On a rare sunny spring day in Seattle, I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon with jewelry designer, Shamila Jiwa. And our meeting couldn’t have come at a more perfect time, as Shamila’s jewels beckon to be worn during the warm summer months. After about ten minutes of marveling at the sun itself, that brilliant orb that Seattleites crave to no avail, Shamila pulled out her collections for me to peruse and photograph.
Shamila–a Canadian designer of Indian heritage living in Seattle–was born in Tanzania, a country known for its rich gem deposits. And her passion for gemstones set in finely-crafted designs speaks to her clients instantly. She is known for selling her jewelry right off her person. Shamila wears her eye-catching designs so beautifully and so naturally that one can’t help but imagine wearing these jewels oneself!
So when Shamila pulled out her collections, I was struck by both their sheer variety and extent. Shamila is prolific, which is a good thing, as she sells out of styles very quickly from her website, boutiques, galleries, and myriad trunk shows throughout the year. Her designs are infinitely wearable: organic shapes, including gorgeous druzy agates, glow against the skin. She explores Eastern motifs with gems that are both carved and faceted. In particular, Shamila’s minaret-shaped gems channel light through their colorful depths and surfaces, reflecting the beautiful architecture of Istanbul–the city that inspired her Lokum Lale Luxe collection.
While Shamila’s jewels are striking at first glance, her attention to detail draws one in for an intimate look. It’s easy to see how her gorgeous craftsmanship and distinctive style earned her a Centurion Emerging Designer Award in 2012. But what is perhaps most striking for me personally is the warm feeling her jewelry evokes–these jewels naturally become one with the women lucky enough to wear them.
Interview with Shamila Jiwa
EW: When did you start designing jewelry and what inspired you to launch your career?
SJ: About 10 years ago, I started creating simple everyday pieces as a hobby. I sold my first collection of a dozen pieces to a local store within a few months of moving to Seattle, and the rest is history. Four years ago, I left my full-time position in the social sciences/non-profit world to design full-time and embark on a career that focused on designing very special, timeless, thoughtfully made, and quality jewelry. This career allows me to weave a spectrum of passions and funnel it in one area.
EW: Your pieces combine distinctive style with intimate details that speak to your craftsmanship. Where are your pieces made? Do you fabricate the pieces yourself, or do you work with others to produce your designs?
SJ: By nature, I am an extremely observant person. Too observant probably! The small intimate details are so loved by my clients, so I am continuously inspired to add clever details. Quality is mega-important to me and having each piece made by hand here in Seattle allows me to keep a watchful eye! I myself produce the majority of the jewelry in my Fremont studio and I have one other person who helps me with the casting and setting of my more complex designs.
EW: What are your preferred metals? Which gemstones excite you?
SJ: I used to be a platinum girl, but the warmth of gold in the last several years has totally wooed me over. Maybe because I have Indian heritage, I was opposed to the yellow richness of it. At the moment, I am focused on designing solely in gold for most of my one-of-kind pieces. All the gold I use is recycled and sourced sustainably. I have also used some old gold bars that belonged to my parents. My father used to design all of our jewelry back in Tanzania and he wasn’t even a goldsmith–he was a doctor! So I love that he is a part of my work today in a significant way. The pieces are that more special. Rich greens and pinks are a constant favorite–tourmalines, especially chrome tourmalines, oh I cannot contain myself. I just saw an astonishing rubellite the other day, and I almost stopped thinking and probably breathing. Fine specimens of rutilated topaz and quartz are a constant in my repertoire; the golden rutiles and the patterns they create are subtle neutral colors yet so rich all at the same time. This year you can expect to see the arsenal of exquisite special stones I have been saving made into really beautiful pieces. Just wait!
EW: In addition to your collections, you also offer custom creations. What do you love about the bespoke process?
SJ: This process is really about connecting with the client. The bespoke process is so personal and hands-on and in a sense quite intimate. The customers share vital stories and experiences with me, and I get to know them that much better, and then like a weaver of information I piece it together visually and translate it to a style of jewelry that fits them. This week I have finished working on a piece that used gold from a client’s deceased parent with my stones and signature setting. It honors me to be a part of the client’s history and adds that much sentimental value to the piece. Most often, a client will see something I have already made and want just that. It is as if it was the most perfect piece of jewelry created just for them.
EW: The carved minaret-shaped gemstones in your Lokum Lale Luxe collection are particularly striking–and unusual in stacking rings. Describe the inspiration for this collection and the symbolism of the motifs.
SJ: The LLL collection is inspired by the architectural details of the most enchanting city in the world–Istanbul. I had the pleasure of working there on a couple of occasions in 2009. The stones are cut to mimic the minarets that make up the skyline of the historically rich city. The gems are even more striking because carved stones tend to not be faceted as well. These beauties are both carved and faceted; the detail in them is just exquisite. The lale (tulip) motif that you see in most of my signature earrings is a combination of a paisley detail from my logo and the Ottoman insignia of excellence, which is the tulip seen on all the historical buildings in Istanbul. I wanted a signature motif that was symbolic of my heritage coupled with my strongest inspirations.
EW: I get a “treat yourself” vibe from your jewelry, which I heartily advocate! Do you find more women are buying your fine jewelry “just because” or for an occasion?
SJ: You guessed right! I have seen women get this hypnotic look in their eyes one too many times at a show, and the jewels have a bit of a Cinderella effect! My clients treat themselves to pieces regardless of occasions. Surely purchases for occasions are typical too; recently my Minaret earrings were purchased for the Grammy awards, and a rutile topaz Kova ring was sourced as an engagement ring. However, most of the women are treating themselves and totally getting the “everyday luxury” feel that my collection exudes. They are always telling me how they feel when they are wearing my stacking rings for instance, which elicit a bounty of compliments wherever we all go!
Special thanks to Shamila Jiwa for a lovely afternoon filled with sunlight and gorgeous jewels!