When you consider the realm of fine jewelry – its ideators, makers, artisans, and marketers – it is likely that your consideration is Eurocentric in nature. After all, some of the most notable names in the industry belong to the Italians and the French. However, the insular and highly specialized world of fine jewelry has opened up in the past few years to include some names and origin stories that may surprise you.
Her Royal Highness Nourah Al Faisal, from Saudi Arabia, is one of the pioneers representing the Middle East in this rarefied realm. With a boutique open on the renowned Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris – one of the world’s most luxurious shopping districts and home to flagships like Hermès and Chanel – HRH Al Faisal is not only bringing Arab-inspired jewels to an elite set of clientele, but she is carving a name for herself as the exceptionally formidable, self-made jeweler behind Nuun Jewels.
Representation is important; in fact, it is one of the most vital components the fine jewelry industry – with its heritage brands and royal contracts – has been missing out on. For the first time, a Saudi woman finds herself in the same league as the greats who have gone before her, and this savvy, brilliant woman more than holds her own. Her designs are stunning, thought-provoking, and extraordinarily artistic. They possess the memorable qualities the modern woman desires in order to individuate her personal style, and they are made to the most exacting standards of sustainability.
In this exclusive interview with Savoir Flair, HRH Al Faisal relays her journey into jewelry-making, her company’s values, and her position as a role model for women in the Arab world and beyond.
When did you fall in love with jewelry?
I’ve always loved art and design, even as a child. I experimented in many different fields. Finally, I ended up focusing on jewelry. I love the materials used; they’re so beautiful and I enjoyed the way you can play with different forms and proportions. I love the architectural aspect in jewelry design.
What are some of your most precious family heirlooms?
I have a few pieces of my grandmother’s jewelry, one of which is an antique Cartier watch brooch. It is one of their earliest pieces and is quite stunning. Apart from the enormous sentimental value, it is an example of French craftsmanship at its best.
When did your love of fine jewelry and your eye for exquisite pieces transform into a craft?
I didn’t start until quite late. I was already in my late twenties when I got an apprenticeship in a workshop in Paris – that’s where I learned the basics of my craft. I was able to see masterpieces being made on a daily basis. I went on to spend 15 years working on private commissions. It has been an invaluable process — one that I am still learning from every day.
What kind of training did you receive in order to start cultivating your first jewelry collection?
Apart from my apprenticeship, I am completely self-taught. I believe that by surrounding yourself with people that are truly gifted in what they do, that is how you elevate yourself.
I believe that by surrounding yourself with people that are truly gifted in what they do, that is how you elevate yourself.
What does the name ‘Nuun’ mean?
The word Nuun is the Arabic pronunciation of the letter ‘N’, which is the first letter of my name. It’s also the mirrored image of my nickname, which is Nu.
How did it feel to open a Paris boutique on the famed Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, sharing an address with some of the biggest names in fashion?
It was absolutely a dream come true; a major milestone in my career. To be a female Saudi jeweler in such an esteemed location was a defining moment.
Patterns and geometric motifs derived from Arabic inspiration have certainly lent themselves to your exquisite creations. Where do you search for inspiration in the Middle East?
I search for inspiration everywhere. I’m obsessed with patterns; regardless of if they’re geometric or organic in nature. For example, my collection ‘Doroob’ was based on the geographical terrain just outside Riyadh.
You are tremendously knowledgeable about the world of fine jewelry and the jewelry makers who inspired your career. Do you ever create homages to the masters like JAR?
I’m not sure JAR would appreciate anyone creating homages to him. He is of course a master, and like many jewelers, I was influenced by his style when I first started, but I find it’s only when you start listening to your inner creative voice, and start defining what your style is, that you can achieve your potential.
Your artisanally crafted pieces are astonishing, but what is equally intriguing about Nuun is your commitment to transparent business practices, sustainability, and your commitment to supporting local arts and crafts in the region. What drives the compassionate outlook of your company?
Transparency and sustainability are thankfully becoming industry standards. Our clients are extremely knowledgeable and absolutely take these factors into consideration when making purchases, and that is such an amazing trend. As for supporting the arts in the Gulf, how could I not? There is so much talent. I am so proud to do my small part in promoting and supporting the voices coming out of the region.
Tell us more about your partnership with Art of Heritage, and what the heritage center did to help bring your ‘Banajir’ collection to life.
The Art of Heritage is an amazing organization with a very long history in supporting the community and keeping the traditional arts such as embroidery alive. It was such a pleasure to work with them on my first collection after the Nuun launch through their Down Syndrome Program. They created hand-embroidered pouches that we used as our packaging. It was very beautiful.
It seems like Saudi Arabia has seen a rising number of creative female entrepreneurs, and naturally you are one of the country’s success stories. To what do you attribute this creative boom?
Saudi Arabia is one of those places that hasn’t really had a voice internationally, which is such a shame because we have so much to say. It’s wonderful to see some of the misconceptions being corrected. I’m so proud to see so many fellow female entrepreneurs making their way internationally. It really feels like it is our time to shine.
Opal has been a growing trend in the fine jewelry world, and your Limited Edition collection ‘Zaher’ makes exquisite use of the stone. How did you come up with the unusual and compelling shapes in this collection?
I like to play with negative space, and I believe that a lot of times with jewelry, especially with stones as beautiful as opals, that less is definitely more. I tried to make something very feminine, and very easy to wear. ‘Zaher’ is actually one of my favorite collections, and it was one of the easiest to design. It felt very natural.
What is a common design request from some of your most high-profile clients?
I create a lot of unique pieces for my clients, who come to me for something a little different that speaks to who they are. It is always a challenge, but also very exciting to be able to work in this way .
Some of your pieces have a talismanic quality to them. Is this intentional? Do you believe in the power of certain stones?
I believe in the beauty of stones, and I believe that there is energy in everyone and everything. I believe that jewelry in particular can have immense sentimental value.
If fine jewelry is the ultimate form of self-expression, what message do you hope your pieces convey?
My ultimate hope is that my jewelry speaks to the personality of the person wearing it, and that they feel some personal connection to it.
You launched Nuun Jewels in 2014, and success came quickly. What are your proudest moments as a jewelry designer, so far?
I’m proud every time a client comes back and wants me to create them a new piece. I’ve had the privilege of being involved in my client’s private lives, through weddings, birthdays, and anniversaries. I’m always touched when they come back.
What’s on the horizon for Nuun Jewels?
We’re expanding to Riyadh, and we also have a new website where we will sell online. I personally hope to continue traveling and showcasing my work. My focus is always to continue growing as an artist, and perfecting my techniques with the highest quality. Everything else is a bonus.