Kuwaiti Alumna Takes ‘Timeless’ Designs to International Stage


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Designer and GIA graduate Dana al-Nafisi knows that establishing her own brand is going in a “totally different direction” for jewellery in her home country of Kuwait. Photo courtesy of Dana al-Nafisi
Designer Dana al-Nafisi knows the importance of a premier brand: she’s been building hers since family and friends started buzzing about the handmade thread and leather bracelets she created for them as a child.

Today, her Danafisi designs grace the display cases at Harrod’s London and the necks and ears of Hollywood darlings, but the Kuwait-born designer and entrepreneur – who calls her brand personality “cutting-edge and timeless” – is just getting started back at home.

Al-Nafisi says jewellery customers in the Persian Gulf tend to be quite brand-loyal, and many of them are first drawn to household names like Cartier and Bulgari when they are in the market for high-end pieces.

“In Kuwait, I’m heading in a totally different direction,” says al-Nafisi, a graduate of several GIA diploma programmes. “My brand is special and unique, and it’s challenging and very interesting because customers in the Middle East need time to understand and love it.”

This 18K solid yellow gold bracelet is from Kuwaiti designer Dana al-Nafisi’s “Rocks” collection, which, she says “make a sharper, more organic use of precious metals by invoking traditional architecture and environmental elements.” Photo courtesy of Dana al-Nafisi
 
One way al-Nafisi is beginning to capture their attention is by referring, time and again, to the skills she learned as a GIA student.

Al-Nafisi discovered GIA as a young girl, when she began exhaustive research on the gem and jewellery industry. She launched Danafisi in 2007 as an exclusively online venture, eventually quitting her full-time job as a pricing analyst in 2009 and packing her bags for the Institute’s London campus. Al-Nafisi made productive use of her time there, earning diplomas in Graduate Diamonds, Jewelry Design and CAD/CAM in 2010.

“My experience was amazing,” she says. “I met a lot of people from different backgrounds and cultures, and we heard lectures from very interesting people. A representative of Rio Tinto visited us and taught us about fancy-coloured diamonds, and we once spent a full day at the De Beers headquarters observing their whole process.”

The Graduate Diamonds programme was particularly special to al-Nafisi. “Our instructor would play classical music during class so we could ‘feel’ and connect with the stone,” she says. “It was really intense and challenging.”

More pieces from al-Nafisi’s “Rocks” collection. Left, an 18K solid black and yellow gold ring, laced with textured white gold, is one piece in that “evokes the many-hued rock formations in the local environment,” she says. A pair of 18K solid yellow gold studs delivers what the designer calls “the edgier side of gold.” Photo courtesy of Dana al-Nafisi
 
Al-Nafisi noticed that her GIA experience was an instant added value for her business when she returned home, especially when she was working with high-end bespoke and custom pieces.

“Clients didn’t really pay attention before, and now they actually respect my opinion,” she says. “They trust that I will provide them with good quality, and they listen to my advice.”

Al-Nafisi says the primary inspirations for her “simple and elegant” designs come from “storylines … which can vary from whimsical fairytales to historical and legendary events” and “convey a modern sensibility”.

“I experience design as a living, ongoing process in which I learn and take risks as I work with my clients,” she says. “As a result, my designs create a relationship between my brand and the customers’ emotions.”

Al-Nafisi sees corporate social responsibility as “a vital part of the Danafisi ethos” and every year, she does a line to support breast cancer awareness. A percentage of proceeds from the line, such as these solid silver bracelets with pink sapphires, left, and solid silver and pink sapphire studs, benefit local organizations that help women who otherwise can’t afford mammograms. “It’s an international issue,” she says. Photo courtesy of Dana al-Nafisi
 
She travels around the world with her collections, including the 18K gold “Rocks” and annual breast cancer tribute “Wings of Love,” to international tradeshows and exhibitions, as well as selling them in her Kuwait City studio.

She was thrilled when she was invited to showcase her designs in a suite before the 2013 Golden Globes, giving celebrities and Hollywood talent a sneak peak at her collections. “Entertainment Tonight” correspondent Carly Steel immediately latched on to a pair of earrings from the Rocks collection and wore them on the red carpet – as did a host of other celebrities when the designer made Danafisi pieces available for the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.

Al-Nafisi, who recently earned her Accredited Jewelry Professional credential through GIA’s Distance Education programme, advises budding designers to “invest in your education and keep learning.”

“I’ve had a passion for jewellery since childhood, and that is still growing within me,” she says. “It’s never too late to find what you love doing, and keep following your passion.”

Jaime Kautsky, a contributing writer, is a GIA Diamonds Graduate and GIA Accredited Jewelry Professional and was an associate editor of The Loupe magazine for several years.