by Jessica Michault
  • 8 minute read
  • March 28, 2024
Shamsa Alabbar features on Villa 88’s latest cover with Piaget

Jewellery designer Shamsa Alabbar teams up with Piaget to create a timepiece that beautifully blends the artistry of both houses – and celebrates landmark anniversaries

For the tenth anniversary of Villa 88, we turned to jewellery designer Shamsa Alabbar to be this issue’s cover star. It only seemed fitting as she too is celebrating the first decade of her signature jewellery brand. This marks the first time Shamsa has stepped so prominently into the spotlight. And we would argue that it is long overdue. 

Over the past ten years, Shamsa has forged a unique creative path in the world that honours artistry, her Emirati heritage, and the infinite beauty of Arabic culture. As part of this milestone moment, she has partnered with Piaget to transform one of the brand’s iconic Limelight Gala timepieces into a watch steeped in Arabic symbolism. This is the first time the luxury house has ever collaborated with a creative from the region on one of its timepieces. 

Abaya: Mannal Alhammadi; Watch and Jewellery: Piaget

In an exclusive and heartfelt interview, Shamsa reflects on what it took to build her successful business, how she is learning to lean more on those who love her, and what it means to make history as Piaget celebrates its own anniversary – 150 years of transforming bejewelled dreams into reality.

What was it like for you to shoot the ten-year anniversary cover for Villa 88

Honestly, it was completely out of my comfort zone. This whole experience was unlike anything I’ve ever done before. But I believe it’s important to embrace new opportunities. Having my husband by my side on set was a great comfort, and my sister and friend came to support me as well. I tend to handle things on my own without wanting to trouble anyone, so having my loved ones present was truly special. I felt grateful for their presence during this unforgettable cover shoot.

Having you on the cover feels fated, considering that both the magazine and your own signature jewellery business launched a decade ago. 

Yes, isn’t it a lovely coincidence? I actually started my business after graduating as a graphic designer from the American University in Dubai. In the beginning, I interned at different design studios, but I knew I wanted to do something for myself, something I could call my own. I realised that I didn’t like being confined by the guidelines of the companies I was working for or being limited to executing exactly what the client wanted, without any real creative freedom. It just didn’t feel like me. 

Since childhood, I have always been a creative, which has allowed me to explore and develop my artistic side. I would always attend workshops that had anything to do with art and design, especially Arabic. During one of the workshops I was attending, we explored Arabic typography design; I used that opportunity to create a personalised piece for my best friend’s birthday by constructing her name using my own Arabic lettering designs. I then had the design crafted for her at the local Gold Souk, and shared a photo of the creation on my private Instagram account, feeling immensely proud of my work as it brought me great joy. The overwhelming positive response and the number of inquiries that followed caught me by surprise. It was at this point that my unexpected journey began. 

Abaya: Mannal Alhammadi; Watch: Limelight Gala watch Piaget

Did you just drop everything you were doing at that point and launch your eponymous jewellery brand?

No, the growth and development of my business were much more gradual and organic. It initially started as a side project, primarily growing through word-of-mouth referrals. As orders continued to increase steadily, I reached a point where it became clear that dedicating my full attention and effort to the venture was necessary. So, I made the decision to channel all my energy into the business and pursue it wholeheartedly.

And now, ten years later, how do you feel as you look back on what you have accomplished? 

When I reflect on my journey over the past decade since starting out, I realise how much I’ve evolved as a person. A decade ago, I was very young, unsure about my career path and aspirations. These ten years have been a period of immense learning and growth, both for me and my business. We have essentially matured and developed together. The initial phase was all about exploration and discovery, understanding my business goals, identifying my target customers, and establishing the foundational structure of my company.

Abaya: Mannal Alhammadi; Watch and Jewellery: Limelight Gala watch by Shamsa Alabbar, Possession rings and bangles; all Piaget

It was during this period that I had a profound realisation – my true passion lies in creating meaningful jewellery pieces for individuals who value art, seek a deeper connection with their adornments, and strive to express their uniqueness. I draw my inspiration from the remarkable, dignified, and powerful Emirati women in my life, channelling their essence into each piece I design.

You keep powerful, accomplished and cultured women in mind while you create, but your own heritage also plays such an important role in your design aesthetic as well… 

It is crucial for me to stay authentic to my roots and heritage. My cultural background holds significant value for me, and I am committed to ensuring that my brand remains deeply connected to my Arabic identity. I aim to showcase the modernity and timelessness inherent in our artistic heritage and language. The elegance of geometric shapes, which are fundamental to our culture, and the transformative power of Arabic calligraphy inspire me to express their beauty through my creations.

Abaya: Harlienz; Watches and Jewellery: Possession ring; From top, Limelight Gala watch by Shamsa Alabbar, Patrimony watches, all Piaget

How did you want to translate all of that into your collaboration with Piaget? What was it like working with them?

Piaget has always been a brand that captivated me with its unique designs and exquisite craftsmanship. It is a part of cherished memories of the most significant moments in my life. It has been a constant presence in our family’s most important occasions, including our weddings, Mother’s Days, birthdays and countless others. Piaget holds a special place in our hearts. 

It is truly a privilege to be part of Piaget’s 150th anniversary festivities and play a role in this significant chapter of their history. Being given the chance to create a dial for the Limelight Gala watch is like a dream manifested into reality. The design journey was remarkably smooth once I understood that they weren’t seeking to conform my style to theirs. Instead, they aimed to find a harmonious balance, merging my passion and signature style with their rich heritage.

Abaya: Mannal Alhammadi; Watch and Jewellery: Limelight Gala watch; Possession rings and bangle, all Piaget

You completely reimagined the dial of Piaget’s Limelight Gala watch and gave a richly patterned geometric design. What is the meaning behind it?

I would describe my design aesthetic to be modern, geometric, and Arabic. I have a passion for creating patterns, putting together different shapes to create multiple series of patterns, a sort of echoing design. For this particular watch, my inspiration was drawn from the mashrabiya, an Arabic architectural element known for its repeated cutout patterns.

The different gold tones on the dial shift colours as light hits it, unveiling different patterns under varying light conditions. The dial has a sense of vitality and motion.

There is this great shot in the cover shoot where your arm is stacked with several vintage Piaget watches from the brand’s archives, and there at the top is your watch, a visual manifestation of how your design is now a part of the brand’s heritage. How does that make you feel?

It was an indescribably emotional moment for me. In Emirati culture, we always consider our family’s pride in our actions and accomplishments. Putting on those watches, I felt a deep sense of pride knowing that I, as an Emirati woman, am now a part of Piaget’s history.

It must be wonderful to feel how proud everyone is of this big accomplishment….

Yes. It truly warms my heart that even my five-year-old daughter takes pride in this. She made sure to tell her friends and teachers all about it. Just yesterday, she came home from school with an envelope on which she had written a message with the help of her teacher. It said: “Mama, you’re doing the best jewellery ever.” Those words brought tears to my eyes. It’s so rewarding to know that she sees my efforts and understands that I work hard because I want her too to be proud of me. 

Abaya: Unfold by Fold; Watch and Jewellery: Limelight Gala watch by Shamsa Alabbar; Necklace watch from the Patrimony collection; Possession rings, all Piaget

I am sure that working with Piaget is a highlight of the first decade of your business. Looking forward, where do you want to take the company now? 

This partnership marks a significant milestone in the history of my brand, and I will be forever proud of it. 

Another recent moment of great pride was the grand opening of my store, Fine Arts Jewellery, at Dubai Mall. I embarked on a mission to bring together a community of talented jewellers whose craftsmanship I deeply admire. I handpicked eight exclusive jewellery brands sourced from various corners of the world that have rich narratives and exceptional craftsmanship. 

Curating a collection of fine pieces from diverse origins has always been a cherished dream of mine, and opening this store now feels like a dream come true.

Visit and follow @shamsaalabbar on Instagram.

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