Shamila Jiwa is a talented independent jewelry designer that I have met a number of times over the past few years. I was so happy to see her recognized with an Emerging Designer Award at the 2012 Centurion Jewelry Show. This is a huge distinction for a deserving designer, and I want to share her award–and incredible designs–with my readers!
To fully appreciate this award, you have to understand the obstacles these independent jewelry artists face. From extremely high-priced raw materials, to getting word of your designs in front of customers, designing fine jewelry is not for the faint of heart. I’m always delighted when talented artists get recognized for their accomplishments.
Shamila Jiwa Jewelry
Shamila has devoted herself to designing jewelry full time since 2009, when she left her former field of the non-profit world. Born in Tanzania, of East Indian heritage, a Canadian citizen, and based currently in Seattle, WA, Shamila’s worldview definitely figures into her jewelry designs. She has traveled extensively–personally and professionally–spending a chunk of time in Istanbul, Turkey to apprentice with master goldsmiths. A self-described “gem sleuth”, she is passionate about every gemstone that goes into her collection, recalling each stone’s history of discovery and the specific cutting technique she asked of her gem cutters. This kind of laser-like focus pays off: each gem seems to have its own personality and brilliance beyond the usual.
The settings are equally thoughtful. 14kt solid gold and silver have a heft and luster when the designs are more substantial, but there is a lyrical delicacy to many settings when the gems themselves need to shine. Her sterling silver is a special alloy formula that shimmers like platinum (and I can attest it is polished to perfection).
With all of this attention to detail, Shamila manages to keep price points in a very attractive range for collecting fine gemstone jewelry. One of her signature styles is using highly domed, faceted gemstones in bezel settings. While they look quite simple, it actually represents a challenge to set and finish. The lips of the bezel must be perfectly sized for the gemstone, and once the gem is set, it is very time-intensive to make sure the metal of the bezel is polished to a fine, shiny finish. To produce simple pieces is actually deceptively laborious–there is no texture to the metal to hide flaws. All must be perfect. When you think of her pieces from this perspective, they represent an amazing value.
Shamila Wins Centurion Emerging Designer Award
On December 30th, Shamila found out that she was one of 30 finalists from a field of jewelry designers world-wide, and that it was open for voting. Just to make it to this stage is quite an honor: the winning designs made it through more than 300 voting retailer opinions and scrutiny from the Centurion Retail Advisory Board. There were 5 other Emerging Designer winners, Jamie Cassavoy, Ward Kelvin, Ruchi Kotahwala & Ami Jhaveri, Lydia Lerner, and Robert Namdar.
Shamila embodies a true emerging designer. She has had to navigate every nuance of the industry, and does everything–from public relations, to designing, to styling photo shoots–herself. In her own words, she eloquently described what it means to be a truly independent designer launching her designs in a very challenging economic market:
“I think my biggest take-away from this experience was acknowledging how hard I have worked for many years to organically forge each and every connection within the jewelry community as well as with every new client, media or retailer. I entered this industry with no insider connections, no business or financial partners backing my venture. Relationships are key in this business and I continue to create and maintain them. In addition to designing beautiful and quality pieces, the business aspect is vital and a constant learning process, especially in these economic times. To see the efforts appreciated by the industry is amazing. Especially when you take into account the caliber of the audience at the Centurion Show, it was just a great feeling to have achieved this milestone.”
When I asked her about the Centurion Award, which was announced at the Centurion Jewelry Show in Scottsdale, AZ, Shamila said that she was truly surprised and honored. The Centurion Show is a prestigious industry show, where the finest jewelry retailers and ateliers are invited to view new collections from the top names in jewelry designers. She was presented with the award at a banquet, and spent several days rubbing elbows with some of the biggest names in jewelry from around the world. She enjoyed learning a lot from “wonderful, random conversations” gathered from across the show.
Shamila Jiwa Interview
idazzle.com: What did you do before jewelry entered your life?
Shamila Jiwa: Before I became a full time jewelry designer, I spent years assisting local, national and international non-profit organizations on a broad range of projects involving language learning to environmental health and policy issues. I was passionate about making a difference and I wanted to assist many organizations. Armed with a degree in Cultural Anthropology and International Affairs I thought I could do just that. I’d been designing jewelry on a part-time basis since 2002 and it had become my creative outlet. There was a lot of encouragement from my network to pursue my passion; however I had to do it at my own time. Whilst my contributions to my job and projects were impactful, I was only momentarily proud. I wanted to focus on meaningful beauty and design. In 2009, within a week from when I finally committed to designing jewelry full time, the world was facing an economic recession nightmare. I did not let that deter my plan and have not looked back since.
What was your first thought when you found out you were a finalist for the Emerging Designer award?
I had to keep reading the subject header of the email a few times. The email came in end of day on Dec 30th and it seemed like a real fortuitous way to start the New Year. I was relieved, joyous, slightly nervous, and I may have done a “finally, bloody hell” gesture of some sorts! I instantly let my immediate family know, as the news was too much to hold in! The finalists were not allowed to share the information publicly of their win until after the actual awards ceremony in Scottsdale at the end of January.
How did it feel to accept the award at the ceremony?
It was very exciting. I was also slightly nervous, obviously! The gala was hosted by Bride’s magazine, and the setup was quite beautiful – from the flowers to the food — it was just a great ambiance. The feeling walking across the stage was sheer exuberance – I was accepting my first award! I also had to remind myself not to trip out of excitement!
I understand that your designs got a lot of attention at the Centurion Jewelry Show that accompanied the presentation of the award. What designs or themes got the most attention?
The Minaret Lariat Set – carved and faceted topaz and citrine inspired by the architecture of Istanbul set in 14k gold with diamonds. The quality of the faceted carvings on the gems drew a lot of attention; they are quite detailed and the craftsmanship is immaculate. Members of the press remarked that the Minaret pieces were definitely unique, especially Jennifer Heebner from JCK Magazine, who really enjoyed the gemstone carvings and delicate design of the earrings and the lariat. Addessi Jewelers in Ridgefield, CT is currently the exclusive stockist of the Minaret Collection.
The other attention grabbers were:
Bold gemstone earrings, their organic facets and size.
Harem Stacking Rings in Gold and Silver – large stacking rings 10mm and 12mm sized stones stack in various shapes.
Rutile Topaz Kova Rings – Many people do not know what Rutile Topaz is. I was lucky to discover it a couple years ago. It is fascinating material. These were a particular favorite of Cynthia Unninayar from CIJ International Jewellery Trends and Colours.
What are your favorite new pieces that you just unveiled?
In addition to the Minaret Set, I debuted my collection of Infinity Cocktail Rings – large domed gemstones, honeycomb faceted on my signature Infinity band. I also launched a limited edition set of Rutile Quartz Rings, set in reclaimed 22k gold, diamonds and non-tarnish sterling alloy. These are popular as gorgeous cocktail rings or very unique engagement rings. For the lobes there are some decadent green onyx and cognac quartz in my Signature tulip motif settings of 14k/18k gold and diamond accents, the colors and the size made these quite the showstoppers!.
Any new or interesting gemstones you are particularly into lately?
I have been into Rutile Topaz for a couple years now, you do not really hear about it and designers rarely use it. I got my pieces directly from Mojok – the quality is phenomenal. Mind you, I also spent half a day seeking out the most perfect stones and acquired only a handful. I am having a lot of green onyx custom cut for my designs; it is really popular. Labradorite is a material I have consistently used for over a decade and sourcing top quality Labradorite in beautiful cuts is still a priority for me. Beautiful rutile quartz where golden needles are set off against clear quartz is always striking. Leopard druzy is another favourite as well as chrome tourmaline. I recently had the privilege of resetting an-out-of-this-world emerald cut chrome tourmaline (40+ carats) into one of my bold signature cocktail rings. Tangerine is a hot color this year and I had saved some gorgeous carnelian I got several years ago which I am currently designing into statement necklaces and earrings.
You are extremely exacting about details; for instance, your sterling silver is special, isn’t it? Can you tell me more about it, and your metal philosophy?
I love using quality materials, which is no secret. When I learned that there was a top-notch sterling alloy that was great to work with, produced a bright shiny finish akin to platinum and was tarnish resistant, I made utilizing it a priority for my luxe sterling line. I love it when clients spot the difference immediately upon seeing the quality of this silver. Gold mining is harsh business. All the gold I use is recycled/reclaimed.
What makes your gems so special?
I spend a lot of time hand-selecting unique and beautiful material. I’ve been lucky to work with some exquisite cutters over the years and am very particular about details. I scrutinize the faceting (honeycomb or the carved gems), or a detail such as a certain way the light flows, or the patterns if it is rutilated, or the size. I also enjoy other details such as having very high domes cut for my stacking rings. They instantly stand out in a sea of stacking rings that are table (traditional) cut. I have some Labradorite that is incredibly luscious. This particular quality was unique to one mine, which stopped producing such fiery and slightly transparent material several years ago. If you are a Labradorite connoisseur this specific specimen will stop you in your tracks.
I have seen your Labradorite, and it is very special! What made you decide to launch a fine jewelry collection in 2009, when the financial world was imploding?
I blame it on Istanbul! The city was intoxicating for me, I was so inspired by it and I wanted to work there with a couple of etchers and goldsmiths. It was all very spontaneous but the vision was clear and I made it happen. I had long collected one-of-kind gems and they were all begging to be turned into some beautiful pieces. The foray into doing a fine jewelry line was going to happen at some point, but being in Istanbul and being surrounded by so much beauty just catapulted the idea into action. The seed was planted there and now I continue my creations from Seattle.
What can we expect from an official Emerging Designer for 2012 and beyond?
I am really excited to be featured in museums and notable venues such as Addessi Jewelers in Ridgefield, CT, Manika Jewelry in San Francisco, and the Art Institute of Chicago. I am seeking additional venues to showcase my collection and am set to do some pretty interesting events and collaborations. For instance, on April 29th, I will be a featured designer at the Art Institute of Chicago’s main museum shop for a special trunk show, I am really looking forward to that. The rest of the year will see a line up of events all over USA and in Canada but mostly in the Chicago area–I am set to do about a dozen shows/events this year! My collaborations with various charities will continue, as well as working on some newer collections. I think smokey quartz will be taking the jewelry scene by storm. I have some gorgeous cuts that I look forward to working with later in the Fall. You can expect bold and colorful earrings and cocktail rings in a range of gems as well as special cuts of rutilated topaz and quartz, multicolored moonstones, and sapphires as well as other surprises!
Thank you, Shamila, for your characteristic grace in letting me tell your story, a least a part. You can find Shamila’s jewelry at her website here, and at a number of stores and ateliers like Essenza in Seattle, Manika in San Fransisco, and Addessi in Ridgefield, CT, or check her stockists page for more locations.
I want to leave you with a quote of Shamila’s that sums up her personal philosophy and passion for her craft:
“For me personally, fine jewelry is about workmanship, usage of innovative metals, quality gemstones, design, fit and inspiration – it is about all these elements flowing together. I use diamonds sparingly in my designs; the ‘fine’ element comes from the usage of special and beautiful materials composed in simple and classic styles that are a twist on what has been seen or sometimes not seen before. Making sure every nook and cranny of a ring is attended to, that it is hand finished and that it has a Cinderella effect on the wearer is an utmost priority. The weight of a ring or how a gemstone sits on the chest landscape is vital. The luxurious element is very much in these details and it is understated and un-showy. Then there is the inspirational element, which guides the design and creates a connection. I ponder about how to weave a memory of an enchanting city or a moment, using a special gemstone set in recycled gold or innovative silver into a lovely yet simple piece of jewelry imbued with lore. These are necessary details and are evident in the theme of the collection. Creating simple yet striking designs is very complicated, as you can see!”–Shamila Jiwa.