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Sharon Khazzam – High On Design

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New York-based jewellery designer SHARON KHAZZAM unlocks her creativity through music, a medium that is strongly associated with stirring up a range of emotions that artists generally use to express colour, shapes and forms. All day long, musical notes waft through in her tastefully done up boutique – Sharon’s sacred space where she sketches, paints and creates one-off jewellery pieces that are colonised by an assortment of gemstones. The bespoke jewels mimic the mood of their creator – they are fun and whimsical yet have an air of elegant dignity which makes them so cherishable.

Sharon’s joie de vivre is evident through her work spanning over two decades. Each of her handmade jewels is numbered and catalogued, which reflects how she personalises, protects and bestows on them an identity of their own.

The jewellery graduate worked with Asprey as their sole in-house jewellery designer for eight years, and with Asprey’s support in 1993, Sharon launched her first eponymous collection. During her career, she has consulted for many brands, including Fred Leighton and London Jewelers. In 2001, Sharon presented her line at Barneys New York, a partnership that has evolved over time. Last year, she initiated the “signature series” programme at Barneys New York, events taking place in different Barneys flagship cities, centred around the creation of bespoke and unforgettable pieces.

In 2012, Sharon embarked upon a relationship with a high-end department store Isetan Mitsukoshi in Japan, channelling the same design philosophy to their clientele. Last year, she introduced her collection at Ylang 23 in Dallas, a luxury jewellery retailer that seeks to showcase exclusive designers.

Sharon loves to seek new experiences; is an avid blogger; a painter; a pianist; a book lover, the list is never-ending. But her love for designing jewellery is rock solid. She speaks about her journey into the glittering and colourful world with SHANOO BIJLANI.

We believe you are good at sketching/drawing. Do you still draw all your designs and then take them to the work bench?
Yes indeed. This is the most important part of my work, as translating the concept into a visual is key to the realisation of the jewel.

Most of your jewellery is suffused with a medley of colours. Do you hand-pick gemstones?
Yes I do. That is another vital part of my work, as gemstones are the ingredients to make my ‘stew’. I have been an avid gem collector for approximately 20 years, and am consistently on the lookout for the rare, the interesting and the unusual. If I cannot find a suitable match for my design, I have it cut to order. I value my long-time relationships with my gem dealers, as our level of understanding and trust is so mutually appreciated.

To date, which are the most unusual and rare gemstones you have used in your creations?
Very difficult to pick, as I have used intrinsically rare as well as simply beautiful and unusual. My most favourite rare stones are Padparadscha sapphires and Paraiba tourmaline, hands down. My most unusual are Zebra stone from Australia and opal in matrix—I tend to love gems which still have some of their mother stone living with them.

And which are your most favoured gems? Any special cuts that you prefer? Do you also have any patented cuts?
As I said, my favourite gemstone is the Paraiba tourmaline. I have loved this gemstone since the mid-90s, and have collected them since. Regarding cuts, I do love either perfectly cut squares or elongated rectangles, or the polar opposite – which are luscious and organically shaped stones. The stone must speak to you. I do not have any patented cuts, although I have had a lot of unique diamonds cut specifically for me, but did not take out a patent.

Tell us more about your signature designs.
Every piece I create is one-of-a-kind. I have never made more than one of each design, although many do exist within families. My signature piece is the baby necklace, which is all about relationships—of colours, cuts, shapes and sizes of gemstones and diamonds, and how they reside in harmony with their neighbours and the necklace as a complete entity. I have also the signature Bumblebee collection, the Norma collection, the Bauble collection, the Shimmee collection©, the Murree collection, the World necklaces and Slice diamond collection.

You allow your clients to handpick gems for bespoke creations. Tell us more about this interesting process.
This is a unique concept which Barneys NY and I have partnered on, beginning last fall. We have these events where Barneys attempts to recreate some of my studio’s experiences in special salons in their flagship stores around the country. I have an interesting collection of loose gemstones there, along with sketchbooks and finished pieces of jewellery. This private atmosphere offers the intimacy and comfort level for each client to work with me one-on-one, either choosing their favourite gemstone around which to have a jewellery piece created, or to draw a design which may be realised with gemstones that are in the salon. This bespoke experience is very unique and personal.

Where did you study the art of jewellery making and technical expertise that you incorporate into your highly feminine pieces?
I graduated as a jewellery designer from Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), New York; then continued to do a diamond certification course at GIA, and further on continued to gain experience with Asprey where I worked for eight years once my formal education was complete.

When did you move into the world of jewellery to take it up as a full-time career?
Unusually enough for this business, my family is not from the jewellery world. I always loved design, art and colours. In high school, I knew that I would be in the art world, and decided that fashion was my field. Upon accepting that I did not know how to sew, I created a portfolio of jewellery in metal shop, and presented that along with my academics and portfolio to FIT. I was admitted in the jewellery design department (I thought I
would then move onto the fashion major) and was smitten by this world instantaneously. I have never taken a break from jewellery, whether I was studying or working in the field, since 1982. It has proved to be my full-time career, my obsession and my passion.

Tell us more about your inspirations. What guides you to doing such wonderful and optically attractive pieces?
Music inspires me. Music is as vital to my existence as breathing, and it guides me in everything that I do. It inspires me to the degree that I can be closed in a room (a colourful room, of course) and the music alone will inspire me to create. I have been classically trained in piano since the age of five, and that appreciation has walked side by side with me throughout my life. My design philosophy is to look only within myself, and to remind myself that each day that I am able to do this, is a great day.

We would like to know your process of creation? Do you weave colour, shapes and stories into your jewellery pieces?
Yes, so much so that each numbered piece also has a name. This name is how I refer to the pieces. This habit has stayed with me spanning over 20 years of my being in the field of creating jewellery. I not only design the front of the piece, but the sides, the back, and often even decide on who my client should be for this piece and how it may fit with her current collection. Each piece is indeed a story and that is why I remember the names, even after so many years.

How often do you come up with collections?
I create collections based on my mood, and not based on seasons. They are timeless pieces that will be passed on from generation to generation, and that allows me to be free from the shackles of fashion.

Which is your preferred metal?
I really do not have a preferred metal, as I use platinum frequently as well as 18-karat gold. I love platinum and believe it has earned its name as the noble metal.

What are your best-selling jewellery pieces?
I really cannot single out my best-selling pieces, as each piece is unique in design and in category. I may sell many earrings in one season, and then bracelets, the next… it is very hard to assess, even after so many years. My signature pieces, which are always in demand, are from the baby collection that includes necklaces, earrings and bracelets.

When did you start your brand?
I started my brand upon the birth of my daughter in 1993. I was at Asprey, and decided that I wanted to spend more time with my family. I created my first collection then, the Stitch collection, and Asprey kindly helped me launch it in their store. They were so wonderful to me, and took off my training wheels slowly until I was able to ride solo.

Considering that you are a first-generation jewellery designer, you made a mark early on. Could you elaborate on the reasons?
It is difficult for me to see myself from the outside, but perhaps it is because I was classically trained in jewellery, and decided to take my background and bring it directly to women in our time. I am a woman designing for women, and each piece which I create is one that I would wear myself. It must be pretty, comfortable, unique and versatile. The woman I design for is a very busy, highly educated, and socially active person who cannot be bothered with fuss.

Apart from the store in New York, do you have other showrooms? Any plans to expand your footprint?
I do not have a flagship store, as I have been selling exclusively through Barneys for most of the time. I do have my atelier, which is a sanctuary that I invite clients to visit, with Barneys as my partner. It is only very recently that I have been working with other stores, and my studio visits have become a very important addition to my business.

How has the journey been so far?
Wonderful! I am so thankful as I have the opportunity to be surrounded by beauty, with a clientele who love and appreciate beauty, and I do this every day as my career. I am so grateful.

Tell us about your other hobbies. Your blog showcases your love for travel and seeking out new experiences, basically it is about living life to the fullest. Your comments.
Oh, [I have] so many hobbies! I love to play the piano, to draw and paint, to read, to travel, to go to concerts and museums, to run, to swim, to bike—these are only my most favourite. I have a second tier list, too, but do not have enough hours in the day, enough days in the week nor enough weeks in the year to do all of this. I love life!

In one of your blogs, you have mentioned that your boutique-cum-workplace is sacred. How much time do you spend there every day? And tell us why this place of work is so special?
It is my fortress of solitude, referencing Superman [smiles]. It is indeed my sanctuary, and I spend anywhere from 50-70 hours a week here. My family has forbidden me to have a shower added there as they are worried that I will be tempted to sleep there too. When my children were little, they used to spend their time on homework; their tutors taught them here, and their playtime, too, was in the boutique and not at home.

It is a townhouse in the centre of our village. I have custom-designed the entire space, every single detail – the ceilings, the walls, the floors, the fixtures and in some instances, the furniture. The colours are so vibrant, each room is unique with very high ceilings, and I have some gemstones embedded in secret places. There is music playing at all times, and we have a small pretty garden to use during the warmer seasons.

On the very lower level, we even have a ping-pong table. I considered bringing a piano here, but haven’t yet…

What is your design philosophy?
Stay true to yourself—don’t look left, don’t look right and just listen to your own voice. Respect other designers.

Anything else you may wish to add.

Only that I respect this industry so much, and I value all my relationships above everything, beginning with the miner to the gem dealer to the designer to my assistants in my studio to the client – these relationships are so valuable and are a story within themselves.

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