By  on April 23, 2007

It took a little luck and a passion for product innovation for Fawaz Gruosi to build de Grisogono into a $300 million company.

Founded in Geneva by Gruosi, the 14-year-old fine jewelry and watch firm became known for using unusual gold alloys, materials such as shagreen and stones like black diamonds that weren't coveted by jewelers or consumers less than two decades ago. He also coined the term icy diamonds, which are essentially milky white diamonds.

But Gruosi, who is based in Geneva and had stints at Bulgari and Harry Winston, claims he has a passion for the unusual and wants to show his findings to the world. He has written a book called "The Black Diamond," with a forward from Thomas Moses, GIA Gem Trade Laboratory vice president of identification services. The book discusses black diamonds at length, and includes several dissertations on his passion for the gemstone.

He recently published another tome, "The Virgin Scarlet: Where Exception, Beauty and Rarity Meet," based on his acquisition of a rare, 45.39-carat Burmese ruby that Gruosi unveiled at Baselworld, the watch and jewelry fair in Basel, Switzerland, that ended last week.

There is a proliferation of black diamond jewelry on the market today, but the competition doesn't bother Gruosi.

"At the time, I was very upset because it was my idea," he said. "But now I am very proud because today it has a market and a price."

The company's mission, however, is to always be distinctive.

"My goal is to always be different than my competitors," said Gruosi. "It's more dangerous to use these materials. Most people don't understand them. I always went by my [instinct] in life."

What he falls in love with depends on his whim, but once he finds it — as he did with the ruby — it's a metaphysical experience.

"My heart is moving fast and I go forward without thinking it might be successful," he said.

Ed Burstell, Bergdorf Goodman's senior vice president and general merchandise manager of beauty, jewelry and accessories, said: "Fawaz Gruosi is indeed a true innovator. He's constantly challenging our notions of beauty in jewelry, from the use of black diamonds — really not seen since the Thirties — to icy opalescent stones to the use of galuchet [stingray] in a unique mixed media. The Bergdorf Goodman client has responded extremely well to the collections."This month, Gruosi, who is married to Chopard Worldwide creative director and co-president Caroline Gruosi-Scheufele, bought back Chopard's investment in de Grisogono. Chopard invested in the firm less than a decade ago. Gruosi is looking to up the ante again with new exotic materials and more boutiques to offer his wares.

The firm is opening six more boutiques in the next four years and plans to increase its sales by 35 percent. A Tokyo store is slated to open in September, and stores in Athens and Miami are planned for next year. The company now has 14 shops, including units in New York, Geneva, London and Paris.

The line is also sold in 140 wholesale doors across the globe. The challenge for de Grisogono now is to continue to create new pieces, as most high jewelry is intricate and one of a kind.

Some of the gem-drenched styles, such as a white gold cuff emblazoned with a large black diamond-encrusted panther or a wreath necklace of pavé diamonds with heart-shape rubies set within, are limited editions, as up to five are made of each piece.

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