GEM TALK WITH ASSIA WEBSTER, STEPHEN WEBSTER PR DIRECTOR
The series of interviews with women and men who have personalities, story to tell and their own GEM style. They make it happen for themselves all over the world and follow GEMOLOGUE by Liza Urla.
There is a strong woman behind every successful man. I met Assia Webster – Stephen Webster‘s wife – for the first time a few years ago at the Couture show in Las Vegas. I have wanted to interview her for my GEM TALKS for quite some time. Since she is more comfortable behind the scenes, it took a little convincing, and here we are!
I find strong women irresistible, especially if they share my passion for jewellery. Assia and I have quite a lot in common: we are both Russian, have lived in New York and we both started our careers in finance, later settling on a career in jewellery. I find her story fascinating and inspiring, and I am very excited to share it with you.
Name: Assia Webster
Alma Mater: Leningrad State University, NYU
Occupation: PR Director
Hometown: London, Kent & Miami
LOCATION AT TIME OF INTERVIEW: Stephen Webster Salon on the corner of Mount Street & Berkley Square, Mayfair, London. This is our latest location and we love it as it has a great beautiful space where we can present the brand at its best as well as interact with our clients on a much more personal level. Not to mention that for the first time in 20 years my office is not in the basement!
SAINT PETERSBURG: I was born in St Petersburg and lived there till I was 18 years old. It was 1990 and things in Soviet Union were pretty grim. I didn’t quite see any future there so when I went to NYC for a 2-week holiday I just decided to stay. I visit St Pete quite regularly; for the past 15 years we had a very successful business in Russia and ex-USSR territories with standalone stores in Moscow, St Pete, Kiev, Baku etc. Things have been more challenging in the past few years but we have just started working with new partners and that has already proven to be a breeze, injecting a whole new energy into our business there. Fortunately, I still have a lot of family in St Petersburg and I try to visit them as much as I can, but sometimes it’s quite tricky as we travel so much – often in and out of a place with not much spare time. However, for the past couple of years I have been taking groups of my girlfriends for ‘White Nights’ trips; we go for a few days in June and they absolutely love it! I take them to the ballet, Hermitage and other museums as well as summer palaces (not forgetting the Museum of Vodka and its restaurant!) or just walk around this beautiful city and take trips down its rivers and canals. St Petersburg is such a magical city and I’m very pleased to share its charms with my friends.
SHOP THE LOOK:
IN THE BEGINNING: I started working on Wall Street in NYC as that was a natural way to financial stability; I soon discovered my heart really wasn’t in it, so at the first opportunity I escaped and went back to university graduating with a degree from NYU in Art History. My first job in London was in Christie’s auction house where I started in the Client Services department which I really enjoyed as I could apply both my language skills and art knowledge that I had acquired up to that point and eventually transitioned into more Special Projects which included setting up the first Christie’s auction in Moscow. I was never really into jewellery, if I’m honest.. Even when Stephen said he was going to give me a piece of his jewellery our first Christmas together I was rather concerned that it would be too big for me, as I thought his jewellery was way too chunky for my liking! I started working with Stephen when he was offered a concession in Harrods as he couldn’t really afford to hire anyone. That was almost 20 years ago and now I don’t really know much else but jewellery!
LONDON OR NYC: I absolutely fell in love with NYC and enjoyed every minute of living there. I actually didn’t quite like London first time I moved here; after one year I packed my bags and moved back to NYC and it was only through very sweet but persuasive courting from Stephen in which I decided to give London another chance and moved back. The second time around proved to be much more successful and now I love London. NY is an amazing melting pot and if you are young, single and ambitious there is no better place to be. However, as you get older I think you enjoy what London (and the UK overall) has to offer, not to mention its proximity to Europe. When you live in the US you forget how you can be in so many different countries within a very short journey.
ART: I have generally been a much more of an Old Masters person, even when I studied Art History I preferred pre-Cezanne art and wrote my thesis on 14th Century Sienese paintings. However, Stephen and our daughters are huge fans of contemporary art so I learned if not to love it but at least, appreciate it. We have quite a lot of artists friends and over years have acquired quite a nice collection of works by Mat Collishaw, D*Face, Tracey Emin, Conor Harrington, Damien Hirst, Harland Miller, Polly Morgan, etc. We have actually ran out of wall space in our homes in London and Kent, but luckily bought a place in Miami few years ago so all new art is going there now.
Tracey and Stephen have been friends for over 30 years so this collaboration has been a very natural progression of their friendship. Stephen managed to translate Tracey’s art into jewellery quite effortlessly and the final result was one of our most successful collections, it went completely across all borders: mothers were buying it for their daughters and vice versa, girlfriends for their friends and husbands for their wives, etc. We launched it with Net-a-Porter and within hours some styles have been completely sold out!
POWER COMES FROM: Hard work, perseverance, and never giving up.
FAMILY BUSINESS: Things have changed a lot since I started working with the Stephen Webster brand: historically, it was Stephen, his PA and 3 other goldsmiths. You had to be really hands on and I could say I would do everything aside from designing and making jewellery. Now we employ over 50 people and my main role is looking after our PR and VIP clients. I’m in the office every day (much to a lot of people’s surprise!). I don’t come in at 9am but usually am the last one to leave – I quite like working in peace and quiet when everyone is gone – and there are always things to do, especially with time difference with US. We learned very early in our relationship with Stephen that we couldn’t work in the same building, and also we cover completely different areas of business – it is probably the most important thing to define your own area and concentrate on that. Up till very recently we always said that we would never make the girls do something they didn’t want to do – or had no interest in, but that seems to be changing and we are now hoping that Amy, our eldest, will be joining the company very soon bringing with her a new fresh vision and her extensive experience in graphic design and visual media. She is excited about it and so are we, so look out for some exciting new things in the Webster world!
TOPSHOP OR CHANEL: Both, but maybe not Chanel. I always believed in combining designer pieces with high street, it makes it so much more interesting, let alone affordable. I definitely like a bit of Rock’n’Roll in my style, but then again, I do love a classic look as well. One of my favourite brands for many years has been Thomas Wylde, so I was very disappointed when their founder and Creative director Paula Thomas left and their style and quality changed drastically. I love British brands like Julien Macdonald for a sexy party dress, Temperley for her beautiful bohemian glamour & Amanda Wakeley – definitely a definition of British elegance. And one of my favourite designers and dearest friends is Igor Chapurin – he can make any woman feel and look so chic!
ONLINE SHOPPING: I hate shopping. Even the thought of going into a store and trying things on makes me shudder. My poor daughter used to apologise if we had to go shopping for her, promising how quick and decisive she would be, luckily, her dad is a big shopper so I would send them off together! I used to just order the same things from my favourite designers in different colours each season – at least you know they suit you! So online is my preferred way of shopping. I’m very lucky that my husband has a much more adventurous and great eye for fashion, he buys me quite a lot of clothes from all around the world.
GEM STYLE: I guess I could describe my style as Stephen Webster jewellery! As you can imagine, I have amassed quite a huge personal collection over the past 22 years, but my husband keeps surprising me with such exciting new designs every year so I just can’t help myself and keep adding pieces to it. I’m really excited about our new Jitterbug collection next year and really look forward to getting a piece. In the past, Stephen used to buy me jewellery from other designer friends of ours but I had to ask him to stop doing it as it would only make my life difficult trying to explain to people why I’m not wearing our own jewellery… I have the most beautiful custom-made stingray/sterling jewellery silver box that Stephen gave me one Christmas but it’s really big and won’t fit into the safe so I’m always a bit scared that if we get robbed I will lose all my jewellery so I hardly keep anything in it.
FIRST JEWELLERY: I was never really into jewellery until I met Stephen. I borrowed a little gold heart pendant from my mum when I was young – and lost it. I think that made me feel really bad so I never wanted to borrow things again. But now sometimes I feel like a Christmas tree – but luckily, I seem to be able to get away with it being a jeweller’s wife!
MY EVERYDAY JEWELLERY: I’m very lucky that aside from my own collection I can always try on pieces from all of our jewellery lines. It’s actually also a good way to test new styles – if people notice and comment on them, you know you are onto a winner.
PERFECT ENGAGEMENT RING: I (quite obnoxiously) had my engagement ring reset few years ago. I absolutely fell in love with this new Femme Fatale collection that Stephen designed quite a few years after he made my original engagement ring and asked for my ring to be re-done. The new ring can be worn two different ways, as a small Solitaire diamond ring for the daytime, and for the evening you can pop it into a big beautiful diamond shell so it becomes the most glamorous and stunning cocktail ring. I still absolutely love it and would never touch it again.
ROLEX OR CARTIER: Years back I was fascinated by the Jaeger Lecoultre watches: I absolutely loved their elegance and such lovely touch that you could have your personalised message hidden on the backside. Stephen was very sweet to buy one for me and I do cherish it a lot, but most of the time I wear our original (some call it vintage) Stephen Webster Thorn watch. It’s a complete extension of our jewellery, as I say a bracelet that sometimes shows time, and goes very well with any jewellery I wear.
MEN JEWELLERY: Stephen has been one of the pioneers of the men’s jewellery; our first collection Rayman came out 20 years ago when jewellery was still only worn by rock stars & rappers. It has been very interesting to watch men develop a taste for jewellery since then. It all started with bracelets, which were the safest and the closest things to men’s watch – and it was quite funny to see every banker suddenly wearing a beaded bracelet trying to look ‘cool.’ But now jewellery has become much more acceptable, guys have become much more adventurous an it has been reflected in our collections. England made Me has been a huge success despite being very sculptural and figurative. Give guys ANYTHING they can play with, like a spinning ring – you totally won them over.
We have also launched a fabulous new edition of Beasts: professional carving knives made out of bronze or silver and Damascus steel blades. Stephen designed and tested them with chef Mark Hix so they are not only amazing to look at and hold, proper little sculptures, but also fully functional kitchen knives. They have been the most incredible success as there is nothing like this on the market – we have a waiting list for them. It’s just a perfect present for a man who has everything.
JEWELLERY AS AN INVESTMENT: Absolutely. It has been fascinating to watch how some so called ‘semi-precious’ stones have become so rare and more expensive that your readily available ‘precious’ stones. And people seem to forget that nothing is forever – there is only a certain number of mines that produce gemstones,eventually, they will be empty! The prices of Burmese Rubies rocketed in the past few years, Stephen keeps saying that he must buy one before it’s too late!
PERFECT GETAWAY: We had a fantastic Scandinavian adventure this summer: we went to Finland and Sweden, visiting both, the cities, Helsinki & Stockholm which were very impressive, especially Stockholm, as well as beautiful countryside and archipelagos. We went fishing, hunting, berry picking, it was such a great and different experience from sitting on the beach with a glass of Rose in South of France or Ibiza, which we love as well, but this was just something totally new and different.
My favourite escape is Chiva Som in Thailand, I’ve been going there for 9 years and always book my room for the next year on my departure. It’s the most incredible oasis, they call it ‘Heaven of Life’ and I totally agree. After 10 days you feel absolutely renewed and ready for the year ahead.
A PARTY TO REMEMBER: GQ Men of the Year Awards is probably my favourite one, they manage to gather such a great and diverse crowd and there are always so many familiar faces.
BOOK HAUNTS: Luckily, I have a friend who is a book critic so I pester her quite regularly. But I’m also asking people for recommendations, reading is definitely one of my favourite escapes.
MY WEAPON OF CHOICE: A bit of poison from a Stephen Webster Poison Apple ring.
WILD WISH: To have a spell of time without anything or anyone; to just read and watch all those fabulous classic movies, but can’t think of anywhere aside from prison or hospital, and that wouldn’t be very appealing.
GEMOLOGUE by Liza Urla features exquisite global discoveries, trendy urban street style, exclusive interviews and rare jewellery reviews – a celebration of fine jewellery, fashion jewellery and vintage jewellery.
*Photographed by Julia Flit. Styling and Art Direction by Liza Urla. All photos belong to GEM Kreatives for GEMOLOGUE.
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