Elham & Issa: Jewellery with a taste of eastern delight
Husband and wife team Issa Sabeh and Elham Kalaji share their new collection with Portfolio, as the Jordanian firm comes to the UK
Elham & Issa Jewellery has a story as dazzling as the gems they work with. It began more than a decade ago, when Jordanian jeweller Issa Sabeh interviewed designer Elham Kalaji for a position in the company where he worked. A year later and they were married – and had set up their jewellery company.
"On my wedding day, Issa surprised me with a necklace he had designed and I felt so special that he had made a piece for me," Elham tells The Week Portfolio. "After our honeymoon, I said to him, 'We should do the same for other brides.' And so we began our bespoke service: a bride and the groom would come in and he would tell me the budget while she would tell me everything about her dress, her colours and I would design something for her, something she could also wear later, after the wedding."
Now, after building up an enviable reputation in the Middle East, the couple have branched out into the UK – and offered Portfolio a sneak peak at their newest collections ahead of their glitzy launch party in London's Mayfair.
One of their first ranges, Mystique, was the name they gave their company before changing it upon their marriage. The signature collection was inspired by the delicate flakes of gold left shimmering on a workshop bench when jewellery is made, resulting in pieces crafted with a decorative mosaic technique and set with mother-of-pearl, diamonds, turquoise, onyx and sapphire. "We were surrounded by this mosaic effect and we thought, 'Why don't we use it?'" says Elham. "It's been in our company for the last eight years and we get customers who are 70 years old wearing and customers who are 16." Issa collects the mother-of-pearl from Jerusalem. "The people who used to make it have vanished now, so I collect it and try to make something different from it," he says. "No one can do this handcrafting any more.
Next comes the exotic sounding Amwaj, Arabic for "waves", a name taken by the beautiful patterns Issa discovered in a blue opal during his travels in the Middle East. "You couldn't find a better name," he says. His wife tells us he is "obsessed" with opal. "He loves the fact that when you hold the stone you can see a rainbow inside," she says. "Opals are usually something for the older generation – you can see them on your grandmother or your mother – and Issa said to me, 'Elham, I want you to design something you would wear. Something fun, but simple and for the younger generation.'" She did, creating a stunning range of jewellery that showcases the deep, lustrous colour found in each stone, each piece delicately embellished with white diamonds.
Evolution is one of Elham's favourite ranges and is based around rutilated quartz, a stone she discovered while studying for a degree in goldsmithing at the Kent Institute of Art and Design. "It is transparent and you can see natural lines in it. They're supposed to form a star, but that's very rare and very expensive and I was a student, so I completed the star with gold." Elham's work takes over where nature left off, extending the delicate lines of the stone to create a "starburst" effect, complimented by sparkling white and black diamonds.
Finally comes a range inspired by one of the most valuable moments in the couple's life together – the birth of their daughter. "I was bored at home after a month so I told Issa to find me some stones so I could design," says Elham, laughing. Her demand resulted in Awe, named after the awe-inspiring turquoise Issa discovered in Lebanon. The range, which is intended for special celebrations, features azure turquoise, diamonds and pink and blue sapphire. "The diamond is for the mother and the pink stone is for the daughter," Elham says.
Elham and Issa share an obvious passion for their precious materials. "Each stone has its own design," says Issa. "You have to find the right one."
Most of all, they say, jewellery is art, not a business, but these aren't creations to be stored away in a vault. This is art to be loved and enjoyed, says Elham. "Don't buy anything from us and put it in the drawer."