The story began when Leena and Hala El Khereiji left their banking careers in Jeddah and ended up in London, Leena to pursue her passion and qualify as a Gemological Institute of America (GIA) as an Accredited Jewelry Professional. Hala meanwhile took a masters degree in International management at the School of Oriental and African Studies.
Passion is a wonderful thing, but unless trained and focused its energy dissipates and not much results. Following the GIA course and assembling the intellectual and manual skills to pursue her passion, Leena studied jewelry design theory and artistry, how to illustrate shape, form, and texture of metal and render faceted gems, cabochons, and pearls and apply traditional drafting techniques to designing jewelry.
Her natural talent, now augmented with a valuable skill set was considerable. Within a few months having put them to work in earnest, she was awarded first place for best design inspired by Islamic architecture at the prestigious International Jewellery Salon Exhibition in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in 2011. The prize involved the opportunity to exhibit this year at the show if she had a brand. Great talent, yes; brand no.
However, the prize gave her the boost that was needed and the sisters started the serious work of building the business.
“We researched everything we could about jewelry and went to some of the great international shows, for example the Basle Fair,” said Hala. “We traveled to see what was current and available — and how we could add something different to the market.”
Six months and furious hard work designing and producing a range of jewelry and the Freedom collection launched at this year’s Salon is the result.
“Winning the prestigious jewelry competition at this same exhibition last year, was the affirmation I needed, along with the love and support of my family, to pursue my dreams of becoming a jewelry designer,” said Leena. “To be able to come back this year and launch my own brand, with my sister and Charmaleena Fine Jewellery and debut The Freedom Collection, at the very exhibition I was honored at, is an accomplishment we are immensely proud of.”
Important to the range for the sisters was the quality of craftsmanship and finishing as well as the stones used. Having looked in the Kingdom for the standards they needed, they could not find it in the time they had and so the range is currently made in Lebanon.
“Every woman is extraordinary, so your jewelry should be too. Charmaleena Fine Jewellery reflects the unique and effortless beauty of a woman. Leena and I brainstorm and research the jewelry we love to wear, that can be worn with flexibility, and style. Our designs are a reflection of our styles, representing who we are, and we are embodying a part of us in our designs,” explained Hala.
Setting out to create a range of jewelry started in Charmaleena’s case with a concept and that most terrifying of objects to designers and authors alike, a blank sheet of paper. Then came the colors, shapes and trends that would appeal and reinforce the concept.
“We settled on the idea of making the ranges conceptual — each would have a separate and distinct concept — the first is the freedom range,” said Hala. This was the one on show. “It is more than pursuing one’s own concept it is also about being aware of market trends and the current fashion environment.”
To convey the concept of Freedom, Leena settled on the idea of wings as a symbol — this led her to research all types of wings to derive a shape that would act as the theme for the range. “We took pictures, assembled them with sketches on a “mood board” and began developing our own ideas by sketching and trying out ideas. “We didn’t want to copy or be the same as anyone else.”
Lena wanted the range to be as delicate and feminine as possible yet very functional.
“We wanted to have it multi function so people don’t get bored for example a pendant can be opened and used as a set of earrings.”
Considerations of jewelry design are not just artistic — one has to take into account the mechanical strength of metal, durability, ease or practicability of finishing — it is an exercise in micro-engineering as well. Then add the stones bearing in mind the questions; Are they durable? What conditions are they likely to face? “There are so many practical considerations,” she said.
The Freedom range uses micro-pavé diamonds and highly polished or lapped 18carat gold for the majority of designs. Other stones feature as well, particularly fine lapis lazuli.
“We wanted to create something that made people happy, and for women to relate to us.”
After the show, the analysis. Was the expense and the passion worth the effort?
“Feedback so far has been amazing — we didn’t expect that,” said Hala. “We have had many jewelers come to visit — one very well known international brand has ordered from us — we are very happy”.
Looking forward, the brand aims to expand into points of sale across the Kingdom and build a brand both locally and internationally. Charmaleena has taken a very positive and highly skilled first step; and Freedom is up and away!