The life of Daniel Paillasseur, founder of the prestigious Maison Korloff, is like a novel filled with passions and creations. Born and raised in Lyon, Daniel started as an apprentice butcher and ended up making Maison Korloff one of the most prestigious jewelers in France. Somewhere between audacity and excellence, he managed to shake up conventions in the world of diamonds. Today, he has passed down his knowledge and passion to his son Olivier who continues to perpetuate the values of authenticity and prestige of their family business. We have had the chance of meeting this elegant visionary to learn about his early days, his meeting with the legendary black diamond, his story with fashion, his idea of happiness and his desire to give a new life to diamonds so that they should become the noblest of investments, thus lending them the prestige they deserve. After all, diamonds are eternal…
Maison Sensey : How did it begin?
Daniel Paillasseur : It depends what we’re talking about, because I’ve had many beginnings. And every day, I start something new. It’s a long story! It’s not easy to speak about oneself.
I’ve had a rather difficult childhood, where no one ever asked me what I wanted to do. At the age of 14, my father told me: “Daniel, the village butcher needs an apprentice, you’ll work there…”. Nobody asked me if I wanted to carry on studying even though I was a good student. That’s how I ended up being an apprentice butcher at 14 years old. At the age of 17, I had another apprenticeship master who taught me everything, including respect, and above all the value of work.
Then came the time for military service. When I came back from the army, I didn’t really know what to do, so I tried a few different things, like many people. The only thing I was any good at was sales! So I sold different sorts of products, but it still wasn’t exactly my thing. One day, a representative came to show us some master paintings. I didn’t know anything about paintings, decoration, or art, but I had an epiphany.
I managed to get hired as a salesman. Within two years, I became the best painting seller and got promoted as company director. Later, I started working for myself and created my workshop, the “Atelier des Arts et Décoration” where I had a team of six salesmen. In the end, we selected talented painters and quoted their work.
And then one day a diamond door-to-door selling company started copying our sales techniques. It felt as if someone had stolen my child. I believe in meetings, and to sell diamonds, I had to enter a world that is not mine. I went to Antwerp where I met my associate, and we’ve been working together for 45 years now. He came from a large company with three generations of diamond cutters, and he told me everything about the fascinating world of diamonds. Meeting him was life changing, I was touching the holy of holies! I came into this world with very innovative sales ideas because they were atypical for the diamond market. They had the products; I had the desire to sell them in a different way. And for two years we sold diamonds.
We followed our own ideas and the skills came later, but we used all our will and ideas on the products and learned the skills on our own. That’s what people liked because we shook things up in the world of diamonds. We did things differently, we used different materials, we combined very expensive products with cheaper ones. What mattered was the end result! We introduced mother-of-pearl, lacquer, black diamond or even plastic in a very conservative craft. And we had the audacity of signing our jewels! We were the first ones to do so…
People kept saying: “Who do you think you are? How dare you?”. Our creations were surprising, we had the best jewelers in France and when we decided to sign our jewels, we lost 30 % of our clients because we were only subcontractors, creators working in the shadows, and we had decided to step into the light. The French market did not really take well to our innovations, so we turned to export. We found more fertile lands, where innovative ideas were welcomed. We started with the Middle East and Asia, and we now sell worldwide.
Today, if you want recognition, you need to be even more creative than before because exporting from France requires a high level of innovation. We are constantly outdoing ourselves, by always being more daring. To be recognized as a brand, we needed accessories, watches, pens, perfumes, we even turned to fashion for more than ten years. We would take part in fashion shows across the whole world. We were like musicians, we would go on tour and come back to Paris for the last show.
In Paris, we had a boutique rue François 1er. I loved that time where fashion was a way of imposing one’s style. We were free to do what we wanted and to create what we felt. It gave power and legitimacy to franchises and licenses. Because we made glasses, perfumes, shoes… But too much is just as bad as not enough, and we had to take a step back not to lose ourselves…
Is fashion more creative than diamond jewelry?
Diamond is a material with codes that we defied. Around 20 years ago, we released our first cut, the Korloff Cut 73 which was also a way of standing out from our competitors who used a universal cut. Our products had something more with our own cut which also happened to be of higher quality. We refocused on diamonds, because it is our DNA. Today, this cut has evolved into another cut that we finished 5 years ago, the Korloff Cut 88 – as a reference to the 88 facets of the largest diamond in the world.
This story started when my associate said to me one day: “Daniel, close your eyes and put your hand out” and placed this gigantic black diamond in my hand. This diamond had an incredible history: it belonged to the Korloff-Sapojnikoff family, one of the great names of Russian nobility. Legend says that those who touch it are blessed with happiness, luck, and prosperity. We bought this diamond 8 years later, in 1988. The number 88 was everywhere. So we created a diamond with 88 facets.
This cut has now achieved recognition, and we are crazy enough to believe that it could one day become listed, just like gold. Because since the dawn of time, gold and diamonds have been very rare and precious materials. Diamonds are in the hands of great specialists. For example, there are thousands of potential prices for a 1 carat stone. This market needs to be reorganized and classified to give more transparency to the products. Our idea is to create a stock price for diamonds for private individuals, so that when they buy a stone, they know its official price if they ever want to sell it again. We’ve always been like a ball thundering down a bowling lane, but that’s why we’re still here today.
When you touched this black diamond for the first time, what did you feel?
I always wear gloves to touch it because I believe luck or happiness should not be spoilt, they must be cherished. Happiness can only be touched lightly, without asking for too much. One needs to use it in small amounts to stay happy. We need to be reasonable in the quantity of happiness we use. One shouldn’t expect too much from happiness if one doesn’t want to be disappointed. It’s my point of view, my guideline in life.
I am a happy man because I limited highs and lows, and there’s constancy in my happiness. I am fulfilled. One can be happy with very few things. We just need to be happy in our minds. I always tell people: “Do what you love” and if it works out, hopefully you might make money out of it one day. But money should never be what drives you to succeed, you need to do what you love. If you do it the other way around, it won’t work. Passion is the only true guide. If you do not have stars in your eyes, it can’t work.
Had I been told that a young butcher boy would one day sell diamonds across the world today… I have now passed the mantle to my son who works with the passion I passed down to him, with his desires, his ideas, his legacy… I have passed the torch on to him. Now I want to give another life to diamonds with their stock exchange listing. Diamonds have not given everything they have yet, they can give a lot more.
It is the most beautiful material in the world, the shiniest, the most precious and I want to turn it into a safeguard and survival value. Anyone who’s got a bit of money should be able to have small change in diamonds. Because you could go anywhere in the world, if diamonds get listed, they could be exchanged in the whole world. Beyond their looks, they are a proper financial product. We are thus creating codes so that diamonds can be recognized as such. It is a wonderful adventure! We’re lending diamonds their well-deserved prestige and recognition. We can bring a lot to diamonds, and above all, they can bring a lot to us.