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02 December 2023

Raising the gold bar on design skills

By Sue Brattle



The jewellery industry in the UAE is going from strength to strength, with no sign of slowing down, say experts. In fact, people in the know see only growth ahead as the local population continues its traditional love affair with gold and diamonds.


The industry is still largely run along traditional lines, with fathers passing on their business to their sons. That is also, largely, how the generations learn the secrets of the trade, too, which means that much of the industry is only as good as the experiences handed down. However, the UAE is gradually raising its game where such traditions are concerned and a new academy in Dubai is the latest step towards modernisation.


The ARY Academy of Gems and Jewellery is the first of its kind in the region. Although other colleges in the UAE teach business skills to jewellery designers (Dubai Women’s College, for example, began a course almost two years ago), the Academy is the first standalone jewel-trade establishment licensed by Knowledge Village that is open to both male and female students from anywhere in the world.


The CEO, Sarwat Abdul Razzak (whose father Haji Abdul Razzak Yaqoob founded the Dubai-based holding company ARY) says: “A student may be a good designer, but if they know nothing of marketing and retail, then that is all they will be. They will never be entrepreneurs. We need to produce entrepreneurs who are artists.”


The Academy is currently negotiating accreditation with an international body, but in the meantime it offers courses in everything from diamond grading (polished and rough), coloured stone identification, computer-aided jewellery design to retail management.


The courses on offer run from one week up to 15 months. Eventually, the Academy will be housed in Knowledge Village and the planned Dubai Multi Commodities Centre, but at present it spreads across a building in Deira and over the road to another maze of rooms. Its students range from young people who want a career in jewellery to housewives who want to learn how to assess the quality and value of diamonds or gold.


The General Manager of ARY’s Diamond Division Marc Segers, says: “We have to make sure the industry becomes more professional. The really nice thing about working in jewellery in Dubai is the true mix of cultures and designs, from European to Arabic, which the students can learn from.


“However, it is a big market here and to succeed you need to stand out,” Segers adds.

CEO Razzak agrees. She can see a time when the UAE is designing jewellery that customers will immediately recognise as having the “look”, or the identity, of the Emirates. “I have been here for 37 years,” she says. “We don’t hold a passport here, but we are locals. The expat population and Arab nationals need to be trained. We need a school for this trade in this region.”


The design of jewellery is only a small part of the industry’s story.


The value of the rough diamond trade that passes through Dubai each year is estimated at $54 billion (Dh198.3bn). Belgian diamond expert Segers, who teaches a class to identify inclusions (foreign bodies such as air bubbles) in diamonds tells Emirates Business why it is imperative that a student gets trained well.


“Inclusions of 0.005mm, barely visible to the naked eye, can change the value of a one carat diamond by about $8,000,” he says.


“We have to teach the most advanced technological techniques so that our students will be properly prepared for the market. If they make mistakes, it could be an expensive problem for their employer or their client.”


Segers recently carried out a survey in Dubai on the jewellery trade, and one result stands out in his mind. “Seventy per cent of people I asked on the street did not know that there are fake stones for sale,” he says. It is a fact that is obviously bad for the image of Dubai as a jewellery trade hub.


Marketing and Business Development head Hafeez Rehman is aware how important image is to the trade.


“Training will bring a change,” he says. “Pay rates are already going up, good salaries are on offer if you are professionally trained, and this will raise the standard across the industry.” A young, trained jeweller in Dubai can start on a salary of between Dh4,000 to Dh5,000 a month.


However, if you consider that a top designer can command a fee of $5,000 (Dh18,300) for an outline sketch of a piece of jewellery, then the concept of such artists being well-trained in business skills becomes more understandable. A lot of money is at stake.


Head of Jewellery Design, Maryada Sharma, says: “With jewellery, the buyer and the wearer are often not the same person. In retail, you need to get a feel for what customers will like. In design, it is important that we keep up with fashions and trends. In Dubai we are lucky to have collections from all over the world housed here, which is a very good environment for students to learn from.”


The goal is to train young innovators. CEO Razzak says: “Enamelling, soldering, filigree – these are all very old skills. If you mix technology with jewellery, then you can create something new, such as European designers who introduced the use of alloys. That is what we want.”



The Students


NAME: Hashim Chhotani

AGE: 24



Hashim Chhotani is from a family of jewellers based in and around Karachi in Pakistan, and his elder brother is an expert in Swiss-made watches. He has a degree in accounting and has come to Dubai to study jewellery design. “It is this side of things I prefer,” he says. He will be in the UAE for 18 months, and eventually hopes to take over his grandfather’s jewellery shop after sharpening his marketing skills.


NAME: Shailley Karu

AGE: 28




Shailley Karu is determined she will return to India as a qualified jewellery designer when her husband’s period of work in Dubai ends. “I want this to be my profession,” she says. “People are very passionate about jewellery in India. In traditional jewellery, they want more and more complicated designs. I want to do a mix of modern and traditional work. More and more young people want diamonds.”



Who Wears What


The Academy’s Head of Jewellery Design, Maryada Sharma, assesses who would buy (or wear) four pieces of jewellery chosen at random:


Earrings: Dh3,000, white gold and diamonds. “These will appeal to a professional working woman, who is aged between 25 and 40 years, to wear at work or on formal occasions.”


Bangle: Dh13,503, 22 carat gold set with diamonds. “The number of diamonds make this expensive. This is, of course, traditional and conservative, will be worn at family occasions by the 35+ woman.”


Multi-coloured ring: Dh1,900, small diamond, peridot, citrine and blue topaz. “This is for casual wear, perhaps with jeans, evening or daytime, for the younger woman, perhaps who is aged between 25 and 30 years.”


Necklace: Dh4,495, 18 carat white gold with diamonds. “This is formal, conservative, probably evening wear for the older woman.”



The Numbers



of Dubai’s GDP is generated from gold and jewellery



of tourists visiting Dubai buy an item of jewellery here



the growth of the UAE jewellery industry year on year



tonnes of gold pass through Dubai to Iran each year



the rise in demand for gold across GCC countries last year