Most people would be content setting up a company and working towards making it a success. But not Azza Al Qubaisi, an award-winning jewellery designer who has created amazing pieces that reflect images from the UAE such as the water and sand. The Emirati woman is also a philanthropist and is determined to preserve local traditions, which she believes are disappearing.
The themes reflected in her jewellery are indigenous. She uses the knowledge of design that she learnt in the UK along with locally available materials. From prayer beads carved out of camel bone to pendants made from incense holders, her creations are reminiscent of motifs and symbols from the region.
Azza, 34, loves working with materials such as fossilised shells, cuttlebone, oudh, rusted pieces of iron, stainless steel, and precious stones such as amber, amethyst, tanzanite as well as gold, silver and diamonds.
A graduate of the London Guildhall University (now known as London Metropolitan University) in jewellery design and allied crafts in 2002, Azza has also taken additional courses in gemology from the HRD Institute of Gemology in Antwerp, Belgium. While taking creative leaps as a designer she has also remained firmly rooted in her culture, values her heritage, and is keen to preserve it.
"Things in our society started changing drastically since the time of my mother. For instance, during her younger days women knew how to roast and grind coffee seeds and brew a traditional cup of coffee. But not many in the modern generation know how. There were some huge leaps that we took towards modernity. A lot about our lifestyle and our food habits changed,'' says Azza. She rues the fact that several traditional crafts such as weaving goat and camel hair and making areesh (dried palm leaf) mats are now not widely practised in the UAE any more.
"I want to focus on handicrafts and revive some of our old cottage industries such as making areesh and dhow building. I don't want our generation to lose the true essence of our identity as Emiratis," says Azza, who received the prestigious British Council's Young Creative Entrepreneur Design and Fashion award last year. She also received an award for the most successful businesswoman, honouring her creativity and sound business sense.
Bold, passionate and keen to make a mark in the world, Azza is part of a group of modern Emirati women who aren't afraid to dream and create, and are passionate about their country.
Besides designing jewellery Azza, who teaches at Zayed University and has an MBA in Creative and Cultural Industries from Higher Colleges of Technology - Centre of Excellence for Applied Research and Training (HCT-CERT) in Abu Dhabi, started a unique initiative called Made in UAE to promote indigenous arts and handicrafts in 2006.
Local weavers who make fabric out of camel and goats hair - traditionally used to make tents, clothes, bed covers and jewellery - now have the opportunity to showcase their talent thanks to Azza's initiative. Craftsmen who have preserved the traditional art of weaving mats and decorative items out of palm leaves, and traditional jewellery makers who create pieces from old coins, shells and beads are also able to display and sell their wares. International craftsmen were invited to learn local methods and share their own knowledge with Emiratis.
In 2011, Azza launched the Lamst Ibdaa initiative in Madinat Zayed, Abu Dhabi. It is a workshop for talented UAE designers that helps them develop their skills. Currently there are nine women designers involved.
Inspired by the desert, Azza's pieces range from the bold to the delicate, but are always consistent with themes of nature in the UAE. She tells Friday how designing jewellery has shaped her life:
Jewellery making is not just about fashioning a ring or sketching a design for a pendant. It's about creating a perfect piece of jewellery starting from scratch. It took me time to develop my skills during my course in Belgium. While studying in the UK, I would go to Morocco during the summer break to learn techniques to create pieces of jewellery from regular brass and silver sheets - traditional mediums of jewellery-making in the region. I wanted to learn everything I could. Perhaps half of what I learned may never be used but it helped me gain confidence.
I also went to San Francisco to do specialised classes in jewellery designing and finishing, and it gave me so much confidence that by the third year of my course in London I was very expressive in my language of creation and was selected to exhibit my pieces in the New Designer's Lounge, where only eight students from a class of 30 were chosen.
The best part of my collection at the Lounge (which was called Life) was a broach I designed that had a rubber washer to hold a scarf. It was highly appreciated and I got positive responses from several galleries that wanted to exhibit my collection.
In 2000, I was chosen by the Finnish Ambassador, who visited my exhibition in London, to exhibit at a festival in Finland called 1001 Steps. This meant I could promote Arabian culture there. I got an amazing response and I had another jewellery exhibition there.
When I returned to the UAE in 2002, I set up ARJMST, a jewellery design workshop. The name ARJMST is a combination of my and my siblings' names - Azza, Reem, Jamaal, Mohammad, Shua, Shaikh Shaima and Tareq.
I work with many different materials - gold, silver and iron. I consider my jewellery as a kind of sculpture. I like working with mediums such as asphalt, rusted iron and palm branches... I like to experiment a lot with natural materials and I love to learn new things.
My collections - be it the Marine Symphony or the Bareeq Al Oudh to name a few - focus on nature and tradition. I work on themes such as pearl harvesting and the tradition of using oudh for perfumes.
I believe that my works are not just beautiful pieces of jewellery, but they carry a strong sense of identity for the local heritage and culture.
I have over ten collections of jewellery based on different themes that are created using various materials.
I wanted people to take me seriously, so I set up a place where I could create and showcase my art. However, I realised that not many people were interested in purchasing unusual pieces of jewellery or jewellery created using unorthodox materials such as asphalt or iron, so, wanting to improve business, I started my corporate gifts collection in 2005 and we use gold and silver.
I had not planned to make jewellery designing a business. To me it was an outlet for my creative urges, but I had to earn a living so decided to go into mass production of some pieces made with gold and silver.
Meanwhile, I signed up as a volunteer to raise funds for a few charitable organisations in the UAE. I used to devote my mornings to fund-raising and my evenings to art.
After my first solo exhibition in Finland, I also showed my works at several other exhibitions in the UAE and slowly people came to appreciate my work.
I focused on the artistic side of jewellery and was keen to reach out to the local community and encourage them to appreciate the beauty of indigenous designs. I worked hard presenting talks at schools, going on TV and radio to get my people to understand and develop a taste for design.
My corporate gifts are mainly in stainless steel, sterling silver, gold and diamonds. Prices start from Dh100 and depending on the materials used, can go up to Dh500,000. Creating corporate gifts takes a lot of my time. I also teach young women who are studying design at Zayed University to develop their skills in designing jewellery.
I was born in Abu Dhabi and lived in the Mushrif region all my life.
Even as a child I loved gemstones and jewellery. My father, Dr Darwish Al Qubaisi is an engineer and a gemstone collector. He also has a lovely collection of art. My mother, Fatma, did a course in jewellery design. Thanks to my parents' love for art, I wasn't apprehensive when I entered this field. We were made aware of art and creativity from a very young age.
My father was very knowledgeable about gemstones and I remember being mesmerised by the beautiful stones in his collection during my younger days. Perhaps the roots of my passion for jewellery design can be traced to that time.
After completing my O Levels in Abu Dhabi, I was sent to school in the UK to complete my A Levels and to do a course in jewellery design. I wanted to become an artist or a designer creating one-off pieces. However, once I started designing, reality struck me. I realised women were not too keen on unusual or extremely artistic pieces of jewellery. Most of them only wanted jewellery created using regular materials like gold and silver. That's the reason I started the corporate gift line.
My life changed in 2009 after I married Mohammad Mowayad. We had worked on charity projects together and knew each other for five years. He loves my creations. I enjoy spending all my free time my husband and my two daughters, Alia and Aya.
My parents are very happy to see what I have achieved in my life. My mother says she sees a lot of herself in me while my dad always seeks my opinion when it comes to choosing works of art. I am a minimalist. While many Emirati women love diamonds, rubies, gold and sparkling jewellery, I love silver. I designed the Eternity Collection, which is in silver and very minimalist, entirely for myself.
One of my dreams is to showcase my work in different museums around the world. This way I can share the culture of my country. I want to continue to give back to my people and try to support anyone who is working on developing Emirati designs. I want to showcase the talent in the UAE. I have about 15 people at the workshop and I always say that people do not work for me but with me.
I love the outdoors and always aspire to have a harmonious connection with nature. That is why at the new home that I am building in the Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed City, I want to do my own landscaping and design a garden where I would love to spend time with my family.
Every year I plan to explore more of my country, so I have allocated a time to take a holiday with my family within the UAE. I love camping, travelling in the desert and learning more about the beautiful places around here.