Men of the Nassar family dedicated many years to a passion that was carried in their genes. From the vintage Rolls Royce casually parked in front of the door, to the historic mansion in the heart of Heliopolis and the family portraits, the Nassars are clearly proud of their long line of jewellery visionaries.
The Nassar family have always been known for their contributions in Egypt’s leading jewellery industry. As one of the oldest families in the business, they are experts in anything and everything in the local and international jewellery trends of the past century.
Daily News Egypt spoke with members of the third and fourth generations of the jewellery experts, Moustafa and Raafat Nassar, to delve into the intricacies of the ancient business and how it was affected by modernity, as well as to learn more about the family’s history.
For how long has the family been in the jewellery business?
Moustafa: Ever since 1935, when my grandfather established Iram Jewelry, we currently have four generations that have worked in this business solely. As a child I dreamt of excelling in this business and even help it evolve further.
I started observing my father and grandfather’s work at the early age of nine. I used to watch them work and imitate their moves while discovering the tools; with time this industry became a part of my existence not just a career. I have acquired 18 different diplomas in the fields of precious stones and gold making over the course of a long time in France, Switzerland and Italy.
My brother and I managed to establish the biggest name in the Middle East; our mother company owns Egy Gold, Egy Diamond and Iram. Today our factory is operated by more than 2,000 employees from across Egypt. We export our products to more than 26 countries in the world and we are well-known for our high quality and exquisite finishing details.
Raafat: Jewellery is something that we have always been involved in. After studying it, my brother Hassan and I had a vision of modernising this industry. Ancient Egyptians were the first to create golden jewellery; we want to use our experience and education in carrying this heritage.
I was younger than seven years old when I started visiting the family’s workshop; I used to draw amateur designs and my father used to keep them and teach me how to fine tune them.
Jewellery is usually an inherited business, why is that?
Moustafa: This business is usually based on family ties, but we are currently working on changing that through our jewellery school; today we are passing it to different generations not only our family. We pass our experience and knowledge as it is part of our intellectual responsibility.
Raafat: That could be attributed to the fact that consumers appreciate honesty, while professionals are afraid to share their personal techniques with strangers.
How do you perceive the current status of Khan El-Khalili, especially after your family’s extended experience there?
Moustafa: Ever since my grandfather’s days from the 1930s to the 2000s, many things have changed drastically. We had to move to the industrial area in Obour City and establish a modern factory that is the biggest of its kind in the Middle East in order to match the era’s fast-pace.
Even though we moved out of the area we still took local workers and experts with us. We established the first local jewellery school back in 1995. Today, we can proudly say that more than 4,770 students have graduated from it and they work in our factory and others as well.
Any industry that fails to evolve today will seize to exist due to the time’s nature. As a result of the current globalisation system, if your local industry cannot match the international one, you will be forced to import the global merchandise. Therefore, we had to teach our local working hands in order to be able to sustain the competition.
Raafat: We did not wait for somebody to teach or train our employees. We went one step ahead and invited international experts to teach local talents from both genders. Some of them have gone abroad to learn further while others work with us. Contrary to the old times when fathers used to teach their children and create a basic chain that hindered the family from learning new techniques, we created this school to cater to our private business and the local industry in general. When we taught these talents, we raised the local standard bar to match international standards.
How does current purchasing awareness affect the jewellery industry?
Moustafa: Due to the current technology you can see any given piece in a 3D visual from the heart of your house, consumers currently demand the latest Italian trends in less than five minutes of its inception. We organise fashion shows and implement the most recent trends right away to keep up with the world.
Meanwhile, we also create our own trends. We work hand in hand with HRD in Egypt; we host Belgian experts to give training sessions about the local and international diamond industry; something that no one else has implemented.
We have more than 28 professional designers from across the globe supervised by a creative committee, which gives us an edge as we create our own trends and styles. Every now and then, I like to participate in the designing process because again that is one of things that I am truly passionate about.
Raafat: We try to educate our consumers about different aspects such as diamonds; we help them learn what to observe and how to evaluate the stones’ quality. Dealing with an aware consumer is by far better than the misguided one.
We organise fashion shows to prove to the world that Egypt has a strong industry that has a superior taste. Our designers come from Egypt, Lebanon, Italy and the rest of Europe and we also hire specialised agencies to ensure a high level of diversity and innovation.
When we launch collections we make sure to embrace international trends. Our latest collection was inspired by the Lotus flower, which gave it a native yet modern aura.
How much did the recent technologies affect your manufacturing process?
Moustafa: It has changed everything. Today the masterpiece is created and drawn with a computer programme and then produced with a machine, something that is effortless and accurate.
We currently mix and match the handmade and machinery techniques. Personally, I prefer the basic handcraft yet we make sure to mix it with the younger generation’s love for technology, the two create truly significant results.
Raafat: For example, the assembling process is currently made with the aid of machinery and microscopes. It still needs a human hand, yet he is now equipped to do it easily and precisely.