Expert workmanship is flawlessly combined with inspired artistry all in an authentic Egyptian setting. CairoScene talks to Adam Elwan about his remarkable jewelry brand, crafted entirely in the iconic Khan El Khalili.
The narrow streets of Khan El Khalili are a winding wonderland of chunky silver and scarves in swirls of colour, alleys laden with oriental blown-glass shishas and littered with jewels, dirty streets juxtaposed with an overload of colorful pieces. Somewhere a little off the path of that maze, you'll find Adam Elwan's workshop. And this choice of location underlies everything about the jewellery designer's work. Everything is created by hand – by Egyptian hands, to be precise - in an artistic effort to revive the traditional Egyptian craftsmanship that's been eroded over the years. "The most important thing to me with everything that I'm doing is wanting to promote Egyptian crafts," Elwan says.
The pieces he creates are cool, silver pieces, in a sort of authentic-feel-meets-modern-polish look, with a ridiculous attention to the minuteest of details. Pieces with precious stones in hues from deep burgundy to pastel blue, set in bases of sterling silver and 18th century gold take the forefront in his store, while geometric patterns abound in a fusion of traditional oriental design with a modern twist all; perfectly finished in testament to the dexterous craftsmanship.
After studying in Italy for three years at Le Arti Orafe, Elwan decided to gown down a different route than the usual "Egyptian jewellery designer," and rather than opening up a store in Zamalek that daddy bought and proceeding to import poor-quality jewellery from abroad and overcharging for it. He instead chose to immerse himself in the deepest recesses of Egypt, spending three years doing apprenticeships in Khan El Khalili "just trying to understand how things function there".
Three years in Italy taught him all the essential jewellery-making techniques, "all the basics," and then he chose the Khan's winding alleys to build on that. "I just threw myself in the deep end and said 2edeeni ba2a!" he says with a laugh.
Setting up shop in the Khan, a buzzing marketplace far from our elitist shiny bubble of society, is about as unpretentious as it gets. "I love it there," Elwan says, "It's a great experience and it's a reality check." Having grown up in the aforementioned elitist bubble, Elwan says, "You're never really exposed to the other side of our country…and it turned out I'd been missing out on a lot!"
He and his tiny but talented team of four turn out pieces that put a twist on the traditional; sterling silver mosaic pendants inlaid with mother of pearl, earrings with cutout Islamic patterns reminiscent of the mashrabeyas of old, chunky rings inlaid with jade.
A single piece can take up to two weeks to complete. "It depends on the design though," Elwan says, pointing to a recent custom-design necklace he created, which took three weeks from start to finish. Regarding his design inspirations, Elwan says, "I love geometry and geometric design…what I'm trying to do is combine art deco and old geometric designs to make something pop art-y and fun and modern".
And one of the especially cool things we like about this brand is the option of customisation. The ready-made designs, though captivating, are not something you've never seen before, so the option to tweak or create something from scratch in collaboration with the designer is definitely an appealing one, especially with the high quality of the final product (as well as a reasonable price range; simple rings start from 250 EGP and statement necklaces may cost up to 3000 EGP). "If someone has a design in mind, I'm happy to work with them to customize a piece," Elwan says.
And interestingly enough, the brand also designs cufflinks for the gender that often goes overlooked in the jewellery world. "I mean, men are usually neglected in the fashion industry in general – you go into any store and men just have a little corner," Elwan says, "I guess I thought, y'know, let me provide men with something too!" From letters to hands of Fatma, Arabic calligraphy to geometric patterns, the cufflinks are unique and quirky, some plain silver and others with colored stones thrown in.
The jewellery brand now has a store in Maadi, though the workshop remains in Khan El Khalili because Elwan is a big advocate of creating pieces on Egyptian soil. "I think a lot of jewellery designers here buy stuff from abroad and then resell it here, but especially with a lot of people from our society, they could use that money to employ people here – and it would also bring people closer to Egypt." Despite the hit that tourism, and by extension the traffic in Khan El Khalili has taken over the past few years, Elwan says "the people in this country work bloody hard; they're survivors."
And it's refreshing to find someone who creates beautiful pieces while conscious of their surroundings and adamant about wanting everything to be homegrown, from the raw materials to the craftsmen to the location of the workshop, finding both importance and inspiration from working in one of Egypt's most well known places for creating jewellery. Of working in the Kahn, Elwan says, "sometime you need to break out of your bubble…it's food for the soul in a way."
You can check out Adam Elwan Jewellery's Facebook page here or follow them on Instagram @adamelwandesign.