Back in 2007, my mother inherited all the jewellery that my grandmother had possessed during her life. My sister and I were glad, as it meant that whenever we missed our grandmother, we could put on one of her rings or bracelets and feel her presence again.
But because the majority of my grandmother’s jewellery is bright yellow gold, and each piece is big in size (as the traditional jewellery of the Gulf region is), we have been limited in terms of where we could wear them. So far, we have only worn them for celebrations like henna nights and during the holy month of Ramadan, where wearing traditional jewellery and traditional Khaleeji clothes is not only acceptable but very fashionable.
Like many Khaleeji girls out there, my sister and I face a dilemma when it comes to jewellery. Because of the sentimental value it holds and the strengthened sense of cultural identity that it gives us when we put it on, we want to wear the jewellery that has been passed on to us by our ancestors every day. However, the majority of the traditional jewellery designs are simply impractical for everyday use.
The result? Many Khaleeji ladies have resorted to buying their everyday jewellery from international brands like Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels and Bvlgari. Though such brands undoubtedly make beautiful and more practical jewellery, their pieces are not generally relevant to or representative of our culture. For example, the design of the Cartier Love Bracelet, currently a popular choice of accessory amongst Khaleeji women, is rumoured to have been inspired by chastity belts that were used in medieval Europe.
Two Emiratis took note of this gap and decided to do something about it. Abdullah Beljafla and Hamad bin Shaiban, strangers to each other less than a decade ago, joined forces and created Dubai-based Gafla Jewellery in 2010. In 2014, after a visit to the showroom, Bushra bint Darwish joined the team as a junior designer and gemmologist. We sat down with Hamad Bin Shaiban, Gafla’s managing director, to hear their story.
‘Gafla is an Arabic word that refers to the nomad traders who used to travel to other countries to get resources for the region,’ begins the passionate Hamad.
‘What we are trying to do is tell the story of this region. We interpret the traditions and heritage of the Gulf region, as well as everything of sentimental values like clothes and perfumes, and recreate it in our jewellery.’
Gafla’s Merwad Collection, for example, was inspired by the merwad or perfume wand that was traditionally used to apply scents on the body and clothes. The vibrant and colourful Jumah Collection reflects the feelings of joy and love that are felt on Jumahs, or Fridays, in the region – the day of the week on which families gather.
For the trio, everything they create has a story that relates to the history, heritage and tradition of the region.
‘We want to internationally represent the Gulf region as a region that has history and has so much to give and to show when it comes to heritage and culture,’ he enthusiastically states.
Hamad also gives us insight into how the team came up with a collection that encompasses history, heritage and tradition:
‘We individually go and research. We read about our history. We research physically (i.e. we go and visit inspirational places). Then, we come back and brainstorm together. Abdullah and Bushra handle design and production while I handle the operational side of Gafla.’
Hamad gives Sekka an exclusive look into their two newest collections: Marsa, which launched on 30th August 2017, and Barag, which will be launching in Dubai Design Week this coming November.
Marsa is a trendy collection of rings and earrings that were inspired by the shape of the region’s traditional dhows. It is targeted at young ladies.
On the other hand, Barag is a homage to traditional jewellery. The idea behind it was to recreate traditional jewellery in a modern way so that it can be worn every day.
‘We are modernizing it [jewellery], making it more international, and more wearable for every day,’ he adds.
Prior to Gafla, Hamad notes that ‘we did not really have anything similar. Everyone went to international brands like Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels. However, nothing relates to our culture when it comes to these brands. I mean, they’re amazing and we aim to be like them, but coming from this region.’
Though there are more than 300 jewellers in Dubai alone, the team is not afraid of potential competition. In fact, they regularly meet up with other local jewellery businesses to brainstorm ideas and share resources.
‘To raise the bar, you need to have the same level of people around you. We’re doing this,’ says Hamad. ‘We have a lot of jewellery brands that are our friends. We always meet and discuss things between us, share resources. We are advocates of a healthy competition.’
The team is also happy to guide and mentor any local businesses that want to venture into jewellery or jewellery-related endeavours.
As for his advice for Sekka readers who are planning on going into the business, Hamad says that knowledge and passion are key.
‘You have to have knowledge about what is going on in the market, and you have to have knowledge about jewellery itself.’
Though Hamad, Abdullah and Bushra all have different educational backgrounds (visual communications and branding, mass communication and advertising, and business, respectively), they all had an innate love for jewellery and design. But when they seriously decided to venture into the jewellery business, they took relevant courses at the Gemological Institute of America and the International Gemological Institute, both of which have campuses in Dubai. Bushra also took some additional courses on design in London.
‘Hard times are going to come,’ warns Hamad, ‘but if you have the passion, go ahead, and you will reach a place where you will be satisfied.’
Gafla Jewellery can be found in Robinson’s Festival City, Dubai, or through www.gaflajewellery.com. They also arrange private viewings.
Sharifah Alhinai is the Managing Storyteller at Sekka.