Four female Arab jewelry designers find harmony between artistic instinct and cherished traditions. From minimalist to heritage pieces and bespoke geometrics, these are the creatives and brands you need on your radar.
“Jewelry is a form of expression to me,” says Riham Zaghloul, one-time software engineer and now founder and designer of Zagh, a Cairo-based jewelry brand celebrating its fifth anniversary this year. “Art has always been my passion,” she says, “and my strong background in technology and CAD (computer-aided design) enables me to perfect the details of my designs, without compromise.” Using 18ct gold and 925 silver as a base, Zaghloul creates minimalist and playful pieces, including gobstopper Orb rings, curving Dune cuffs, and stacked cube studs. “Growing up in a region striving to rise and evolve has meant that cultural revival has always been a common preoccupation for me,” she says.
Describing her aesthetic as “bold, organic, and contemporary,” designer Alia bin Omair mines her Emirati heritage to create regionally inspired handmade pieces in 18ct gold. “We have a rich history and beautiful objects,” she says of the UAE. “Research is a big part of my process – it’s what keeps me creating.” The most recent addition to her portfolio is a beautiful one-of-a-kind pendant “inspired by an old, classic piece called ‘Tabla,’ which was used to store Quran recitations to protect the person who wears it.” From the bold (hanging gold disc earrings) to the discreet (her nameplate necklaces have become a cult classic), Omair’s collections remain an exciting and inspired blend.
Fiercely committed to following her own path with the support of her friends and family (“my biggest source of inspiration”), Emirati entrepreneur Hessa Al Shafar is making her presence felt in the contemporary jewelry design scene. Climbing graphic ear cuffs, architectural bangles, and ever-popular signet rings are trimmed in diamonds, rubies, and emeralds (“my favorite gem,” she says), managing to attract a younger generation who use jewelry to express themselves, their style, and individuality, while maintaining a market for those who simply appreciate the materialistic value of precious stones. “The UAE has developed into an international hub yet still manages to hold onto its heritage. This cultural diversity influences my work… The mix of tradition with modernity. I’m surrounded by stylish, positive and empowered women – my love for them inspires me every day.”
“Art jewelry” is how Saudi designer Lillian Ismail refers to her designs, handcrafted in her hometown of Jeddah. “Each collection and piece tells a story; I am mesmerized by the variety of untouched themes in my culture that could be translated into strong concepts.” Falak (inspired by Islamic scientific manuscripts) and Jadela (a modern interpretation of traditional patterns), are both parts of her backstory but recently she has added two new chapters: Jeneh, which taps into Saudi’s Jeneh gold coin gifting tradition via layer-worthy charm necklaces, and 1441 Hijri, a series of geometric shapes that reflect the architecture of Jeddah’s historic Hijri district. “The area is near and dear to my heart,” she says. “I grew up admiring the soul that emanates from its artistry.”
Originally published in the October 2020 issue of Vogue Arabia