Azza Fahmy: Behind the Scenes
Hand made is the new industrial ...
Azza Fahmy was a progressive, forward thinking woman of her time; she managed to push the conventional norms of craftsmanship in Egypt and build a respected jewellery empire that now resonates as a worldwide household name.
But this piece is not about her as the founder, but rather about the process of how her one-of-a-kind and conceptual hand made pieces come to be.
A couple of months ago, I got an email to join a complementary tour of the Azza Fahmy factory courtesy of The American University of Cairo; typically I signed up immediately. We met at the Maadi store at 11AM, and were transported into a realm of unfiltered artisanship.
The factory stands out in the manufacturing district of 6th of October City in Cairo, as a bright reddish-orange building with cobalt blue doors and windows, complete with vintage locks and gates.
The tour took us through the entire jewellery making process, showing us how each piece is created from the collecting, melting and preparing of the raw materials in-house; to the polishing, cleaning and quality control stages.
The workshop is filled with skilled individuals, the last of their kind it may seem, upholding the art of hand made craft. We were shown intricate techniques such as filigree, Roman chain making, and stone setting. All done by hand, by one man, sitting at a station, showing more focus, patience and precision of mind in that moment than some of us have in a lifetime.
The workers are divided into teams, each team is assigned a Master in charge of teaching his apprentices; the teaching process is an integral part of upholding and passing down the craftsmen's knowledge from generation to generation. The more you teach, the more you grow and are rewarded for you efforts; providing solid incentive for a fruitful learning environment. Azza Fahmy started this method of assigning students to her craftsmen, essentially, in order to preserve the art of making hand made jewellery.
We were not permitted to take pictures inside the workspace itself; however I was able to take a few shots that quite frankly fail to capture the essence of this eye opening experience.
We were shown how sterling silver arrives at the factory as little pearl shaped beads, which are then melted to form solid sheets of silver to be cut, carved, embellished and stamped into shape.
I saw craftsmen mould wires of 18 karat gold into intricate flowers, and stones being hand-set into rings. I was staring at my Azza Fahmy Lotus ring the entire time, having just discovered a new found appreciation for this piece of jewellery I posses.
I now have an entirely new appreciation for handmade craft, as well as for the people who possess skills that are unfathomable to an outsider like me.