium. Beautiful large spinels dangle inside diamond-studded cage-like pendant earrings, circular rows of micro-pearls are extended outward from an emerald on a ring, while diamonds mounted en tremblant on titanium create a firework effect. While many pieces have a childishly playful whimsy — earrings take on the form of toy windmills, a green frog lives inside a royal golden crown — many have been directly inspired by some of the artwork Syz has acquired over the years. Carsten Höller’s Giant Triple Mushroom, 2010, has been reinterpreted as a toadstool diamond and rubies brooch, Louise Bourgeois’s Spider Woman, a drypoint on handmade paper, revisited as diamond web earrings with bejewelled yellow spiders and Marshmallow Sofa by George Nelson translates into a Smarties ring. “‘Suzanne Syz is a free spirit who speaks through her jewels,” says François Curiel, president of Christie’s Asia, “Her creations are a feast to the eyes and such a joy to behold … beautiful, delicate yet bursting with colors and energy, quirky with just the right sense of humor and sexiness. It takes a true artist to balance these qualities, and transform them into attractive and wearable jewels.”
As first published in Blouin Lifestyle Magazine