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Azza Fahmy Mastering Arabian Jewelry

Standing up to represent the Arab heritage globally for any Arab would be something to die for. More so, it’s a multi-disciplinary process that requires one to work from dawn to dusk. And the one living by this philosophy head on for four decades is Azza Fahmy — a world famous Egyptian personality when it comes to designing enchanting pieces of jewelry for beautiful and influential women “To be regarded as one of the most prestigious global jewel brands coming from Egypt and adoringly worn by prominent women from various fields is indeed a matter of pride for us. But it’s a huge responsibility that we work toward sustaining and maintaining every second of the day,” she says.  What makes her even more worthy is that she is performing the balancing act as to restoring Egypt’s incredible handcrafted jewelry history and in so doing letting the entire world take note of it even though the country is caught up in volatile cycles of turmoil at the moment. After all, it’s the heart of the Arab world.  That being said, there is no denying that her extraordinary work helps bring forward one of Egypt’s rich cultural splendors.  It’s partly fascinating how the idea of it dawned on her. She realized her dream of becoming a jewelry designer while she was outside Egypt. “It all began when I came across an art book about classical jewelry of the Medieval Period in Europe. The book was in German language and cost me 17.5 EGP, a fortune at the time. I was quite fascinated by the designs of the jewelry and they inspired me right away. This was the first trigger to my long journey toward building my brand,” she explains. Mastering the art: Initially, she was more curious about acquiring the know-how of making jewels. This search led her to a vibrant quarter of Cairo, Khan El Khalili, known for nurturing the concept of antique jewelry. “Well at first I wanted to learn the craft-and at the time my option was to become an apprentice there and learn at the hands of one of the most skilled masters in this craft. I tied my hair back, wore my overalls and spent two years working in a workshop full of men learning the tricks of the trade,” says Fahmy.  Asked whether it was a common trend for a woman to pursue a career in such a field back then, she said, “Absolutely not! It was pretty much dominated by male craftsmen and jewelers but this never discouraged me. In the mid-seventies I went on to fulfill my fellowship offered by the British Council and studied jewelry craft in the City of London Polytechnic School.”  Big things happen in life but not without obstacles. Nothing comes easy. She herself had to go through such a cycle in her life. Since she was a fine arts graduate and had a stable job in the government, she faced some opposition when she finally moved to work as an apprentice in a workshop. “It was socially unacceptable and raised a lot of questions among my friends and family,” she says. “But I knew what I wanted then, and I’m happy I went for it. Most importantly, these obstacles or challenges helped me grow professionally and personally. It’s an unavoidable part of the process.”  When it comes to jewels, the beautiful intricate designs of Arabian jewelry get a lot of applause from all over the world. They have always been known for their exceptional excellence. As Fahmy puts it instinctively, “The heritage we have is undeniable; it’s reflected in our jewelry both on a crafts and cultural level and therefore it’s bound to stand out. However, it’s also very important to be accurate when referencing cultures and using motifs; the right balance between creativity, design skills and research is a key component.”  Now, the brand enjoys an overwhelming presence in major stores around the globe. It grew as the opportunities grew. Over the past seven years, the business has evolved from an entrepreneur-run company to one with an established and strategically structured operations team. Subsequently, the idea of retail expansions came rolling as they reached a conclusion after a lot of research that it was time for the Azza Fahmy Jewelry brand to step into new markets and address wider audiences as most other international brands do. “Our jewelry holds a universal message of beauty, culture and design. And it’s inevitable that with the growth of a brand that has been around for decades to go dig up other terrain if it is to survive,” she says.  And what about her inspirations to create new and exciting pieces that simply stun? “Inspiration may come from a book, a carpet, an architectural structure, an idea, a poem, a song, or an icon (we just released a collection called “Suma” after the internationally renowned Egyptian singer “Umm Kulthum.” I believe inspiration is everywhere; it’s just a matter of perspective. The pieces in this collection are inscribed with iconic verses from her sublime music that has left an indelible imprint on Egyptian and regional culture. I cherish her so much for her admirable, artistic, charitable and nationalistic affairs. We came up with this amazing collection to celebrate our 45 years of devotion and design.”  The jewels are stamped both with contemporary and vintage designs as a style quotation. The Azza Fahmy brand is famous for it. “In many of our pieces we combine classical jewelry-making techniques (or old motifs) with a focus on contemporary presentation. In a way, this helps our designs remain timeless and authentic,” she explains.  Asked about the Middle Eastern women’s taste in jewelry, she said, “Every part of the world has a different demand especially when it comes to jewelry. We’ve noticed that Arab women prefer to wear statement pieces as opposed to Europeans who have a penchant for daintier designs. It’s a matter of understanding each market and evolving accordingly without losing the core of the brand’s identity.” More importantly, the Azza Fahmy Jewelry has become a spectacular way to connect with the Arab world like never before.  So in what way is Azza Fahmy Jewelry helping to preserve the arts and culture of Egypt and the Middle East as a whole? She replied with a smile on her face, “This is very important to me plus close to my heart. At Azza Fahmy Jewelry, skilled silversmiths still operate under the ancient Ottoman three leveled hierarchy of master/trainer/trainee. The merit of this system is to pass on the jewelry-making craft from generation to generation, ensuring that the young craftsmen learn at the hands of the masters with many years of expertise. This process preserves the authenticity and uniqueness of the craft. I’ve also published a book called “Enchanted Jewelry of Egypt” which documents the different varieties of jewelry deriving from Egypt, illustrating examples, and describing the techniques and skills involved in their production, the materials used, etc.”

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