Tariq Riaz's UAE-inspired jewellery is winning design awards around the world

Step into his Abu Dhabi workshop, where engineering and luxury meet to create exquisite high-end jewellery

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From his modest studio space in Abu Dhabi, Tariq Riaz is revolutionising jewellery as we know it.

His entry into the world of luxury jewellery came almost by accident. With a background in engineering and robotics, design had always been in his nature, but when his wife was pregnant with their first daughter, his focus switched to a more personal endeavour.

Tariq Riaz uses a big microscope, which has 30x magnification, to personally check each item before putting on the logo. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

“My wife was complaining throughout the pregnancy that her wedding band did not fit her swollen fingers,” Riaz says. “She brought it up a few times and said ‘you have a background in design, can we do something about it?’ So I started taking the ring to work with me and thinking of answers to the problem.”

Riaz observes every detail through the jewellers loupe to check the quality of work produced at his studio space in Mussafah, Abu Dhabi. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

Riaz, who moved to the UAE from the US 11 years ago, had an idea to engineer the ring’s design in a way that would allow it to expand and contract as his wife’s finger changed shape, and spent three years travelling the world with his concept, in the hopes of finding someone who could find a way to bring it to life.

It was finally a craftsman in Bali who was able to help Riaz to realise his design and create the first prototype.

Samir Maity, a skilled craftsman from West Bengal, uses a welding torch for soldering the jewellery item at the Mussafah studio. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

“I made that ring and I gave it to my wife, and she still wears it to this day,” he says. “But then I said to her ‘I have a problem now, I don’t think I can go back to doing what I was doing before’."

With an idea that Riaz knew had potential to appeal to jewellery lovers around the world, he immersed himself in the industry, studying gemstones and pearls at the Gemological Institute of America.

Gold grains being weighed before the melting process. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

“I come with this disclaimer that prior to this, I had absolutely no connections to jewellery,” he says. “No pedigree or family background, none whatsoever. I didn’t know anything about running a jewellery business eight years ago, so I came from a completely fresh standpoint. I started looking at a ring and thought, ‘how would I do this’. My canvas was always from a place of functionality first.”

That canvas has formed the base of all of Riaz’s designs, and allows his pieces to expand between six and nine sizes, making them suitable for almost every finger.

The four mechanisms used to achieve this have been copyrighted by Riaz and his eponymous jewellery label, and have won him 17 major design awards to date, including being named the Cindy Edelstein Memorial Emerging Designer of the Year in 2021.

Palm Weave ring made of gold with ceramic inlay. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

Riaz has lived in Abu Dhabi for more than a decade, and the UAE has heavily inspired his collections. “All my early collections were inspired by landmarks of the UAE and the nostalgic feelings that are in the history here but that you don’t see,” he says. “For example, I have pieces inspired by the old water jars that people used to leave out for anyone walking by. I used palm trees and dates in my work.”

He also created a special 21-piece fine jewellery collection to celebrate the UAE’s golden jubilee in 2021 based on Al Jahili Fort in Al Ain and Qasr Al Hosn.

A ring design that represents Khalas, a type of date, part of the unique UAE 50 Collection by Tariq Riaz in the Jewellery & Watch Show, Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

“Those pieces were all made in platinum and took three and a half years to make,” he says. “I wanted to show my take on exquisite high-end jewellery and create something that could end up on display somewhere ― it has very strong ties to the history of this region. Each ring has 1,300 to 1,400 diamonds in it. I made it as an homage to my time here.”

Riaz has 14 people working for him in his Abu Dhabi workshop, and plans to double that number by the end of the year. “Everything is done here in Abu Dhabi, from the first line on a piece of paper to the finished product,” he says.

“This is not another way to make money, it’s about what really makes me feel like I am living a purposeful life and this is my purpose and passion at the moment. It wasn’t about a return on investment, it was just something I was having fun doing and I kept going.”

Updated: May 20, 2022, 6:00 PM