In conversation with: Emirati designer Noora Shawqi on her debut jewellery collection
"I took a big leap in my jewellery designs"
Here at Buro. HQ, there's nothing we love more than seeing people paving the way for the next generation by following their dreams and doing what they truly want to be doing in life. And, that is exactly the case with Noora Shawqi, an Emirati national who had a job in the government sector before deciding to leave and launch her own jewellery line.
Quite different to the region's other jewellery offerings, Shawqi's collections change every season as most of the creations are inspired by her trips to different cities and countries. For her first collection, Ceylon, the pieces are beautifully made with some of the finest gemstones (which aren't easy to find as Shawqi later explains) in impeccable designs.
To celebrate the new collection, Buro. Middle East sat down with the Emirati designer to discuss the launch, her earliest memory of jewellery and a sneak peek into what's next...
Congratulations on the launch of your first collection! Can you tell us a little bit how this all started for you?
Thank you! I've been passionate about jewellery my whole life, since I was a teenager or even younger than that. When we go to the mall, I don't step into the clothing stores or look for bags. The first thing my eyes attract is the jewellery. When I used to shop with my mum, I would tell her "One day, I'm going to buy this or this", and mainly the wishlists I had were always jewellery.
An expensive wishlist!
Yes, unfortunately (laughs). When I finished university, I didn't know what steps I would take next. My friends all started working and I was like, you know what, I think I'm going to start with jewellery and start studying jewellery to see where it takes me. So, I took the course in diamonds and polished diamonds to know more about it. I was so fascinated that in these small stones, there are so many characteristics, so many measurements and it's a whole other study. So when I finished, I went to work in the government sector because I got a job offer there and then I got married, I got a son and after that, I was like "You know what, life is too short and I should do what I enjoy". With the government entity, I used to do something in PR and I was always on my desk looking at jewellery (laughs) whilst working. So I decided to get more into this and resigned. So, I started blogging and people's reactions were really good and my husband was telling me to take the next step and just go continue studying and take a full course. Then, I went to the Gemological Institution of America which is the best-certified school in diamonds and gemstones worldwide, and I took a course there.
You have a very supportive husband, by the sound of it!
Yes! Without him, I really wouldn't be here. He was like "Look, you're going to this course, you're finishing it and you're starting it." I was telling him that I was so scared and I was so worried.
It's hard especially because there's a lot of competition in the industry...
Exactly! There's so much competition and I wanted to do it 100 per cent. So, I went into this course and when I was there, with all of the studying, it was such an intense course. It was like six hours of studying, then I come home and it's three hours of homework. I was managing this and mum life and everything.
People don't really understand the science that goes behind gemstones as well. Can you tell us a little about that?
It's true! That's why I'm so amazed how they form, the colours they make and it was like another world for me. For me, it's art.
How does your Emirati heritage influence the art of your designs?
When I went into this business, of course, the heritage does have a part of me in it but I feel like, I'm going more in a way where I want to go on international standards of selling. I want to be international and I took a big leap in my jewellery designs.
I'm using gemstones that aren't so popular in our region. So here, the popular things are diamonds, rubies, sapphires, pearls and emeralds. Those five are what everyone seeks. So when I started, my aim is to change people's perspectives about gemstones. These stones, they don't look at as being as luxurious as the other top five, so I took them and made each look rich in its own way. In my collection, I used minimal designs for the stones to pop and for the stones to be more appreciated in a very elegant way so that it can be worn during the day and during your night. It can be worn always and that was my goal.
Talk us through your debut collection, Ceylon...
So I went to Sri Lanka and I was actually in search for something. Before we went, I told my husband and the other couple we were with, that we're going to search for a stone called padparadscha which is a type of sapphire. It's a stone that is mainly found in Sri Lanka and it can be found in Madagascar but it's mainly in Sri Lanka. The padparadschas are usually there and since we were going there, I was like, I need to get one! We were there for a couple of days and throughout the trip, we were going from one jewellery store to another, and over there, there are so many jewellery stores! Their commodity after the tea is gemstones. When I went there, the first thing I saw were these drawers with all of these colours of gemstones and I was like "Where were these all my life?" (Laughs). I knew about them but I never really appreciated it myself. So I was still searching for this stone but along the way, I was talking to jewellers and learning about these other stones but I finally found the padparadscha and when I came home, I was only designing for this stone. At this time, I was still trying to figure out this jewellery line. You know, I love to travel and most of the things that inspire me are different cities, countries and history. So I thought I could base my brand on travel destinations and each time, it's going to be something different and each theme will be different depending on the city and what inspires me the most. So of course in Sri Lanka, the people are amazing and they're so sweet but the most thing that inspired me was the colours.
The colours are clearly evident in your collections...
Yes, so I tried to do it where these colours represent sunset and nature. For example, the green in the collection is the nature, the red and orange are for the sunset, and the blue is for the raindrops and beach as well.
What are you hoping people will take from your collections?
When they buy the pieces, I want them to feel good but to be educated at the same time about the piece. When they buy the piece, I also want them to feel connected to the place. So most of them in this collection, are actually brought from Sri Lanka directly and from my supply in Sri Lanka.
What's your Middle Eastern clientele like?
I noticed that women are going for earrings and rings more.
Jewellery is such an important part of the Middle East. Can you recall your earliest memory of it?
I can! I was actually passing by Cartier and on the stand outside, there was a necklace and it was just a line of diamonds. But, these diamonds were so big and I was like "I need to have this!". I was probably a teenager and I would put the necklace as my display picture, it was everywhere, like on my Facebook and I was telling my mum that one day, I'm going to have this necklace. (Laughs). This is my earliest memory of me being attracted to diamonds. I still remember the necklace!
What can we expect to see next?
I'm thinking of travelling to the Maldives. I already have a plan and I'm hoping I can proceed with it. It's going to be three different types of mother of pearl. It will be white, pink and greyish black, also turquoise for the beach and water, and I was thinking of using coral but I might not. We'll see!
Noora Shawqi's collections can be purchased through her Instagram page @by.noorashawqi.