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Inside the Fantastical Life of Emirati Fine Jewelry Designer Salama Khalfan

The Emirati fine jewelry designer and co-founder of Sawa opens the doors to her fantastical life. 

Salama Khalfan wearing a Dries Van Noten blazer and skirt, with David Webb ring. Photographed by Anna Grytsan for Vogue Arabia

The vibrant world of a jeweler

Emirati designer Salama Khalfan founded her eponymous fine jewelry label on the idea of creating whimsical diamond-studded designs and bold bespoke pieces featuring colorful gemstones and fine metals. She drew inspiration from her passion for horses, thirst for adventure, and the exploration of cultures. “I enjoy the places my collections take me to for inspiration, and sometimes for production,” says the award-winning jeweler, who took home the best daywear jewelry prize at the 2015 Abu Dhabi Ebda’a Awards. She is currently working on a collection that sees her split her time between Venice and Dubai. “Pandemic aside, I had to travel back and forth between the two cities. The Venetians showed me a different side of the city that I had never experienced before,” she shares. Since launching in 2014, Khalfan’s designs have adorned Hollywood leading ladies, including Meryl Streep and Emma Stone. “When I received a call that Kendall Jenner wanted to buy four of my rings, I knew that creating beautiful things with quality will get you there the right way, no matter how long it takes,” says the designer. “Every time I see a woman wearing one of my pieces, I feel like I have extended the message of what I create, which is wearable art. And, to them, this art is well-received.”

A Fendi Mini Peekaboo bag and Valentino heels. Photographed by Anna Grytsan for Vogue Arabia

Stronger together

What started out as an exchange of messages over Instagram between Khalfan and fashion entrepreneur Ghizlan Guenez has since blossomed into a friendship powered by similar goals and ambitions. “Both of us had our offices in Dubai Design District, and we decided to have lunch together. Sitting with her didn’t feel like meeting for the first time; it felt like we were school friends connecting again. She is genuine, transparent, and so sincere,” Khalfan says of Guenez. Four years later, they launched Sawa in April this year, an exhibition platform that supports small businesses in the fashion and creative fields. “As two women and entrepreneurs from the region and from the creative industry, we are passionate about our ecosystem and about coming together to support where we can. We have experienced first-hand the detrimental effects of Covid-19 on our own businesses and peers. Seeing companies of all sizes close their doors compelled us to take action,” she shares. The Ramadan exhibition showcased 58 regional brands, business owners, artists, and creatives under one roof for four days at Dubai’s creative stomping ground, Alserkal Avenue.

In a choice silk coat and Hashimi dress, with a Gabriela Hearst bag, and Sam Edelman Mules. Photographed by Anna Grytsan for Vogue Arabia

Balancing act

“My closet accommodates my daytime calendar,” says Khalfan about adapting runway and editorial looks into her lifestyle. “Getting ready in the morning for the office, I opt for something functional and smart with an edgy flare.” Before heading out for the day, she packs her riding gear in her Balley shopper handbag, which was hand-painted by Los Angeles-based artist Oliver Coreaux. “It fits the contents of a small apartment. Really,” Khalfan says. She spends most evenings at home entertaining friends over dinner. “I like to put on a nice kaftan, something beautiful and comfortable, while I spend an evening with the girls,” she says, shifting through her kaftan collection and pulling out a Taller Marmo number. “You caught me on a special day, it’s my seven- year wedding anniversary today,” she smiles, flashing a pair of earrings designed by her friend Sylvie Corbelin that her husband gifted to her on the same occasion last year. Jewelry plays a leading role in Khalfan’s style. “I love Alexandre Vauthier and Alex Perry, both have fine cuts and are quite structured, especially around the shoulders. They leave plenty of room for accessorizing with jewelry.”

A Viera by Ragazze Bag and Isabel Marant Blazer, with a turquoise ring by Salama Khalfan, and Attilio Codognato Memento Mori ring. Photographed by Anna Grytsan for Vogue Arabia

Personal treasures

Imbued with meaning, Khalfan’s personal jewelry collection is laden with family history. “I always appreciated jewelry and I loved seeing it on my mother and my aunts – some of the most influential women in my life,” she shares. “Every time my mother took off her jewelry pieces and placed them on her dresser, I would pick them up and put them on my head, neck, and arms. I loved wearing them in unusual places. I remember breaking a beautiful necklace with diamonds and a dark blue sapphire while trying it on – luckily, she took it with a grain of salt,” she remembers with a laugh. The most sentimental piece is a diamond necklace centered with an emerald heart that her late father gifted her mother after his first trip to Belgium. “I grew up watching my mother wear it without knowing how much it meant to her. After my father’s passing, she gave it to me. I feel very sentimental when I wear it and become overwhelmed with emotions. I only wear it on special days when I miss him and need to feel closer to him.”

A collection of Salama Khalfan jewelry and accessories. Photographed by Anna Grytsan for Vogue Arabia

Equestrian spirit

Khalfan’s passion for horseback riding served as inspiration for her first jewelry design: a gold bracelet intertwined with a leather wraparound strap. “My devotion to horses is important to me. The purest state of meditation that I have ever experienced is on a horse. I feel more connected to life when I am on a saddle.” The accomplished show jumper shares, “I have had my fair share of injuries but since I had my son, I have become more mindful of preserving my health.” With countless shows under her belt, the secret to keeping her head in the game is recognizing small wins, discipline, and habit.

Khalfan wearing a Stella Jean dress, traditional Palestinian embroidered abaya coat, Manolo Blahnik mules, and a ring of her own design. Photographed by Anna Grytsan for Vogue Arabia

Multisensory Memories

Khalfan has also been immersed in music since childhood. Her instrument of choice? The piano. “I started playing before learning to read the notes. I played what I could hear, and I composed my first short piece as a teenager.” Khalfan commissioned an instrumental piece produced and recorded by a Hungarian orchestra to serve as ambient music in her flagship boutique. Meanwhile, to enhance the multisensory intimate experience, the designer is currently developing a signature scent for her jewelry salon. “Music and scent are two things that teleport us through time and I want to instill those within our brand’s image.

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Originally published in the May 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia

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