Suzanne Syz, the colorfully talented jewelry designer and longtime contemporary art collector, has always expressed herself through art. She was born in Zurich, educated in Paris, and raised by professional yet creative parents. “My Dad, a lawyer, would paint watercolors in his free time. My mom was a designer and an actress at Schauspielhaus, a theater in Zurich. I started ballet at the opera when I was three years old, and loved acting in the local fairytale-themed Christmas productions,” said Syz of her childhood. “So there was creative inspiration in everyday life at home.”
In the 1980s, she moved to New York City and quickly developed relationships with some of the art world’s most recognizable names, like Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Julian Schnabel, Francesco Clemente, and Jeff Koons. “At that time, New York City was a creative nest. You could feel the energy throughout the city,” said Syz. She soon began collecting contemporary art made by some of her famed friends that reflected the moment that they were all living in—and this was where her art collection started. “Then it became a passion . . . an addiction!” she added. Now, her homes in Switzerland, Paris, and Tuscany are filled with contemporary pieces from artists like Cindy Sherman, Warhol, Schnabel, Barbara Kruger, and John Armleder.
All the while, she was designing jewelry that was new to the scene, early on impressing clients such as Elizabeth Taylor, who once bought a turquoise necklace right off of Syz’s neck. The designer’s jewelry encompassed bright pops of color with physically light designs. Her personal favorite, the Life Savers candies bracelet, exemplified a true-to-size playful aesthetic, while quality production and design elements shone in gold, enamel, and diamonds.
Now based in Geneva, Switzerland, where she has found the savoir-faire so special, Syz, along with her 50 other craftsmen, continues to handcraft one-of-a-kind pieces for her celebrity and royal clients all over the world.
WHITEWALL: Tell us about your latest jewelry collection that you will unveiled at the Armory’s New York Art, Antique & Jewelry Show [November 20–24, 2015].
SUZANNE SYZ: I am excited to debut my first-ever jewelry watch, a Secret women’s timepiece featuring a Micro-rotor Vaucher Manufacture movement from Geneva; we use only the best! Of course, there will be other exciting jewelry designs as well.
WW: You once said in an interview with Nicolas Trembley (your curator of the Syz Collection and interviewer for your book Suzanne Syz: Art Jewels), “I always felt that it’s important to embrace contemporary artists that represent what’s happening now. That’s what’s interesting.” Who do you think is doing that now? Who is your favorite contemporary artist?
SS: I have quite a few favorite contemporary artists. The internationally recognized Swiss national John Armleder, who is well respected by his peers; the incredibly successfully American Wade Guyton, who is one of my favorites; Laura Owens, who has shown in many important museums and whose work I love; the very gifted Alex Israel; Oliver Osborne, a fresh, young talent; the Vietnamese-born, Denmark-based Dang Vo, who had a fantastic show this year at the Danish Pavilion in the Venice Biennale; Elaine Sturtevant circa the 1980s; Olivier Mosset; and Carol Rama.
WW: What piece of art do you have your eyes on—in terms of collecting—now?
SS: I just bought a work that I love, The Red Dress, from the young Russian artist Ella Kruglyanskaya, and A Dream of Symmetry, a work by the American artist Julia Wachtel.
WW: Have you recently gained any inspiration from or collaborated with any artists in particular?
SS: Yes, I am collaborating with John Armleder on a limited number of sculptures for my jewelry pieces. I am a huge fan of his!
WW: Which fairs or exhibitions have you been to or seen recently that you’ve gained inspiration from?
SS: I have attended Art Basel and the Venice Biennale for over thirty years. I also go to newer fairs like Frieze in London and New York. There is always inspiration to be found from each unique event!
WW: What is your favorite piece of contemporary art at one of your homes—in Switzerland, Paris, or Italy? Do you have a theme for your art in your different homes?
SS: I don’t have a particular theme for the art in my different homes. It’s more organic. For example, at the Paris art fair FIAC I bought a Brent Wadden. The piece has almost an African fabric feeling and matched the very simple style I have at my beach house. I don’t have a favorite sculpture or painting, but I am very attached emotionally to the Warhol portrait of my son and that is in my home in Tuscany.
WW: In 1982 Andy Warhol took a photograph of you and your son, Marc, and you asked for it to be retaken. It seems as if your artistic instinct as to what is “right” and what is “just right” is very instinctual. How has your instinct propelled you to become the woman you are today?
SS: My instinct has always guided my actions, for better or for worse. I am a spontaneous and positive person, and it’s my conviction that when you do things from the heart and with passion, the outcome will be right. I am very fulfilled today and lucky to be doing something I truly love!
WW: How does/did your relationships with such famed artists (such as Andy Warhol, etc.) affect the way that you appreciate their art in particular? Art in general?
SS: I was very lucky to meet gifted artists. It was through these friendships that I was able to better understand why they were making certain work at different points in their lives. I always want to get to know artists in order to better understand their message.
WW: Your first piece of jewelry was The Frog and was inspired by a Grimms’ fairytale. Is there a modern day fairy tale that inspires you?
SS: A modern-day fairytale is a woman who manages her business life and family with a smile on her face. She shows a quality of love and passion found in Grimms’ fairytales, which makes everybody around her happy!
WW: Tell us about your Tuscan countryside home, La Fattoria di Caspri, and the biodynamic agriculture for organic wine there with the Cilliegiolo vines. Do you produce wine? Is there a similarity in interests with working with gemstones and wine? Both are organic, raw materials that provoke an innate emotional response.
SS: La Fattoria di Caspri, my dream place, lies in the heart of Tuscany between Siena and Arezzo, 40 minutes from Florence. It was the residence of the Roman general Casperius Aelianus, who built the house in A.D. 80. I revived this unique place with the aim of perpetuating a local wine-producing tradition that respects the environment. Ciliegiollo and Sangiovese are the estate’s original wines and are the result of biodynamic culturing of vines. Just like the natural stones used in my designs (we never use heated stones), the wine has to be natural and we export it to multiple destinations across the globe.
The feelings that come from working with wine and gemstones are similar; they both come from the earth. In terms of our wines, I particularly love that nature’s yield from one year to the next is unique and offers a welcomed variance in flavor, unlike a traditional wine, which strive for the same taste year after year.
I look forward to the harvesting of grapes at La Fattoria di Caspri every year; I never miss it!
This article is published in Whitewall‘s winter 2016 Luxury Issue.