How Lebanon‘s Mouawad became the Miss Universe crown jeweller

The $5 million Power of Unity crown comes with a message of empowerment

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For four generations, Lebanese jeweller Mouawad has been crafting one-of-a-kind pieces for royal families as well as the wealthy. Founded in 1908 in Beirut as a maker of intricate clocks and bespoke jewels for the city's rich and famous, the brand soon expanded to the wider Gulf region, adding luxury timepieces to its growing range.

Today, Mouawad is a global name in luxury jewellery and diamonds. With its headquarters in Geneva, it's still very much a family-run business, but one that's happy to evolve with the times.

In 2019, Mouawad became the official jeweller for Miss Universe, crafting a one-of-a-kind crown for the winner of the title. South Africa's Zozibini Tunzi won that year.

The association with a global beauty pageant, Fred Mouawad tells The National, was a means to reach a "broader base of customers". And it's a strategy that's worked wonders.

"In the past, we were very elitist. We were very high end, and we didn't have much recognition with the masses," he says. "And now we're realising that our brand awareness has increased with a customer segment that we did not have previously, and that's also enabling us to create collections that are more affordable."

Fred, who serves as "co-guardian" of the brand with his brothers Alain and Pascal, calls it "the next evolution of Mouawad".

"We've always had more affordable jewellery in our collections, priced between $2,000 and $10,000. Now we want to emphasise a little bit more on that and really grow our customer base."

Making the Miss Universe crown

Discussions about The Power of Unity crown, as the Miss Universe crown is known, first began in 2018, right after Mouawad's relationship with Victoria's Secret ended. Mouawad had been creating record-breaking bejewelled bras for the lingerie brand's star-studded annual fashion show since 2000 when the event was cancelled because of widespread controversy and declining viewership.

"We thought, 'What can we do that's in line with our heritage, something majestic that would have a very wide exposure?'," Fred says. "And we thought of Miss Universe, because we are, after all, jewellers to royalty. So why don't we use our know-how to also create a crown for the most beautiful women in the world?"

The process of crafting the actual crown took about six months, Fred says.

"They wanted a crown that would symbolise the coming of communities together. So we sent them a few sketches and after a number of back and forths we came up with the Power of Unity crown.

"I don't think we would have ended up with this design if we made the decision entirely on our own, but it was truly a collaboration between Mouawad and the Miss Universe team and I think it's beautiful."

Featuring interwoven petals, leaves and vines all crafted in 18-karat gold and set with white diamonds, the highlight of the Power of Unity crown is a 62.83 carat canary diamond placed in the centre. Two other pearls, cut from the same stone as the centre diamond, are placed on either side of the crown.

"The canary diamond has the shape of a shield, which made it perfect," Fred says. "Because it's a reminder that we should shield people from biases. This crown is about empowering people, giving equal opportunities for people and living in peace and harmony."

He estimates the value of the crown to be between $4 million and $5 million.

Miss Universe Thailand's Power of Resilience crown

Mouawad also designs the crown for Miss Universe Thailand. For 2022, it's named the Power of Resilience crown. Photo: Mouawad

Fred, who moved to Bangkok in 1990 to look after Mouawad's diamond business across Asia, is also behind the brand's relationship with Miss Universe Thailand. For the third year this year, Mouawad is the official jeweller for the annual pageant, creating the winner's crown.

"This project is different in that we create a crown every year with a new theme, and the winner gets to take it home as part of their prize," Fred says. This year's crown, called Power of Resilience, features 43 pear-shaped peridots and one marquise peridot, weighing 101.08 carat. They are surrounded by 158.24 carat of marquise-cut and round white topaz gems and 4.19 carat of round white diamonds, to embody the values of purity and honesty.

Anna Sueangam-iam, 23, the daughter of former refuse collectors, was named Miss Universe Thailand 2022 in a pageant that took place on July 30 at True Icon Hall in Bangkok.

Miss Universe Thailand 2022, Anna Sueangam-iam. Photo: Miss Universe

The hotel and tourism management graduate was crowned by her predecessor, Anchilee Scott-Kemmis, and Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray, beating 28 other women on the night.

“Wearing the Power of Resilience Crown carries a message of positivity that we all have the power within us to rise above any challenges," Fred says. "It is a belief in our ability to adapt to whatever life gives us and the courage and strength to push forward towards a brighter future."

A global Lebanese brand

The Lebanese jeweller behind the Miss Universe crown

The Lebanese jeweller behind the Miss Universe crown

Part of Mouawad's success, Fred says, is an appreciation of its roots, while keeping a global outlook.

"Lebanon has the longest history of trading, of having traders or sailors since the Phoenicians, so we are a very old culture. So for me when we create, we don't necessarily go back to our roots, but we try to create for our audience based on our own universal standards on what we think beauty is," he says.

"So we have a certain style, which I'd define as timeless and elegant. At times, I would say we're also avant garde. We try to innovate in our designs, but we tend to always fall within what I call 'timeless elegance'."

Fred's father, Robert Mouawad, who ran the company for 45 years, handed over the reins to his three sons in 2010. Now, the family's fifth generation, Fred's son Jimmy Mouawad and niece Anastasia, have recently joined to play key roles in the business.

The plan, he says, is to take Mouawad truly global.

"We want to be a lot more international, a lot more present and a lot more recognised with more retail points. That, as well as make our collections that much more accessible for a larger customer base," he says. "And that is why our associations with organisations such as Miss Universe are so important."

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Updated: August 26, 2022, 6:02 PM