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Weaving architectural details into wearable jewelry

Architecture

Anyone who has visited the Soap Museum in Sidon’s old souks will have noticed the way the original arches and curves of stone blend seamlessly with more modern touches: glass panes and brushed metal columns.

The architect behind the museum, Nada Zeineh, has now moved on to jewelry design – but that same mentality has transcended the medium, with old and new merging together to create something beautiful.
This article was featured on the Daily Star’s website (www.dailystar.com.lb) on March the 3rd, 2012, written by Olivia Alabaster.

 
Born in the capital, Zeineh studied architecture at the American University of Beirut, before moving to France in 1984. “I didn’t leave because I didn’t like the country: I left because I was fed up with the war,” she says now, speaking from her lofty showroom space in Tabaris, Beirut.
In France she began creating jewelry pieces, although it remained a hobby: “In France it is very strict, you just work on your one profession.” In Lebanon she says, “It’s the opposite, you can move from one thing to another very easily.”
She returned in 1994, with her family, after the Civil War had ended. “There was such an energy in this country at the time, we loved it,” Zeineh remembers.
While remaining primarily an architect, Zeineh became increasingly consumed with her jewelry designs, and opened her first exhibition in 1996. After completing work on the AUB museum in 2006, Zeineh decided to focus solely on jewelry. “I decided to stop with architecture,” she says. “You cannot do two things correctly.”
“With the jewelry I am much more free,” Zeineh says. “I don’t have to hustle. I just do my own thing. If people like it, they buy it, if they don’t, they don’t.”
Taking inspiration from local architectural details, Ottoman designs and nature, Zeineh describes herself as very much a “Lebanese designer,” but one “who works things in a very contemporary way. I’m not into ethnic jewelry: I simplify and make designs more modern to wear,” she says.
“If the idea comes from something old, I make it livable.”
With no formal training in jewelry-making herself, Zeineh creates the prototypes for each piece – from chunky gold bangles modeled on traditional guipure lace, to delicate leaf-like earrings – in clay or other materials and then one of several Lebanese craftsmen produce the end result, normally based around brass dipped in gold or silver.
Today, she has a studio in Badaro, along with the showroom in Tabaris, and launches a new collection twice a year. Her jewelry is also sold in the Orient 499 boutique, behind the old Holiday Inn, and at L’Artisan du Liban in Gemmazyeh.
Zeineh is also currently one of the 18 Lebanese designers – from couture to jewelry and perfume – featured in the Designers’ Corner at the ABC Mall in Dbayyeh, which she is enjoying as it enables her “to get to know new clients and new people.”
She also exports – “my jewelry travels much farther than me!” – from Cairo and Riyadh to Paris, but her designs have also sold as far afield as Seoul and Edinburgh in the past. “I was surprised that Scottish people liked my designs,” Zeineh says. “For me this jewelry is very Mediterranean: It’s big, it’s showy.”
The Lebanese market is very receptive to independent design talent, she says: “It’s a very small community here, it’s much more human.”
When Zeineh started out her business, Nounzein, there were very few such non-traditional jewelry designers in Lebanon, she recalls.
“Now there are lots of us. When I first did brass dipped in gold or silver, I was the only one. You always need to change and update,” she says.
However, Zeineh is happy with the size of her business at the moment. “I don’t want to grow much, and I don’t want to become smaller: I am happy where I am, but it is not easy to stay there ... Trying to maintain the same niche is difficult.”
Nada Zeineh’s showroom is on the 5th floor of the Victor Kassir building, 16 Sursock Street, Tabaris, Beirut (open Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m until 6 p.m.).
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 03, 2012, on page 2.

 

 

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