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Egyptian jewellery manufacturers need to more focus on product innovation to compete globally: designer Omama Atef
I created exclusive collection of wedding jewellery for Emirati princesses, says Egyptian-Italian designer
Published in Daily News Egypt on 28 - 02 - 2020

Jewellery design is one of human civilization's earliest forms of decoration, starting at least 7,000 years ago. The oldest known human societies like Ancient Egypt wore jewellery. In Egypt, the wealthy wore pieces made from precious stones and metals. The poor substituted these with painted clay, stones, shells, animal teeth, and bones. Naturally, jewellery design was transmitted across Egyptian generations and we have today brilliant creators in the field. One of those is Egyptian-Italian Omama Atef who made her way through this difficult profession, producing several collections of high-quality jewelleries. Daily New Egypt interviewed Atef to learn about her career in luxury designing and painting diamond portraits.
Could you tell us about yourself, and what first led you to work in jewellery designing?
Fortunately, I was raised in an artistic family that loved arts and culture. I spent my childhood in an environment that supports creativity. My father was an architect and my grandfather was a contemporary artist. I think my DNA is artistic!
I studied business and management in Cairo University. But after the graduation, I realised that I do not have any passion about business. So, I decided to follow my dream and to be a jewellery designer, and then I studied jewellery design.
What was your academic major?
I studied jewellery design in the Istituto di Moda Burgo in Milan [a private Italian school of fashion]. I got a Master's in jewellery consultancy, and a Graduate Gemologist degree from the Gemological Institute of America.
How did your jewellery design journey start?
After my jewellery design study, I worked as a creative designer. After five years, I became a Head Designer in one of Egypt's largest diamond companies.
Although I have been working in jewellery design for over 16 years, it takes time to produce a collection of high-quality pieces that can compete in the market of jewellery. I believe I could make special jewels for women.
How could you change jewellery design from a hoppy into a profession?
It is not easy to be as professional designer, as you should improve your skills through hard work. I'd like to thank all my managers who believed in my talent and supported me through my career path.
Did your migration to Italy contribute to enhancing your talent?
Absolutely, moving to Italy and becoming an Italian citizen was an important phase for me and my career. It helped me have good opportunities that enhanced my career, as well as open my own business, Diamond Art Studio, in Venice city. It also helped me have direct contact with important brands in the sector that present high-end jewellery and deal with the most important art collectors in Europe.
Why did you start painting diamond portraits, and what are the stories you want to tell through your work?
Diamonds and gemstones are always my passion. They come from the nature and then are recut by human hands. I express this relationship between human and nature through my contemporary art of luxury artwork.
My paintings are magnified facets of real diamond and gemstones, inspired by abstract and symmetrical patterns of diamonds.
My artistic message is “Inside every one of us a real jewel like a diamond.”
Have you got a scholarship to study jewellery design?
No, my family believed in my talent and encouraged me from a very young age to develop my skills. They paid for my studies in jewellery design. “From that moment on, I knew that designing would be my future.” This was the greatest scholarship!
Have you worked with any international brands?
Absolutely, I have a great collaboration with Parisian high-end jewellery designers, which enhanced my design.
What are the international exhibitions you have participated in?
I've participated in many big exhibitions in high-end jewellery and art, including the Vicenzaoro jewellery show and the Baselworld show for watches and jewellery. For me, the best show was the Vicenza Jewelry Museum.
Can you tell us about your design style, and what makes your collections unique?
In facets, my design relies on freedom in creativity with consideration that the designs should be attractive enough to meet the expectations of clients besides target costing.
For me, technical accuracy is the most important part that makes a jewellery unique.
Does wedding jewellery control the size of demand used in the design?
Actually, the emerging trend of wedding jewellery is gaining momentum in the market. It positively contributed to the market growth. Women when choosing their jewellery are focusing on the latest trends of necklaces, hairpins, and bangles. The customisation of such products is an important factor that can likely increase the market growth.
How does your typical working day look like as a jewellery designer?
The perfect working day starts early morning, as it's the best time for designing and painting. Some days are more busy than others, but it's never the same, which is partly why I love what I do. It's always different and new. It is out of the routine!
What's your favourite self-made piece of jewellery and why?
Every pieces of my jewellery are the best ones for me because I put a part of my soul and inspiration in it.
How many collections have you produced so far?
I've produced a lot of collections. I have abundant amounts of designs in different styles. They are my treasure.
What are the most materials you use in your design?
Combining different materials, metals, and colours are necessary for creating a good piece of jewellery. The more important thing is how can you use them in design.
What is your favourite diamond shape?
I like all the shapes of diamond. However, I prefer the trillion cut diamond because it has three equal sides.
Have you ever got an unusual design request from a customer?
I have created an exclusive collection of wedding jewellery for an Emirati princesses. The collection included a masterpiece necklace inspired from the desert snake with Burmese rubies hanging inside and around. It was legendary!
Have you seen the jewellery of Tutankhamun, or read any books about pharaonic jewelleries like Jewels of the Pharaohs by Cyril Aldred?
Of course, I have seen Tutankhamun's collection to deepen my knowledge about the ancient Egyptian civilization. I have many books about jewellery by Egyptologists. Cyril Aldred's book marked each treasure's history, and discussed how each jewellery was made and who by, as well as the materials used.
How do you see the jewellery industry in the Arab world?
The Middle East and Africa region is expected to witness significant growth in this sector. The jewellery design in the UAE and Saudi Arabia is very unique and world-famous. I believe this region can contribute significantly to the market growth in the coming period due to the presence of huge gold mines and the emergence of the UAE as the largest diamond trading hub.
How do you see the jewellery market in Egypt?
Egyptian jewellery industry was hit hard after the Arab Spring. The political turmoil that followed led to a decline in the value of the country's currency, and foreign reserves fell to record lows.
From my point of view, jewellery manufacturers need to more focus on product innovation by leveraging the demand for cross-cultural jewellery designs. Additionally, they should invest more in raising the quality of production, improving craftsmanship, and adopting new technologies.
As a designer, from where do you draw your inspiration from?
I am a visual learner, so what I see inspires me. It could be anything; pattern, building, or artwork. My last collection “The Carnival of Venice” was inspired by the Venetian Gothic Architecture.
What are the upcoming trends in jewellery design?
As the lifestyle changes, jewellery trends do. Usage of gold chains and necklaces is no longer limited to one gender. Men and women wear rings, plain gold chains, and anklets as a fashion statement. Additionally, growing acceptance of jewellery among men is another factor propelling market growth.
Who are your favourite designers?
The Italian fashion designer Donatella Versace and surrealist artist Salvador Dali. They are very inspiring.
What challenges do you face in your work?
Every one face different challenges from time to time. But if you are passionate enough about what you are doing and really pour yourself into it. You will find the chances to move forward and be successful.
What are the international awards you have received?
In 2007, I received the Award for Excellence by HRD Antwerp for “The Mask of Gold”.
What do the Arab jewellery markets lack to compete with Europe?
The global market is very competitive and fragmented due to the presence of many key manufacturers. The product innovation through new manufacturing technologies can help Arabs to compete globally.
Are Arab women different than Europeans when it comes to jewellery?
In fact, there are differences between them. The Arab women love to acquire a luxury jewellery with a rich character for their strong culture aesthetic. So, the luxurious brands are heading towards the Arab markets. They are well versed about their culture and traditions.
As for the European women, they are more fashionable and stylish. They look for the simplicity in jewellery design and a different piece with a story to tell. They like to know from where the stones came from and what inspired the design.
Do you have any expansion plans for your studio in 2020?
I plan to expand in different markets and collaborate with more brands, as well as participate in international exhibitions of high-end jewellery.
What advice would you have for young jewellery designers?
I advise them to never forget their origins, improve their skills, and follow their dreams. Do what you Love!
About 48% and 28% of potential investment and jewellery consumers, respectively, cite lack of trust as a significant barrier. That could be mistrust around fake or counterfeit bars and coins, product purity, or the trustworthiness of some retailers. The World Gold Council highlights opportunities for gold for those working in both retail investment and jewellery markets.
What advice do you give to people when buying gold and jewellery?
For consumers, be aware about authenticity of the metals and gems used in the jewellery pieces. Buy gold and jewellery from trusted brands.
The increasing global focus on sustainability in the fashion industry has also raised questions about the environmental impacts and ethics of jewellery, can you provide a guide for jewellery lovers, and how can they buy ethical jewellery?
From my point of view, the most basic aspect of ethical production that the manufacturers are not only following the authenticity standards and transparency. It is one of the most difficult to achieve because most metals and minerals come out of the poorest regions on the Earth, and pass through multiple hands on their way to the end consumer, most without any traceability.
For consumers finding jewellery made by companies that make an effort to make a difference, there's more than the joy of wearing a beautiful thing. It is not easy, but more and more jewellery companies are creating ethical jewellery. And as long as consumers continue to ask for it, ethical jewellery options will continue to grow.

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