Meet four Lebanese jewelry designers whose extraordinary work reflects their personal and powerful heritage.
Designer sisters Dima and Tania Nawbar are fourth-generation jewelers, following in the footsteps of their great-great-grandfather who founded the family’s gold souk business in Beirut, in 1881. Launching their own brand, L’atelier Nawbar, in 2011, the duo has modernized, with stackable designs in colorful enamel inspired by zodiac signs, ancient spirituality, and, most recently, optical illusion, for their aptly named Cosmic Rays collection. “Our passion stems from our heritage,” the designers explain. “Jewelry is embedded in our blood. We love what we do: combining the old and new and using alchemy to achieve a little bit of nostalgia in a trendy, current piece.”
Born and raised in Beirut by a family of jewelers, Selim Mouzannar’s work is rooted in the historical significance of the city and informed by the traditional techniques he was exposed to growing up. He remains passionate about the Ottoman and art deco architecture of his hometown’s past, fusing sculptural forms and striking colors to represent the paradox of a city that can be both volatile and extremely beautiful. For his latest collection, Mouzannar reimagines some of his go-to symbols, elaborating on his Kastak necklace (left, inspired by old pocket watch chains), with new enamel charms that allow for personal customization. “We respected the basics of the Kastak,” says Mouzannar. “We brought modernity by adding new links and charms.”
Making the switch from finance to fine jewelry wasn’t an easy transition for Beirut-born, New York-based, Gaelle Khouri but her unconventional trajectory into the field of design has galvanized an exciting, bold, and fearless aesthetic. “Art is an intangible field,” she says, “where one is solely driven by emotions and inner feelings that cannot be touched or given a specific shape or form.” Khouri’s early designs included a dragon’s head worn so that the finger lies within its jaw – raw, atypical, and deliciously dark. Today, she continues to be inspired by the natural world, the human mind, and the complexities of theorist principles with unapologetic pieces that challenge traditional forms and wearability. “I think us Lebanese have gone through and are still suffering from many hardships,” she says. “Wars have made us more resilient and have instilled in us a fighting spirit. We keep wanting to test our limits and push them a bit further to reach for the impossible.”
From an early age, Noor Fares was drawn to jewelry, playing dress-up with gemstones belonging to her mother – an artist and fashion eccentric who was known for wearing mismatched shoes. Fares’ father, Issam, is a financier and former deputy prime minister of Lebanon. Despite growing up in Paris, the designer is a citizen of the world having studied in London at the Gemological Institute of America and Central Saint Martins, and traveling throughout the year to far-flung destinations – her designs are effectively a road map of these experiences. Padma, Fares’ latest collection, includes the award-winning Bespoke Pendant, a geometric triumph that employs innovative techniques of multiple stone inlays, hand-carving, and cold enameling. “I found this hexagon star-shaped amethyst at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show,” she says. “I was drawn to its unique cut and vibrant purple color and thought about creating a pendant that feels like a magical object containing special powers… This was my first encounter with the idea that stones have healing properties.”
Originally published in the June 2020 issue of Vogue Arabia