Franci Sagar combines meaning with old world tradition and unconventional design
While working with Franci Sagar, vice president of retail and brand development at The Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) on co-curating the 3rd edition of RE: FINE (formerly known as Redefining Fine Jewelry), I couldn’t help but notice Franci’s personal jewelry. It bespoke all that I learned about Franci- a visionary retailer, an avid traveler who formed meaningful relationships with the people and places she’s been, as a loving mother, friend, and an independent woman who understands her style and is not afraid to self-purchase. She mixed talisman and charms from different modern designers into one necklace, wears an ancient inspired ring she purchased 20 years ago on one hand and an oval-shaped high-grade white rose cut diamond set into swirling shank of 24K gold on the other. She mixes textures and tones in bracelets and prefers easy-to-wear go-to earrings.
And these are just the pieces I was able to see while working with her. I became to gain better insight into the woman whose philosophy for her brainchild, RE: FINE has not wavered since she launched the capsule jewelry department in Holiday 2016.
Says Franci about RE: FINE, “we wanted to feature artists who design jewelry that is responsive to our changing lifestyles. In today’s world, we are constantly seeking ways to express ourselves uniquely. The choices we make are led by the desire to highlight our nuanced individuality rather than conform to the idea of traditional. She continues, “if you really think about it, it’s not about wearing pieces that stand out on their own. It’s about what we bring to them. What we personally say and project with our jewelry is the statement we make about ourselves!”
Here Franci gives us a glimpse into her life as seen through the jewelry given to her as gifts and those she purchased on her own.
What was your first piece of jewelry?
“My first piece of real jewelry was a turquoise and gold ring given to me on my 13th birthday by my parents and it was the beginning of my love affair with gold and I still have that ring today. It’s a reminder of my past and how my love for jewelry grew up as I did.”
Name some of the other pieces of jewelry that proved to be significant throughout your youth through your 20s?
“An opal and gold ring, given to me by my boyfriend, who I met in summer camp and we continued to go out until my college years. It was the first piece of fine jewelry a guy had ever given me. Truth is, I had forgotten all about the ring until he reminded me of it recently and I realized I kept the guy (as a friend), but lost the ring sometime along the way.”
“There was a pair of garnet and gold earrings. I remember making trips to the East Village with my father to pick up the many pieces of jewelry he had made for my mother’s birthdays. My parent’s jeweler Ruzi worked in 22K gold. His store/studio was a tiny dark space around the corner from the 2nd Avenue Deli, a landmark Manhattan restaurant. Whenever we walked into his studio, Ruzi was sitting at his bench with his high-powered glasses in deep concentration. One day, just as we were leaving, Ruzi handed me one of his little black velvet boxes with a pair of garnet earrings in them and said they were from him to me. I was already in love with Ruzi and the magic he created with his two hands, and that was the beginning of my love affair with high karat gold.”
When did you first become aware of your affinity / love for jewelry?
“In Ruzi’s studio.”
What was the first piece of jewelry that you purchased for yourself?
“I bought a baby bracelet for myself when I was 14 years old with my saved birthday money. It was all the rage with my friends in summer camp. I was a ‘Jersey Girl’ and the bracelet made me feel special in two ways—buying it for myself and having something different than my New Jersey friends.
“ The second piece was much more interesting. It was in the late 70’s and I purchased it at Robert Lee Morris’s revolutionary Soho space, Artwear. It was a Ted Muehling 18k karat green gold plated ‘bird beak’ clip for my hair.”
What Was The Next Piece You Purchased?
“I became a Ted Muehling fan –I loved the organic shapes and the deceptive simplicity of his designers. I went on to purchase Ted Muehling’s grey pearl ‘bug cluster’ earrings. Ted introduced me to Gabriella Kiss and her nature inspired jewelry. Her jewelry never feels dated—it always seems as current as when she designed it. My first piece of Gabriella’s was her 18K yellow gold spiral snake pin with cognac diamond eyes, which I still wear often and it looks as modern as it did when I bought it back then.”
Were there pieces to mark special occasions that you bought for yourself?
I bought a Tag Heuer watch as a 40th birthday present. It was the year I separated from my husband. My daughter and I had gone down to Barbados with friends to celebrate my birthday. I was in the duty-free shop and fell for it the minute I saw it. It’s a man’s watch, and I love the size. I wear it like a bracelet so it moves around on my wrist. Many of my other pieces, which came later were purchased by me for important events in my life.”
What are some of your favorite gifts of jewelry?
“A pair of Lily Fitzgerald earrings, which w were the first pair of gold earrings my husband bought me when we were still married. The gift started as just the hoop, and the next year he bought me the drops that dangle from the hoops. I have loved wearing them both ways all these years.”
“ The designer Stella Flame is a close friend I met her years ago in the Fragments showroom and it was kismet. I could tell the instant I saw her work that it was made in Istanbul because it just had that vibration. Fast-forward to three years ago and we were having breakfast together at Silver Spurs diner, which is equal distance between our homes in Soho. It was December, around my birthday and I was commenting on her bracelet because it was a new style. Without a beat, she took it off her wrist and gave it to me. It was one of the first Dani bracelets she made. It is oxidized silver with blood orange, pink and white sapphires. The following year she gave me another bracelet from the Dani collection and I cried both times. I wear them for their beauty and the beauty of such a lovely and generous friend.”
What was your taste when you first started collecting/buying fine jewelry?
“I was always drawn to high karat gold. Gold represents the sun and is a symbol of wealth, prosperity, authority, and charisma. But most important to me, it is said to aid in healing, protection, growth and knowledge—very high vibrations that are good for all of us to have in our lives.
My many visits to Ruzi’s studio when I was young made me curious about how gold in its raw state could be transformed using the age-old technique of granulation into something so magnificent. It is probably the most mysterious and fascinating of ancient decorative techniques. Even with modern tools and knowledge, few goldsmiths today have sufficient skill to master the effort and the artistry involved in creating a piece of jewelry incorporating granulation.”
How has your jewelry style evolved?
“I was never a ‘diamond girl’ and now I am. I would say that this was a major evolution. I would wear pieces that had diamond accents but never one as ‘the main event’. Serhat Geridonmez, an Istanbul jeweler we carry at The Store At MAD, taught me how to appreciate them, especially when they are set in his 24 karat gold designs. I bought myself my first diamond ring last year- a swirl of a shank in 24K gold with a beautiful white oval rose cut diamond in the center. I wear it on one hand all by itself and it’s hard to take it off! “
“This year I bought myself Moritz Glik’s leather and diamond bracelet. It married a very old love of mine—leather with a new love of mine—diamonds.”
How would you describe your personal collection?
“The pieces in my personal jewelry collection transcend any trend and particular style that is in fashion at the moment. And almost none live in a jewelry box waiting for a special occasion. Each piece has a story—about the artist that made it, the person who gave it to me as a gift, the place and time when I bought it and, if it’s from a highly skilled ancient jeweler, where did it come from and what time period. One of the most important considerations, when I’m adding to my collection, is about passing it along to the next generation. I have a daughter, Sophie, in her 20’s, with whom I am extremely close and there is always the question, “Will Sophie, wear this one day?”
What do those pieces include?
“To name a few: Lilly Fitzgerald’s earrings, the Serhat ring and Moritz Glik’s diamond bracelet I mentioned, Joan Hornig’s piano keys necklace, Stephanie Albertson’s clear topaz cocktail earrings, Stella Flame’s gold and oxidized silver Dani bracelets, Agas & Tamar’s bracelets with precious, semi-precious and ancient stones with 24K gold beads, and my mix of charms from favorite jewelers and favorite places on leather cords, or gold and oxidized silver chains.”
Are there others that have a deep significance or meaning for you?
“Most of the charms do. One of my necklaces includes an 18K gold and pink pearl charm and 18K gold fish with a champagne diamond, both by Pura Ferrerio. I bought the fish because Sophie is a Pisces. There is also a black Tahitian pearl. The raw pearl was given to me as a gift by my dearest friends. They had bought it at the Tucson Gem show for me, knowing that it would be a perfect addition to my charm collection. I then asked Stephanie Albertson to make a simple bale. There is also a rectangular glass evil eye made by SOFA in Istanbul.”
“Another charm necklace includes a round evil eye set in 24K gold from Hilat in Istanbul – the different eyes on each necklace for protection and to ward off any bad vibrations. This necklace also includes a prayer tablet in 24K and oxidized silver from SOFA and half of a pair of Luna Felix earrings-carnelians carved with Capricorns – my sign, which were originally given to me by my ex-husband. I never really wore them because they were too heavy so I had my jeweler in Istanbul make two charms out of them – one for me and one for Sophie.”
“ Another piece that has deep significance for me is my Heracles knot bracelet in 24K gold and silver, which was the first piece I ever purchased from Serhat. The Heracles knot originated as a healing charm in ancient Egypt and became a symbol of love in medieval and Renaissance times. Last year I bought Sophie a 24K gold and diamond Heracles knot ring.”
Speaking of Sophie, what were some of the most memorable gifts she purchased for you?
“The first two she made me—and they were beaded rings which she designed andhandcrafted was she was very young.”
“I was in love with a pair of Stephanie Albertson simple clear topaz drop earrings. And after presenting her as the first fine jeweler at The Store at MAD, I bought them for myself. A few years later my daughter bought me a blue topaz pair. She had used some of her college graduation money but she wanted me to have something special that I loved. I wanted to hug and kill her at the same time for spending that kind of money on me. But she was adamant about me keeping them and wouldn’t let me return them. They are perhaps my most cherished gift of all time.”
What is the common denominator in how you collect jewelry?
“It is almost all bench-made, meaning it is created by a craftsperson and executed with the highest level of excellence using traditional tools and a hand torch. The jewelers rely on the old-fashioned and time-tested ways of making every piece by hand. I only purchase jewelry from artists that I really like as people because even though the jewelry takes on my energy as I wear it, it’s been created with their energy.
Can you talk about what jewelry means to you on a personal level?
“My jewelry has its own quiet and unusual vibration and since I am shy it says something about me to other people without me having to talk. The jewelry speaks for me and opens a dialogue with people who get this type of jewelry and then in turn get me.”
How do you mix up your pieces?
There is no rhyme or reason behind how I mix up my pieces. In fact, they mix themselves up, talking to each other and what I’m wearing at the moment. Really. Sometimes there is a particular piece I want to wear, and that’s the one starts the conversation.
Is there a piece that you didn¹t buy that still haunts you? And why didn¹t you buy it?
“I still think about the 24K gold hand-hammered, hinged bangle from Hilat in Istanbul. It was solid gold and had the perfect “heft in hand” that I like in my jewelry. Why didn’t I buy it? It was too expensive at the time and now Hilat is closed and it is no longer made anymore.
If you could describe your jewelry style in one word what would that word be?