Force & Fortitude: Inside Fred’s Bold Retrospective Exhibition In Seoul

An audacious exhibition in Seoul explores the origins and evolution of jewellery house Fred
Photo: Courtesy of Fred

When Fred Samuel launched his jewellery house in 1936, his business card read, “Fred Samuel, Modern Jeweller Creator”—a motto and manifesto he wanted to impress on potential clients and business partners. Eighty‑seven years down the line, those three descriptive words continue to ring true and the founder’s spirit lives on in the house he built. It is this spirit and vision that Fred pays tribute to with the exhibition Fred, Jeweller Creator Since 1936, staged for the first time in Asia in Seoul this 11 November to 25 December.

Photo: Courtesy of Fred

“The aim of the exhibition is really to tell the story of Fred,” explains the maison’s CEO Charles Leung. “The brand is gaining momentum already, but knowledge about [it is not quite there] yet.” To that end, the retrospective, set in the ultra‑modern ALT.1 gallery in The Hyundai Seoul, offers an in‑depth exploration of the story and evolution of the brand through the showcase of more than 300 pieces of jewellery and objects as well as nearly 200 archival items from the house’s heritage and private collections. 

Charles Leung with Fred’s iconic Soleil d’Or diamond. Photo: Courtesy of Fred

The maison’s journey unfolds across nine immersive rooms, each of which pays homage to a specific element of the brand. For instance, one room, aptly decked out in gold, lays out the milestones in its history. Taking pride of place here is the centrepiece of its heritage: the  101.57‑carat Soleil d’Or fancy intense yellow diamond, after which the room is named.

Another is devoted to the brand’s founder, covering everything from his family tree to his personal history. Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1908 to a jeweller father from Lorraine and an Alsatian mother, Samuel was brought up around beautiful stones and even more beautiful surroundings—he often made references to the brilliance of the Argentinian sunshine and colours of his childhood, citing it as one of his key inspirations for his bold creations. He opened his first namesake boutique in Paris in 1936, only to be forced to drop “Samuel” from all signage during the Second World War (he was of Jewish descent)—during which he left the city and became an interpreter for the Allies, then distinguished himself by first enlisting in the Foreign Legion (an elite military unit in the French army) before joining the resistance against the Germans. Post‑war, Samuel, who received numerous awards for his contributions to the country, resumed his trade, pushing the boundaries of jewellery creation while remaining true to his values of love, positivity, audacity, joy, creativity and generosity.

Photo: Courtesy of Fred

Other aspects highlighted include the brand’s iconic creations and their inspirations (think the Force 10 bracelet, which originated from Samuel’s love of yachting), as well as its key pop culture moments (cue its involvement with the 1990s cult rom‑com Pretty Woman—a reference that comes replete with the display of the original dress worn with the ruby and diamond necklace in the film).

Legacy aside, the ultimate goal of the exhibition is to impart the positive values and messages that the brand’s founder espoused all his life, says Leung. “There’s a very positive message here,” he shares, and that is that “even though we could be facing challenges and crises throughout our [lives], as long as we don’t give up, and follow our dreams and stay good, that might be a solution to bring us all hope. I think the story of Mr Fred Samuel is going to catch on [with our young customers and fans].”

Fred, Jeweller Creator Since 1936 is on display at ALT.1, 6F of The Hyundai Seoul till 25 December 2023.