How a storied Saudi jewelry brand is keeping its sparkle

The survival of the industry may depend on retailers, manufacturers as well as governments modernizing the business model. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 16 November 2020

How a storied Saudi jewelry brand is keeping its sparkle

  • Farsi has moved with the times to adapt to changing tastes, technologies and business disruptions
  • Sales of luxury items including jewelry have been hit by the pandemic as consumers tighten their belts 

DUBAI: Jewelry has been a passion in Nasser Farsi’s family for over a century, says the 34-year-old Saudi from Jeddah, who is keeping the tradition alive. The family jewelry brand, Farsi, is among the Kingdom’s oldest.

First established by his great-grandfather Mohammed in 1907, the store handles every stage of the jewelry-crafting process, but with a distinctive local touch steeped in history.

“I am the fourth generation in the business after my grandfather and father worked as jewelers in Makkah and Jeddah,” Farsi told Arab News.

As technology has evolved and customer demands have changed, so too has Farsi been forced to move with the times. “Every business needs to adapt through the year,” he said. “So, whatever my father did in the 1970s — the best at the time — doesn’t apply today. And what I’m doing today won’t be applicable in the future.




Nasser Farsi

“Every generation needs to come in and add to whatever makes their business adapt to the current times — manufacturing, branding and the designs of the jewelry are very different to before.”

Farsi should know. He learned his craft through the family and studied under some of the best gemologists in the world.

After finishing school in Jeddah, he first traveled to the US to study finance in Arlington, Virginia, before pursuing a master’s in finance in Miami, Florida. “I wanted to have managerial skills to be both the jeweler and the one operating the business,” he said. “My father did his undergraduate in general commerce and his master’s in accounting as well.”

Soon after, Farsi graduated in gemology and jewelry design from the well-reputed Gemological Institute of America (GIA) school in Florence, Italy — at that time the largest gemology school in the world — before returning to Jeddah in 2012.

“My father had to let the practice grow on me. I had to pay for anything I wanted when I was younger by working in the shop,” he said. “He wanted to make the most out of my free time and I am glad he did — because it became a passion.”

Now that he has inherited the family business, Farsi is out to make his mark. Pearls were the mainstay of the brand in the early days, later growing to include diamonds. Finer metalwork techniques were adopted as technology improved, allowing the business to create the lighter and more delicate designs favored by customers today.

“What was impossible 10 years ago by hand is possible today, so it made everything lighter and easier for the consumer,” Farsi said. Heavier gold pieces in particular seem to be falling out of favor.




Pieces of Farsi’s jewelry

“People are more into change. They don’t want to get any long-term commitments when it comes to big sets. So, they go and invest their money in a top-notch diamond instead of a piece of jewelry they may not use in 10 years.”

Despite changes in taste and technique, Farsi has sought to maintain the spirit and the essence of traditional Arabian design — even launching his own Nasser Farsi collection in 2015, primarily aimed at the male jewelry market.

“It started as a hobby,” he said. “I turned Arabic calligraphy into jewelry pieces. I have some iconic designs that people can recognize, mainly men’s bracelets. I started designing for women as well, but being a man I wanted something that I could use and I found this gap in the market.”

Timelessness is important. “Jewelers are not salespeople,” Farsi said. “We care about the quality of the stones and the value of the piece, rather than push a simple design that may be worthless in a few years.”

Farsi therefore embraces a little of the old and the new — keeping the classics alive while exploring the creative space that change has opened up. Although the marketplace is fierce, he is impressed by some of the fresh new designers joining the industry.

“It’s beautiful to see a lot of young names coming up. In Saudi Arabia alone, there are tens of people in the business or who have their own lines. It’s also rarer to find a male jewelry designer than a jeweler.”




Pieces of Farsi’s jewelry

In such a competitive marketplace, it is certainly an advantage to have an older, trusted brand backing you up. That is why Farsi is impressed by the number of upstarts achieving success.

“When you say jewelry, people mainly think about the name, the quality and the reliability of whoever they are working with,” Farsi said. “So, to come up with a name and start and make it is something to be proud of. There are a lot of people coming up and they’re making it. It can be quite challenging in the first few years, but they’re making it.”

Luxury items are by definition non-essentials, meaning the jewelry industry’s vitality is to a large extent dependent on purchasing power. Retail-industry research drawn from around the globe suggests customers are becoming more cautious with their spending — a change that retailers themselves must adapt to. Add the COVID-19 pandemic to the mix and the picture gets muddier still.

Lockdown measures forced stores across Saudi Arabia to close temporarily, including Farsi’s branches in Jeddah and Makkah. Besides, with wedding celebrations called off, fewer bridal jewelry pieces are being sold. The crisis has called the jewelry industry’s longevity into question.

“There aren’t as many weddings anymore, so the whole dynamic is fluctuating,” Farsi said. “It’s still not stable, but we are prepared for the worst and working for the best. I do hope I will pass this onto my children.”

There is also limited data available for a detailed industry health check. “Jewelry is an industry that’s barely been tapped into, but it’s taking a big share of cumulative retail reports,” Farsi said. “You don’t see as many detailed or specified reports in the jewelry industry, especially in Saudi Arabia or the Middle East.




Pieces of Farsi’s jewelry

“It’s mainly run in an old-fashioned way in most of the shops. It’s not just in the Kingdom, it’s everywhere. It’s very hard to get information from jewelers.”

The survival of the industry may therefore depend on retailers, manufacturers and governments communicating better — modernizing the business model, sharing expertise, determining best practices and creating regulations collectively.

“We are in continuous meetings with colleagues to try to figure out ways to boost business again around the area and in Saudi Arabia specifically. Everyone is really working hard to implement a change,” Farsi said.

If the industry’s problems are not addressed soon, Gulf countries risk losing a distinctive part of its precious heritage. Fortunately, people like Farsi refuse to let that happen.

“A lot of people in many different fields are working on keeping the culture and the language alive, from artists in the art scene, fashion and jewelry designers, and the whole young generation,” he told Arab News.

“There is this very big hype around putting the culture out there to the world, especially as Saudi Arabia is opening up to the world. There is a pride that everyone has to show the rest of the world.”

__________________________________

Twitter: @CalineMalek

 


Saudi vegan bodybuilder slams diet myths

Nutrition is the most important part when it comes to bodybuilding, then comes type of exercise, and good rest. (AFP)
Updated 29 November 2020

Saudi vegan bodybuilder slams diet myths

  • Ali Al-Salam, who stopped consuming animal products in 2017, says certain steps must be completed to have an athletic body

JEDDAH: The vegan diet has risen in popularity in Saudi Arabia in recent years and has been a constant topic of debate among Saudis, attracting the interest of many, including athletes.

Ongoing debates about whether the vegan diet is sufficient for normal people, let alone bodybuilders, abound, but one Saudi is answering them physically.
Veganism is a lifestyle that excludes all animal products from diets, clothing or any other purposes.
Over the years, a number of studies have found that people who eat vegan or vegetarian diets have a lower risk of heart disease, but other studies have also placed them at a higher risk of stroke, possibly due to the lack of vitamin B12, an essential vitamin that reduces the risk of anemia and neurological diseases.
Speaking to Arab News, 33-year-old Saudi vegan bodybuilder, Ali Al-Salam, who first started his vegan diet three years ago when he was suffering from high blood pressure, highlighted that the consumption of animal products is a deep rooted idea among bodybuilders and athletes.
“We always hear that in order to build muscle, we must consume animal products. In some parts of the world, there are people who can only have a small amount of animal products yet they live their lives healthily and comfortably and are not suffering from malnutrition — on the contrary, they have a lower level of chronic illnesses.”

When I consumed meat and animal products, I suffered from high blood pressure; it was 190 over 110, and I wasn’t even 30 yet. Two weeks into the vegan diet, it went down to 150. The vegan diet did what couldn’t be done with medications for me.

Ali Al-Salam, Saudi vegan bodybuilder

He said it also opened his eyes to what goes on in the dairy and meat industry; he began researching in 2016 and decided to become vegan in 2017.
“I was just like every other athlete, I used to consume a high amounts of protein. I remember in the last days before turning vegan, I used to have 10 egg whites and a piece of steak for breakfast to fulfil my protein needs. This made me think, ‘is this the only way to consume protein?’ And from then on, I started researching and got introduced to the vegan diet at a larger scale,” he said.
“When I consumed meat and animal products, I suffered from high blood pressure; it was 190 over 110, and I wasn’t even 30 yet. Two weeks into the vegan diet, it went down to 150. The vegan diet did what couldn’t be done with medications for me.”
He explained that bodybuilding does not solely rely on protein, and that there are steps that must be completed in order to reach an athletic body. Nutrition is the most important part, then comes type of exercise, and good rest.
“When we talk about good nutrition, it does not just rely on protein. Yes, it is important, but the amount of calories in general is more important,” he said.
“Let’s say you needed 200 grams of protein, does that mean if you consumed 200 grams of it, you would gain muscle? No. You need all the basic nutrients to reach a certain amount of calories in general,” he added.
He highlighted that as soon as people register for gym memberships, they immediately look for supplements because they think they cannot reach the needed amount of protein.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Veganism is a lifestyle that excludes all animal products from diets, clothing or any other purposes.

• Over the years, a number of studies have found that people who eat vegan or vegetarian diets have a lower risk of heart disease.

• But other studies have also placed them at a higher risk of stroke, possibly due to the lack of vitamin B12, an essential vitamin that reduces the risk of anemia and neurological diseases.

• Vegan athletes have more endurance, strength and faster muscle recovery, because the vegan diet is rich in antioxidants.

• Animal products sometimes cause inflammation, that your body needs to recover from in the first place.

“I’m talking about non-vegans here too, where their protein intake is already high. Marketing plays a big role here. People link protein to animal products because our society grew up with this idea as well.
“Can a vegan build muscle? Yes, when they eat right, exercise correctly and rest well. The misconception about protein stems from amino acids. People think vegan food lacks amino acids, and only animal products are full of them and that is far from the truth,” he added.
When comparing vegan athletes to regular athletes, he said vegan athletes have more endurance, strength and faster muscle recovery, because the vegan diet is rich in antioxidants which helps greatly in recovery, and because “animal products sometimes cause inflammation, that your body needs to recover from in the first place.”