Sora Rashid or “Gold Market Lady” as some people call her, is one of the first Kuwaiti women who broke into the world famous Souq Al-Mubarakiya, one of the oldest markets in Kuwait, to trade in gold and pearls. She now owns her own store in the market. Daily News Egypt interviewed Rashid to learn about her journey in gold trade and how jewellery design was always a hobby of hers, even as a child. She used to reshape her necklaces when she was young to make different and distinctive pieces out of them.
Can you give us an overview of the start of your journey with jewellery design?
It has been my hobby since childhood. I used to reshape my jewellery pieces and add new ideas to make them look different and distinctive.
What was your field of study?
I studied civil engineering and worked in the Kuwaiti government for 10 years. I resigned from the job after taking jewellery design as a profession.
Even though I was a government employee with a good salary, I only found my passion when I started jewellery design.
When I headed to London in 2008 on a treatment trip for my daughter, I decided to join a London jewellery design institute as the treatment went on for a long time. I stumbled upon that institute by chance, and I studied jewellery design for a year.
What was the most prominent thing you learned about jewellery design in London?
I learned the basics of jewellery design and making. I also learned how a designer can develop his ability and tools for inspiration, such as imaginative, acoustic, and nature-inspired.
The trainer used to ask us to imagine a queen for whom we would create a special brooch to wear during one of her special occasions, provided that the design is new, modern, and unprecedented. I actually went through the experience as one of the queen’s designers and made a brooch that I later turned into a collection.
Such things help a designer develop and challenge himself.
How did you turn into a professional jewellery designer?
When I went back to Kuwait in 2009, I decided to open a small workshop for silver jewellery production, and over the course of four years, I used social media to market my business.
I put aside a share of my salary to buy a silvery alloy and designed the shapes I liked, then sent them to a workshop. These designs were sold in a youth exhibition.
In 2013, I opened a store in the Souq Al-Mubarakiya. I only had a small desk and designed jewellery in silver and gold.
One time, a woman brought up diamonds valued at about $270,000, and asked me to make her a crown of gold and diamonds.
What certificates have you obtained?
I obtained several certificates in the field of jewellery, including diploma in design from the High Institute of Jewellery in London, HRD certificate from the HRD Antwerp, and GIA certificate as a diamond and gem expert from the Gemological Institute of America.
I faced many difficulties at the beginning since I don’t belong to a goldsmith or jeweller family, as is the case for most gold shop owners. Moreover, I lack experience, methods, and secrets of the profession. I did not also have enough stocks of gold and precious stones and did not even know where I can get them.
Also, I did not have a famous brand to facilitate marketing my products. I didn’t have enough capital. I started from scratch until I made a name for myself in the Kuwaiti market, but there is still a long way to go.
Being a woman, have you faced in problems working in a man-dominated market?
Being a woman in the Kuwaiti gold market, which was 100% occupied by men, has certainly been subject to many problems such as underestimating my ability to work in the profession.
However, I was able to deal with merchants. I even asked some of them to teach me, and I learned a lot from them. I was benefited from their experience which spared me many years of learning. They eventually called me the Gold Market Lady.
You are the first female Tawash (pearl merchant) in the Kuwaiti market, what does the word Tawash exactly mean?
A Tawash is a pearl merchant who deals directly with divers who collect pearls from seas and assesses what they recover.
Pearl hunting or pearling was an important profession, and it is now an identity, but it’s currently in a crisis in the Gulf and is virtually extinct. Actually, there are no shops in Kuwait that sell natural pearls.
I learned from senior Tawashes in Bahrain how to sell, buy, evaluate, and distinguish between natural and cultured pearls. I lost $9,000 as a result of buying pearls that turned out to be cultured.
Natural pearls are no longer the focus of attention for many citizens and jewellery lovers due to their high prices compared to cheaper types of cultured pearls of similar shape and at a price not exceeding 10% of the natural ones.
Evaluating pearls needs experience, and with experience alone merchants know whether pearls are natural or cultured.
Natural pearls are distinguished by their durability, and the age of pearls depends on their surrounding conditions. For example, incense spoils them. They can also be affected by being in dark places, as they need ventilation and occasional washing. Pearls need water even after they have been formed into a necklace. They yearn for water and their colours could change if left in the dark.
A pearl necklace starts at KWD 1,000 ($3,000). Some types of pearls go up to KWD 10,000, depending to the factors of size, lustre, roundness, and colour, which determine its value.
What is the unit of weight measurement of pearls?
Pearls are measured by Chevvu measuring unit. Pearls are measured in carats then converted into chevvu. The value of a single chevvu also differs according to the purity and specifications of the pearl. Only large pearls are measured in chevvu.
Sizes of pearls vary according to the purity of the water they were recovered from. In the past, there was a large type called pebble, but it no longer exists due to pollution. Currently, there are other types like qamash, shaheenah, arterioles, and glutes.
How are pearls assessed?
The process of evaluating pearls depends on type and size. There are variations in terms of shape, colour, and apparent properties such as splendour, moisture, and texture.
Reddish pearls are of excellent quality, then whitish pearls come next, then yellowish pearls.
Pearl size is assessed by discharging the pearls in perforated bowls called “tous,” which are round copper bowls with holes of different sizes which Tawashes use to filter the pearls from a bowl to another.
Do you work on your own or have assistants?
No matter how much I love the profession and craftsmanship, I will never be as good as the professional workers. I care more about design than manufacturing jewellery as it needs more than one worker. Creating a piece of jewellery needs a long process that involve designers, jewellers, and others. In addition, those who manufacture modern pieces are different from those who manufacture folk pieces.
Each nationality has a different imprint in the implementation, as the Armenian and Lebanese works differ from the East Asian, Thai, and Italian works.
I have designed many collections. I made the Maharaja collection which was inspired from the Indian heritage. I read many books about the Indian civilization and arts.
I have also designed the Jasmine Drops and Flower collection and the Hammer collection, which are designed to represent contemporary and strong women, in addition to a collection named Eyous from natural pearls.
What international exhibitions have you participated in?
I have participated in many specialised local and international jewellery exhibitions in Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.
What are your favourite materials to use in jewellery making?
I love silver, gold, diamonds, and precious and semi-precious stones.
I prefer diamonds and precious stones, so that women can pass it down for generations to come.
You are a member of the Kuwaiti Federation of Gold and Jewelers, how do you see public work in the jewellery sector?
I wanted to deliver a message to Kuwaiti women that they can work in a man’s profession. I am the only woman in the Federation, and I am seeking the position of a general manager in the upcoming sessions. We need young people to manage the jewellery sector, using modern methods and technology to develop the Kuwaiti gold sector.
How can we better educate our youth on craftsmanship and pushing their brands forward?
Despite the obstacles I faced at the beginning. I try to encourage young people to do something for themselves in the field, and provide them with sufficient information for either entering the field or becoming professionals with their own projects.
My advice for young people is to always keep trying and to take a step without giving too much thought to future possibilities.
How do you see the global jewellery market in terms of sales in the Arab region in particular?
In the past, jewellery was essential and sales were strong, but now they are luxuries and their sales have fallen due to high prices and low purchasing power.
Designers should present products that meet the needs of customers.
What is your plan for the coming period?
I am considering opening another store for diamond jewellery only, as well as daily and traditional jewelleries and gifts.
What do you think of the Egyptian gold market?
The Egyptian market is developing well in terms of technology. Egyptian designers astonish us with their works inspired from their Pharaonic and Islamic heritage. Egyptian products are also available in the Gulf countries.
How can the jewellery industry convey Kuwaiti culture to the world?
Each designer has a mission and should not be stripped of his tribal and religious affiliation. He designs for the world not for himself.
Designing is for others. Jewellery is a philosophy; it aims to spread joy and peace and is not designed for sadness.
The jasmine flower I designed stood for peace because it grows in all Arab countries.
What advice do you give clients when they buy gold and jewelleries?
Trust and honesty are everything a designer has. The gold calibre must also be sound, conform to the specifications, and be sealed with real stamps. Diamonds must also be sold with legal certificates.
What advice would you give young designers?
Studying before entering the field of jewellery is an important factor in understanding what the designer is doing. He should have a deep understanding of design, and wide knowledge of precious stones and diamonds.
It is also important for them to understand the market needs, as each market has its needs in terms of specifications and culture, and what works for women in the Gulf may not suit those in Egypt.
A designer should also have a distinct personality and avoid imitating designs of others.