Emirati artists deliver their best efforts to be Jewellery Designer of the Year, Mitya Underwood writes
When Sheikha Alserkal answers her phone the sound of her excited two-year-old son can be heard in the background. Like most mothers, Alserkal, an Emirati, is obviously an expert multitasker. As well as being a full-time mum and accounting graduate, the 26-year-old born in Dubai has made a name for herself as one of the country’s most promising up-and-coming jewellery designers.
Next week she will attend a glitzy ceremony in Dubai where the organisers of Dubai International Jewellery Week will announce the winner of the Emirati Jewellery Designer of the Year award – Alserkal is ranked in the top five. "For as long as I can remember I have been interested in stones as a hobby, reading books about all the precious stones," she says.
“I’m not sure if it’s the lustre that appeals, maybe it’s the sparkle. The main appeal for me is the artistry that goes into jewellery in general, the thought and work that’s put into each piece.”
While studying accounting at the Higher Colleges of Technology at Dubai Women’s College, Alserkal discovered the local office of the International Gemological Institute, which runs course on subjects including jewellery design and pearl and diamond grading. “I did classes in the institute in the mornings then the afternoon in college. I did it because I was really passionate about it.”
After graduating, marrying and having her son Salem, Alserkal is now taking her love of precious stones to the next level. She has completed a variety of courses at the IGI to learn the art of designing jewellery that people want to wear. “Designing jewellery is all about the way you can put the idea of a piece into a drawing, and how you interpret the drawing. You have to make the sketches exactly to scale.
“What inspires me most is Islamic architecture. I try to interpret it in my jewellery. It’s mostly the patterns that are used in the mosques, there’s a lot of symmetry reflected in it. Once I have the inspiration, I start experimenting with a number of sketches and look at whatever works, and of course what would be consumer-friendly. You can go all artsy and turn out a masterpiece but then you have to look at the consumer and see what people want to wear.
“You begin to learn what stones work well together, and what patterns work. Designing a piece of jewellery is like putting together all the pieces of a puzzle.”
Her entry into the designer of the year competition – The Arabesque – draws on her love of architecture commonly seen in mosques, with three tear-shaped, flat gold patterns connected by a thin gold chain.
“It was from my jewellery course, my first, my baby, so I had a million thoughts before submitting it,” she says. “I like it because everything is symmetrical; it takes time to get that right in a drawing.”
Alserkal’s name might sound familiar to those who are knowledgeable about the Dubai art scene, but she makes no attempt to trade on it. In fact, when asked about her family background it takes some gentle coaxing to get the answer. Her uncle, with whom she is close, is the founder of Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue, home to 10 contemporary art galleries and another 10 creative organisations. Her father, Abdulla Alserkal, also established the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding 17 years ago. “The love of art and architecture runs in the family I think,” she says, laughing. “My family know I’m interested in the jewellery design but I’m not sure they know how serious I am about it. It will be a surprise to them.
“Sometimes people rely on the family background thing but for me this is about building myself and being independent.”
The Dubai International Jewellery Week is dubbed “the Middle East’s most influential jewellery event”. Last year’s show, also at the Dubai World Trade Centre, attracted more than 20,000 visitors, comprising of traders, designers, sellers and members of the public. This year the Gemological Institute of America will host daily seminars on the latest jewellery trends in the region. The competition element of the show has attracted entries from countries including Bulgaria, India, Russia and Libya.
“The awards provide an outstanding opportunity to showcase significant achievements and talents of emerging jewellery designers from across the world – both amateur and professionals,” says Trixie Lohmirmand, senior vice president at the Dubai World Trade Centre. “With a magnificent range of jewellery on display, visitors are encouraged to come to the event and experience first-hand the most influential jewellery exhibition in the Middle East.”
Alia Al Falasi, 23, another of the top five entrants in the Emirati Jewellery Designer of the Year award, is a student at the Damas Jewellery Academy in Dubai. With encouragement from her tutor, she entered the design for her La Perle choker, which incorporates her love of floral and old designs. “I went to Kinokuniya book shop and was looking to buy jewellery books but I couldn’t find many. I found a book on ornaments, with a lot of leaves and curved lines, and it helped me a lot. It is all illustrations from the 1800s. I love flowers so I was able to use the ideas in my design.”
Al Falasi, an applied communications graduate from Dubai, is a talented illustrator as well as a designer and hopes to find a profession that requires her to do both. “I love to learn new things, anything to do with drawing or design. My family motivates me and encourages me and I’m really enjoying my course.”
Al Falasi’s favourite jewellery brand is Cartier, which became famous during the Art Deco period in the 1920s and 1930s. “I love Cartier. Their pieces are classics and pretty. When I’m designing myself, I look at different styles of jewellery and it gives me an idea of what will work. I also go to a lot galleries and of course Art Abu Dhabi and Art Dubai every year. There’s a lot of places to find inspiration.”
Dubai is incredibly well placed to host a jewellery fair – the emirate’s diamond trade alone is worth close to US$40 billion (Dh146bn). In 2005, when the Dubai Diamond Exchange was set up, it was worth just $5 million (Dh18m). As more and more deals are done, the opportunities for young people to get involved in the trade – from designing to trading – are growing.
Moza Al Shamsi, from Al Ain, is a recently graduated jewellery design student from the Abu Dhabi Vocational Education and Training Institute campus in Al Ain. Now she has big plans for her future. “I want to go to London to study more,” she says. “I’d like to go to the School of Fashion and Design. Once I get married in maybe four months, inshallah, I will persuade my husband to go there with me.”
Al Shamsi’s design for the competition, Blessing, uses the hexagon shape, which is the symbol of heaven in Islamic architecture and one of the fundamental shapes in Islamic art. “The thoughts for my pieces came from the Sheikh Zayed Mosque. It’s the Islamic shape. The mosque has lots of different nice design elements to look at it. This is how I design. I use what appeals to me and try to turn it into something beautiful.”
The Dubai International Jewellery Week runs at the Dubai World Trade Centre from Wednesday, December 4, to Saturday, December 7. The awards will be announced on Thursday.
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