I’ve spent some time in Geneva, Switzerland, and it is certainly a place of beauty, elegance and class. But if it’s the rough cut side of the diamond you’re after, it’s not easy to find. Nestled beneath the Swiss Alps where the clouds serenade the high peaks and the snow sparkles in the sun, lies the most expensive city in the world. There’s international influence, luxury, wealth, the United Nations, fifteen dollar coffee, Calvanist reform– and then there’s Sonia Fernández Rives. A pop of turquoise in a sea of gray.
In a city unparalleled for luxury goods, designer Sonia Fernández Rives reinvents fine jewelry as we know it. After working for companies such as Piaget and LVMH, Rives launched her own brand Rives Genève in 2011. Her latest line Croisière is bold, graphic and young, a combination of precious metals and stones with common materials.
Expensive jewelry can be boring and bourgeois. In the case of Rives it's a lifetime warranty of cool.
I had the opportunity to hang out with Sonia (or Soni as they call her) and her beau Hiéronyme Lacroix while they were in NYC last month. Having known Hiéro (a friend of my husband and brilliant Swiss architect) it was my first time meeting Soni and she charmed my socks off. We threw it down like Kiki de Montparnasse – champagne, ceviche, reggae dancing and an impromptu photo shoot at the Wythe hotel. She exposed me to José Gonzalez on vinyl and the objets d’art of JAR.
After getting to know Soni, it’s pretty clear that her personality resonates in her art: bold and untamed, yet elegant and refined.
Kaitlyn Parks: How would you describe your overall aesthetic and approach as a designer?
Sonia Fernández Rives: I’m always aiming at simplicity and truth. Which is sometimes pretty complicated!
KP: Tell me about your Croisière collection.
SFR: It’s a research inspired by the nautical world, a summer collection with very accomplished pieces.
KP: Where does the nautical inspiration come from?
SFR: First, it’s the equipment and the material of my friends who are sailing lovers which inspired me. It’s also a beautiful tribute to Geneva and its lake.
KP: I particularly like your Drisse bracelet. Love the juxtaposition between such a common material and precious metals and jewels. It sure stands out in the traditional luxury marketplace. How has this piece been received?
SFR: It’s been very well received, we have a lot of demand for that product. This year we are launching the Mini Drisse, a more affordable and colorful version that is really cute.
KP: Tell me about growing up in Geneva, Switzerland and your Spanish heritage.
SFR: I am very lucky to have access to two cultures. I really feel both Swiss and Spanish. It’s a sweet mix of rigor and a touch of madness.
KP: What did you study in university? How did you get started as a designer?
SFR: I attended l’Ecole des Arts Décoratifs de Genève for 5 years. I studied jewelry art, drawing, gemology and art history.
I started work right away with Piaget after my studies. I learned a lot working with them, from the traditional gouache technique to how big corporations operate. I learned discipline. I was very young at the time and a bit rebellious for that kind of big structure. But I still made it far enough to get a good foundation out of it.
KP: What artists do you admire or look to for inspiration?
SFR: Cartier, always. JAR has been above everyone in his exigence and in his folly. He was and still is very copied. Right now the Bogg-Art brand feels very interesting.
KP: Any interests outside of jewelry?
SFR: There are so many things that interest me. Globally I think big cities have always fascinated me, so traveling is definitely a passion of mine.
KP: Your boyfriend is architect Hiéronyme Lacroix. How do you relate on an artistic level?
SFR: Hiéro is someone that is very demanding and talented and that stimulates me. We commissioned him to renovate our jewelry store, Grégoire, in Geneva. He drew every display and took care of every little detail. He did a great job respecting our vision.
KP: How did your store Grégoire come to be?
SFR: Grégoire was the dream of myself and my partners, Grégoire Engelberts (jeweler) and Pascal Huguenin (jeweler - sertisseur). We first met after the final jewelry technical exams in 2000. The three of us worked for big companies. Piaget for me, Chopard for Grégoire and Patek Philippe for Pascal. Then we all went the independent, freelance route for a while before deciding to partner.
KP: What is on the horizon for Rives?
SFR: For our brand Rives, we take our time. We don’t do anything that I would call “fashion jewelry” –it takes time to develop our jewels. We come out with new pieces every year but first we test them in our store. This year we are expanding our Rives pieces to other stores. We want to make timeless pieces and therefore keep our freedom, our rhythm and independence.
As far as I’m concerned I would love to continue to take on other commissioned work for external brands. I had to stop for a few years while launching Rives and the store Grégoire, and I’ve missed it.
I am currently collaborating with Louis Vuitton. They’ve given me a very complex assignment, but you’ll have to be patient and wait until 2015 to see it!