Azza Fahmy


Dream Turned Reality...

“My long journey with jeweler-making all started with a book…” AF It all started when Azza Fahmy came across an art book about classical jewellery of the middle Ages in Europe. The book was in German and cost 17.5 EGP - a fortune at the time- but neither language nor price barriers stopped her from buying it. Fascinated with the designs of the jewellery, this book was the light that ignited her inspiration. With a B.A. in Interior Design, Azza Fahmy had planned to join the Faculty of Fine Arts to get a second degree in the Applied Arts Department, she soon discarded this plan in favor for an on the job training in the field of jewellery design.
She decided to become an apprentice in Khan El Khalili and learn at the hands of one of the most skilled masters in this craft. "So I tied my hair back, put on my overalls and spent my days in a workshop full of men learning the tricks of the jewellery making trade"

It was culturally and socially unacceptable for a fine arts graduate who held a respectable job in the government to work as an apprentice in a workshop. Though she was deemed crazy by colleagues and friends, her goal was crystal clear for she had found her niche in life. ”My apprenticeship period in Khan El Khalili stretched for two years I recall with nostalgia and affection” Azza Fahmy reminisces.

The first time Fahmy actually handled the tools of the craft, she made a few small rings that were sold at her first exhibition attended by friends, journalists and intellectuals. However, in the mid seventies when the British Council decided to send her on a fellowship to study jewellery craft in the City of London Polytechnic School Azza saw her real chance of turning her dream into a reality. There, she learned the theoretical aspect of what she had practically learned of the craft. It was an enormous leap forward, and she felt deeply grateful for the opportunity to learn how to best execute most of her designs.

Fahmy came back to Cairo with a wider horizon and greater confidence as a jewellery maker. By the early eighties, she had set up her own workshop and employed a team of only two workers.

...Turned Jewellery

Always searching for new sources of inspiration and innovation that would shape her creations, Fahmy began exploring the artistic, intellectual and cultural history of Islamic design. Combining her research with her love for architecture, Azza Fahmy began to design one of her first collections which won her wide appeal and gave instant recognition to the collection. The collection was titled 'Houses of the Nile' and was inspired by Nubia and the traditional architecture of Egypt. It featured jewellery in the shape of small houses gorgeously encrusted with palm trees or rocks. As one critic wrote at the time, "the beauty of this collection is that most people never thought of wearing mud houses ... Azza Fahmy did." Fahmy did not stop there. She conducted countless hours of research and readings with the desire to translate one of her other passions, poetry, into jewellery collections of her own. As a result, her rendition of colloquial poems became an instant success. Fahmy read the poetry and engraved the verses on necklaces, bracelets, earrings, rings and key chains. This brought broad and immediate appeal as many people not only chose beautiful, unique jewellery but the approach seem to satisfy a much needed cultural requirement as they feasted their souls with meaningful verses. From that point on, jewellery with inscribed and engraved verses became Fahmy's signature. Fahmy took this a step further through her love and passion with traditional jewellery. Her studies of the various ages and civilizations were the catalyst for the next turning point in her design career. Fahmy had found the winning combination; she chose traditional proverbs, had them written with beautiful calligraphy, inscribed them on silver and laid them with gold and, so, the Azza Fahmy trademark Culture Collection was born. She became an instant success; one so strong it would take her through the next twenty years.

Azza Fahmy continues to take her passion to new heights. She continues to do her favorite thing - designing jewellery, researching, being inspired and inspiring other people through her jewellery. By doing so, she has successfully transformed the concept of jewellery making from a craft to an art, and has managed to add a new dimension to the wearing of jewellery.

The Company

Azza Fahmy started her journey in the passageways of old Cairo’s Khan El Khalili learning the craft. Today, forty years later, she is internationally recognized as the leading jewellery designer of the Arab world and Egypt’s first designer label.

As the product and brand grew stronger locally, the potential of international markets became very apparent and opportunities for expansion started presenting themselves. Retail expansions started unfolding materializing in several local outlets, as well as standalone and distribution outlets in London, Jordan, Qatar, Bahrain and Dubai. With such rapid expansions, Azza Fahmy realized that internal change was vital to accommodate the growth in the business.

Consequently, over the past six years the business has gone from being a company run by an entrepreneur to an established and strategically structured organization comprising of marketing, sales, design, planning and quality control departments, supported by strong financial and human resource teams to enable the company to sustain its product quality whilst meeting the newly demanded volumes, and to be able to grow steadily in competitive markets.

Ms. Fahmy is currently the Chairwoman of the organization and the Chief Designer. Having once run the business single handedly on every level, she has now handed over all operations to senior management and directs most of her attention to design, she leads a team of designers and model makers, daily training and developing her team to add to the design house, the heart and soul of the company and, its core competency.

Starting 2006, Ms. Fatma Ghaly, Ms. Fahmy's daughter took the reigns as Managing Director's. With a new marketing strategy and company vision, together with a structured organization, she now has all the elements needed to drive through the transformation from a small private business into a globally competitive establishment.

Today, the Studio & Workshop is located in 6th of October Industrial City; and employs over 170 people varying between skilled labor, designers, engineers and marketers. Expansions are happening fast, and the company looks forward to an even more extensive presence in the Middle East and Europe, with the US soon to follow.

The Craftsmanship

Each hand crafted piece of jewellery is unique, with a special tale behind it. Inspired by various cultures, each design is a manifestation of a thought supported by an abundance of research and, an investment of time which includes a process that comprises the expertise and skills of a minimum of 20 craftsmen and 60 delicate manufacture and quality operations. Each piece is a story, from our history to you.

Here are some of the many things that make each piece so distinctive

Preserving Tradition
Today at Azza Fahmy, skilled gold and silversmiths still operate under the ancient ottoman three leveled hierarchy of master/trainer/trainee. The merit of this system is to pass on the jewellery making craft from generation to generation, ensuring that the young craftsmen learn at the hands of the masters with many years expertise. Moreover, it preserves the magic of the craft and its authenticity.

Used as a form of decoration on metals from the earliest times across many cultures and traced all the way back to the Greeks, filigree was a very popular and intricate technique of jewellery making during the Islamic era. The Filigree technique basically entails twisting very fine threads of silver or gold to form beautiful lace-like decorations.
Due to its very time consuming nature - it can only be genuinely done by hand - Filigree was used less and less over the years until it was scarcely used. Today, even when used, silver thread rather than gold is employed as it is easier to shape.
Azza Fahmy is amongst the few that still use the authentic Filigree technique on both silver and gold, making this ancient technique one of her prominent signatures.

Hand Piercing
Hand-piercing is the technique used to engrave a designed motifs or a piece calligraphy using a very thin and sharp tool which travels over the design outline on silver or gold sheets creating holes to carve out the desired shape. The resultant piece is said to have "open work".

This technique brings out the exquisiteness of the designs by giving the pieces added dimension.

Open work can be done on both large and very intricate small areas surrounding a design so that when carved out it creates the artistry of a fusion of different handwork.

Calligraphy & Combining Silver and Gold
Inspired by the vibrant contrast between the metals Azza Fahmy has made the combination gold and silver in a single piece of jewellery her trademark.

Adding an extra dimension is the use of traditional proverbs and verses, scripted in eye-catching calligraphy, inscribed with silver and inlaid with gold, delivering pieces of jewellery that has brought Azza Fahmy international recognition.

Article: Azza Fahmy: Jewels of Araby

Famed Egyptian jewelry designer Azza Fahmy enters the fashion field via a stunning collaboration with Scottish sensation Julien Macdonald.

Azza Fahmy belongs to another place and time. The renowned Egyptian jewelry designer, who launched her latest collection at London Fashion Week in February during the Julien Macdonald show, has a gentle manner and an easy laugh. She exudes self-confidence and style, much like the women of the Egyptian, Lebanese and Syrian haute bourgeoisie during the golden '50s and '80s, when the Arab world was rediscovering its cultural riches, and the future of the Near East seemed to hold promise of better days to come.

Since her initial exhibit in Egypt in 1974, Fahmy has risen up the ranks of Jewelry design to become the country's leading female jewelry designer. "My first exhibit was at the ministry of culture in Cairo," says Fahmy,” and it featured a line inspired by chalices bearing lace motifs and calligraphy. I turned the chalices into brooches and earrings".

That debut exhibit sold out, and Fahmy went on to produce more and more jewelry, gaining greater renown in Egypt, especially with European expatriates. "I was often invited by foreign embassies to present my work," she says. Since then, her rise has been unstoppable. Fahmy now produces at least one collection per year, and she's had over 200 exhibits in various countries over the past 15 years.

When she first started designing jewelry in the early '70s (after having attended the Faculty of Fine Arts in Cairo, and after stints as an interior designer and later as a book illustrator) Fahmy was one of only two women practicing the art in Egypt. (The other was Suzanne el Masri.) "I started at the bottom and worked my way up", says Fahmy of her two years as an apprentice at Khan al Khalil's jewelry souk in Cairo. Working in a traditionally male-dominated sector was never a problem; "The hardest part was being a wife, a mother and a working woman, all at the same time."

In 1978, after a number of exhibits, Fahmy received a scholarship from the British Council to study jewelry craft at the City of London Polytechnic. In six months, she earned a Master's degree that usually takes two years to complete.

Her main source of inspiration, from the beginning, was art. "Some say that my work is inspired by Islamic art, but it's not that narrow." Fahmy says. "I am inspired by art in general: contemporary, Asian, Indian and even crafts. I've been successful because I was able to mix all of these influences to create something new." But she is also inspired by books. "I read a lot," Fahmy says, "and I integrate what I'm reading into my work. For example, The Prophet by (Lebanese author) Gibran Kahlil Gibran was my source of inspiration for the Gibran collection." (This collection remains one of her favorites to date.)

Generally, Fahmy uses silver and 18 Karat gold as well as precious and semi-precious stories for her work. And her jewelry has achieved tremendous success the world over for many reasons, not the least of which is the distinctiveness of each Azza Fahmy piece. "Each piece is handmade, so no two pieces are the same, and each one takes about six months to make," she says, adding that every creation bears the Azza Fahmy stamp, which itself was inspired from an emblem once used by Ottoman sultans.

Although she prefers not to name any of her famous customers, It's no secret that legendary screen icon Catherine Deneuve, Queen Noor of Jordan and Jihan Sadat, widow of assassinated Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, have all been spotted wearing Fahmy's jewelry.

More recently, Fahmy has turned to fashion as a novel source of inspiration, and this has resulted in her collaboration with Macdonald. "I've been keen to work with a designer who has similar values and who understands the female form," says Fahmy, adding that her newest line was created especially for his fall/winter 2007 - 08 line, unveiled last February. "Fashion is the direction I wanted to take." she says, "and I considered many offers, but in the end I went with Julien because he best understands the outer and inner woman, and he's truly interested in the Middle East."

Currently, there are eight Azza Fahmy stores, all of them in the Middle East: five in Cairo, one in Alexandria, one in Dubai and one in Jordan. A ninth store in Bahrain is being refurbished and is scheduled to reopen this year. The coming years will witness many more store openings for the designer, including an eponymous boutique scheduled to open in London in 2008 and which will mark the first step in her European expansion strategy, Fahmy also has plans to hit the US market, with the possible opening on an Azza Fahmy boutique in Los Angeles.

Will these ambitious expansion plans somehow affect the uniqueness of Fahmy's work? Could she one days start mass producing her jewelry? The designer doesn't see this happening. "My jewelry is personal - it's as personal as can be," she says. "I put all my love in the pieces I create."

Azza Fahmy at work

Marwan Naaman

Featured Works

 Gold, Stones - Artistic pendant with large turquoise detailed  with detailed filigree, Diamonds, Peridot, and Amethyst
Gold, Stones - Artistic pendant with large turquoise detailed with detailed filigree, Diamonds, Peridot, and Amethyst
 Gold, Stones - Gold multilayered filigree ring adorned  with multi color Sapphires
Gold, Stones - Gold multilayered filigree ring adorned with multi color Sapphires
 Gold - Tourmaline encrusted flower broach
Gold - Tourmaline encrusted flower broach
 Gold - Gold Bracelet
Gold - Gold Bracelet
 Gold, Stones - One of a kind gold ring designed around 28 ct Aquamarine
Gold, Stones - One of a kind gold ring designed around 28 ct Aquamarine
 Gold, Stones - Gold necklace inspired by the Egyptian peasant  necklaces (karadeen) adorned with Garnets
Gold, Stones - Gold necklace inspired by the Egyptian peasant necklaces (karadeen) adorned with Garnets
 Silver - Silver Rings in a fusion of motifs and calligraphy
Silver - Silver Rings in a fusion of motifs and calligraphy
 Gold and Silver - Stack Rings with Hand and Eye  Protection Symbols & Calligraphy Reading 'Mercy'
Gold and Silver - Stack Rings with Hand and Eye Protection Symbols & Calligraphy Reading 'Mercy'
 Silver, Stones - Dramatically sized silver cuff pierced  with abstract motifs adorned with purple Amethyst,  green Amethyst, & Citrine
Silver, Stones - Dramatically sized silver cuff pierced with abstract motifs adorned with purple Amethyst, green Amethyst, & Citrine
 Gold and Silver - Silver gold draped like fringe necklace  adorned with calligraphy & abstract geometric motifs
Gold and Silver - Silver gold draped like fringe necklace adorned with calligraphy & abstract geometric motifs