Jewellery design and production has been part of Egyptian culture for as long as anyone can remember. In the last few years a lot of new designers have started to sell their pieces through social media and exhibitions, with many designs featuring traditional Arabic calligraphy.
Young designer Adam Elwan is different; he has designed a collection that is fresh, clean-lined and very beautiful, using sterling silver or 18ct gold and precious and semi-precious stones and wood. His shop, Adam Elwan Bespoke Jewellery Designs, is tucked away in a leafy Maadi street and the displays are filled with the very affordable and beautifully designed pieces.
Elwan grew up around jewellery. “My father is in the jewellery trade, he started a long time ago with a small shop on one of the boats in Aswan and now he has several shops in Sharm El-Sheikh,” he explained. Instead of simply following in his father’s footsteps Elwan spent time in Europe to learn the craft of design properly: “I studied for three years in Florence at Le Arti Orafe where I learned jewellery design and silversmithing.”
When he returned to Egypt it took him a little time to figure out what the next step would be, but once he was ready to develop his own line of jewellery he went straight to the source of craftsmanship in Cairo: the Khan El-Khalili. “I was lucky because my father had a lot of contacts with the craftsmen in the Khan,” Elwan said. “I was welcomed with open arms and the generosity they showed me was overwhelming.”
For the first two years Elwan designed bespoke jewellery for family or friends. “I enjoyed it and it gave me the opportunity to find the people I wanted to work with,” he said. “I work with the craftsmen of two families in the Khan and they are the best at what they do. It is a shame to see how little work there is with the decline in tourism. Families have worked in their crafts for generations yet these days the younger members are leaving to find work elsewhere.”
In the past three years Elwan has continued to build his collection and work closely with the craftsmen in the Khan. “I hope that in the future I will be able to expand and distribute abroad. Or maybe interest people from outside the country in having their designs produced here,” he said. “There is a wealth of craftsmanship here that is going to waste, also production costs in Egypt are very low compared to Europe.”
Elwan’s jewellery stands out with its clean lines and inventive use of material and colours. “I design all the pieces. I love colours and I love to combine them with silver and gold,” Elwan said. One of the materials he uses a lot in his designs is mother of pearl, experimenting with the variety of colours it comes in. “At the moment it is difficult to find, but I am told this is normal, it just is not the right season,” he said. “I source all materials locally and do not use anything synthetic; I admire honesty and I do not want to use dishonest materials.”
One of his favourite designs to date is a pendant in the shape of a light bulb. “I designed it at the request of a friend who wanted to give his girlfriend, Nour [meaning ‘light’], something special,” he said. It has become a favourite amongst customers as has the Kef, a simple and beautifully designed stylistic hand that stands for protection and blessing.
Besides the designs in the collection Elwan is happy to customise his work to customers’ specifications, and to create unique pieces on request.