September Issue 2009
Drawn to Diamonds
Sara Taseer Shoaib is never at a loss for words when talking about her passion: jewellery. Recently, she brought her dazzling collection to Karachi and won rave reviews. Sara talks to Newsline about her creations and her all-time romance with diamonds.
Q: How did it all begin? What drew you towards designing jewellery?
A: I have been passionate about jewellery ever since I was a young girl. I remember the excitement of sorting out all my mother’sjahez jewellery. It was kept in a blue Samsonite jewellery case and I had separated a section for myself with all the pieces I hoped I would bag one day. I must have been seven or eight. I used to negotiate long and hard about the things I wanted and spent many afternoons modelling them endlessly in mum’s dressing room.
However, I started my career in finance after I graduated from The London School of Economics. Till my children were born I had worked in many international banks and was quite passionate about my career. Marriage, moving (from city to city) and babies meant that I had to give up my passion.
When I was in New York City, I had the opportunity to work at my friend’s jewellery marketing and manufacturing concern. This was the best start I could have hoped for. I learnt the intricacies of the entire trade under the umbrella of a large firm. I could gain the knowledge without being defrauded. There were experts in every part of the manufacturing and sales process to help me along. The company was keen to bring in new blood into their design processes and so, I was given a free hand to experiment with my creativity.
Importantly, as you can imagine, this business needs a lot of financing, and the company created my designs without my having to put up the seed capital. This soft start was crucial in building my confidence.
When I moved to Hong Kong with my husband, I was fully prepared to dive in on my own. I completed my GIA (Gemological Institute of America) certification. During my course, I made many connections with local manufacturers and factories. I negotiated credit terms and financing lines as well as quality control agreements. I have not looked back since. My designs were appreciated and the burgeoning sales kept me going. My secret is that I will not be beaten on quality or price.
Q: Where do you draw inspiration from?
A: At heart, I am a slave to fashion and the latest trends. I keep up with the latest styles, motifs, colours and designs. I go to several trade fairs and buy every catalogue. There is always something new and exciting. One day it’s flowers, the next it’s circles, animals, or even different hues of gold. The world of jewellery design is very versatile and there are infinite possibilities. My main challenge is that it must be diamonds; other than that, I’m flexible.
Q: Describe your work process — what is the most painstaking part of it?
A: I design, but not always from scratch. My jewellery is machine-made and I have to work with moulds which are costly to manufacture. The most cost-effective way to be creative is to use existing moulds and create a design which pleases. Some pieces I do create from the ground up. The art of international jewellery design is more like a collage than anything else. The cost of the finished product is of prime importance. The piece must look its price. It must also be affordable.
There are too many challenges I face, and having a business is about much more than just the designing. Coordinating between countries is not easy. My manufacturing centres are Hong Kong and Singapore, and my clients are all over the world. Following orders and delivering on time is stressful for me. I commit to remain professional, so when I say ‘I’ll deliver,’ I do deliver.
The second problem is language — I do not speak Chinese and the workers do not know a word of English. I have translators but sometimes it can get very frustrating. You have to keep your fingers crossed and pray things turn out the way you envisaged them. Another challenging aspect is cash flow maintenance. Then there’s marketing. Keeping a home and caring for a husband and babies. Shop maintenance and safety. The list is endless but I just cope with it.
Q: Diamonds dominate your work. Did you choose them for a specific reason?
A: I personally love diamonds. I love the romance, the lustre and the message of eternity.
The company I started out with, in NYC, was mainly a diamond dealing house. When I started working with this stone, I felt the excitement and joy that people feel when purchasing a diamond. It is beyond words. When my clients reward themselves or their loved ones with this forever gem they feel like they are crossing the boundaries of decadence. It is a truly addictive feeling, a bridge from luxury to extravagance. It is the ultimate thing to wear. You really cannot get beyond this, and I feel I have found my forte.
Jewellery making is a vast art. When you choose your medium, you choose your palate and you set your boundaries. It sets a focus for me.
Q: What other gems appeal to you most?
A: I like emeralds and rubies. I am passionate about yellow diamonds. I love turquoise, coral and rose quartz. There are too many, and I could go on about them.
Q: What metals do you work with?
A: I work with 18K white gold. There are a few exceptions but I use this metal at least 80% of the time. White gold does not discolour or need plating. It does not chip and so the very up-market, glistening look lasts for a lifetime.
Q: How does the local market compare to the cities where you have launched your business?
A: I could not have chosen a better time to open my doors in Pakistan. Pakistan is an underdeveloped market as far as jewellery creation goes. Consider our neighbour India: culturally, we share the same love for jewels but manufacturing in Pakistan is still in its infancy. There is a massive demand for jewellery at times of weddings, births and anniversaries. In the West, it is a luxury, so in times of recession, sales tend to drop. In the East, it is a necessity so all eastern markets (Hong Kong, Singapore), including Pakistan, remain buoyant. This allows business to continue even if the world economy is soft.
Q: What designs are more popular here, and which ones are preferred abroad?
A: Every region and area differs in choice. There is a massive difference in the likes of Karachiites and Lahoris. Karachi clients tend to look for smaller, lighter things that they can wear everyday. Lahori ladies like larger, more showy pieces. The wedding market is huge in Lahore and we have a bridal line to service it. The ladies of the Far East, Hong Kong and Tokyo love massive necklaces with miniscule earrings. This would never work in Pakistan.
Big cocktail rings are all the rage in the US. They are known as the right-hand ring and signify women’s independence and power. It is a gift she buys for herself, not as a token of love from a man.
This season, earrings are medium-sized, big wrist-hugging cuffs and coloured rings are in, as are black diamonds.
Q: Do you use stones mined locally?
A: I have bought local stones, but cutting techniques in Pakistan are very primitive with no laser or precision cuts. I have brought stones from Pakistan to other international cutting centres to be cut and polished. I am currently waiting for the results.
Q: Do you employ local craftsmen to make your jewellery or is all of it produced abroad?
A: My jewellery is manufactured abroad, but I often incorporate local kundan or jadao pieces into designs. These are manufactured in Pakistan. Packaging, manufacturing of boxes and stands is now done in Pakistan.
Q: How many exhibitions do you hold in Pakistan?
A: I used to have many shows in Pakistan, but not as many after the opening of my retail outlet in Lahore, this February. I still have shows in Islamabad and have recently had one in Karachi. I am planning for Faisalabad and Multan. I am doing Karachi again by the end of the year. In total about four to six shows annually.
Q: How many exhibitions internationally?
A: I am having a show in Singapore this September. My jewellery also goes to the USA, UK and Japan.
Q: Are there any international designers that you are influenced by?
A: My jewellery is a true union of the East and the West and I imbibe the best of both trends. I love Graff, Grisogno, Bulgari and Van Cleef in the West, and in the East, I look at all our traditional paisley, matka and bali styles and the use of explosive colour. I am designing diamond hoops with desi flowers and chaand balis with Taiwanese coral and Irani firoza (turquoise).
My jewellery has my distinct signature style which cuts out fuss and concentrates on straight lines. I dislike complicated stuff and stick to one theme within each piece.
Q: Any new ventures you’re planning for the future?
A: I am coming out with a men’s line soon. I plan to launch that with a bang.
See more of Sara Taseer Shoaib’s jewellery designs. Click on any photo to begin.