In the inner circles of the rarefied jewelry realm, she is known simply as Mrs. M., a mysterious moniker that suits a fiercely competitive buyer and seller of some of the world’s most expensive jewels. But Alisa Moussaieff, an apparently gentle, grandmotherly figure in her mid-70s, does not look the part. Dressed in a simple black skirt and blazer, and decidedly unglamorous black sneaker-style shoes, she shows off her grand new boutique on London’s New Bond Street.
In the store’s VIP room—a second-floor salon appointed with tooled leather walls made in Paris, a colossal crystal chandelier, and antique furniture—she opens her small handbag and retrieves a leather box. Without fanfare or the presence of security guards, she opens the package to reveal colored diamonds worth tens of millions of dollars. Her cache includes a 10-carat vivid blue, a 3.58-carat vivid green, and a 35-carat intense natural pink. But her prized possession is the Moussaieff Red, a 5.11-carat fancy red diamond worth more than $20 million.
Shortly before the opening of the new store, Moussaieff introduced a collection of titanium pieces set with exotic gemstones. “You have to change with the times,” she says of the jewelry, which represents a departure from her previous, more traditional designs. “You can never say, ‘I’ve seen it all.’ Otherwise you’re finished.”
The matriarch of the family business that her husband’s grandfather, Shlomo Moussaieff, established in the 1850s in Bukara, Russia, Mrs. M. oversees everything from stone acquisitions to designs to sales. Aside from selling diamonds and gems, she also offers natural pearls. Moussaieff is one of the few jewelers who still work with these pearls, which are found primarily in estate jewelry. (Water pollution in habitats throughout the world has made it impossible for oysters to flourish naturally.) Moussaieff purchases antique pieces and uses the stones and pearls in new designs.
The Moussaieff family has been dealing in natural pearls since the mid-19th century, when Shlomo traveled along the ancient Silk Road and rode camels across the deserts to acquire pearls that had been harvested from the Persian Gulf. Shlomo’s son, Remo, settled in Paris, where he established a business trading in fine gems. In 1963, Remo’s son, also named Shlomo, and his wife, Alisa, opened the first Moussaieff store at the London Hilton on Park Lane. Three years ago, Alisa’s husband retired and left the operation to her and their three daughters, each of whom has a role in the business.
After an hour of sharing her treasures in the VIP room, Moussaieff suddenly packs up her handbag and announces she must catch a plane to Geneva to attend an “interesting” Sotheby’s jewelry sale that afternoon. Other gem dealers purchase stones and bid at auction over the phone, but Mrs. M. will not acquire anything without viewing it in person. “At the end of the day,” she explains, “it’s your judgment that counts—what you see and what you feel about a stone.”