“I usually stay home but my PR shouted at me and said I should be out and about,” Sabine Ghanem explained to me with a sweet chuckle during our recent interview in New York City. “I have four parties to attend just tonight,” she quipped, slightly exasperated at the very thought of them. With New York Fashion Week in full swing, and back-to-back buyers appointments and soirées filling Sabine’s day planner, I couldn’t help but feel swept away in the young jewelry designer’s glamorous aura as we chatted over espressos and freshly squeezed orange juice at a quaint luncheonette in the midst of buzzing Chelsea Market.
From Sabine’s love of opera to the role of Middle Eastern influence in her jewelry designs, our chat revealed to me a designer whose passions and influences are as rich and nuanced as the beautiful trinkets she creates. Read on to learn more about Sabine Ghanem and her namesake brand.
What was the first piece of jewelry you ever owned?
There is a ring that my mother gave me, which is from Bulgari. It has yellow gold, white diamonds, and baguettes, so it’s a little bit Art Deco. It’s quite heavy. To this day, it is still my favorite ring.
Where is the ring now?
The piece is in London. It really is my favorite piece. I believe that I have tried to make jewelry that connects to the time that the ring channels. A time when jewelry was very rich; rich in the way that it is heavy in weight and generous in gold, as well as generous in stones. I think a big part of the jewelry I create is inspired by what I saw when I was a kid. So my jewelry sort of has that feel of being vintage.
Did you and your mother share a bond over jewelry?
Not really. I was never obsessed with jewelry. I always loved beautiful things and so it happened that I took this path of jewelry, and now I’m very passionate about the design process. But I just tried it. It wasn’t a passion since I was a child. It was more that I always loved beautiful things. It could have been fabric. It could have been wallpaper. It could have been so many beautiful things. I didn’t know what I was going to do.
When did you first become interested in jewelry design?
The interest was always inside of me, clearly. It was more like a rational decision after trying out the GIA (Gemological Institute of America) courses. And even after the courses, I still didn’t think I was going to design. I tried to find a job at Van Cleef & Arpels as well as Harry Winston. I tried for both companies in New York and I couldn’t get a job at either. For the Swiss, it’s very difficult to secure the visa. So literally that process pushed me to design. I thought, well, let me try to draw something and see what comes out. And from the moment I tried, I understood this was something I was going to do for a long time.
Tell us about your experience at the Gemological Institute of America. What were the most valuable things you learned there?
It was a great experience because I got to learn all about diamond rings. I learned how to grade a stone. It was very interesting because I took the design course and it made me realize that it wasn’t that big of a deal. It wasn’t that difficult. In the sense that you imagine that being a designer is so difficult. But once you have a piece of paper and an idea, even if you’re not the best drawer in the world, you can make things and shape things and create designs with harmony. I learned that it was accessible. I learned that it was a real craftsmanship. There are a lot of things that you study that are very vague. Gemology is something you touch. It’s very real. You learn that you have power because you have craftsmanship.
Fine jewelry making is becoming a lost art. Do you hope to reinvigorate interest?
Yes, I mean it’s not really the purpose, but to me it’s what’s best. It is the old style. I wanted my jewelry to have the best quality. I looked to find the best atelier in Florence. A small family runs the atelier I found. The father has worked his whole life making jewelry with his two sons. They make everything by hand. Every piece that you buy from my collection is going to be made by hand.
Do you spend a lot of time at the atelier in Florence?
I do. I spend a lot of time there. When I go, I deliver to them a drawing. I’ll go back every day to follow up on the drawing, because you can have a great drawing, but the actual result is another world.
How long does it take to make a piece of jewelry for you? Start to finish.
A design sketch takes about half an hour, and then I send it over to the atelier. The atelier needs to look for the stones, so they look to get the right stones for that kind of design. Then we meet again. Then we study the drawing together. Then they come up with a first prototype, which is usually retouched. You have to give the process about a month.
How long does one piece take?
Once they have the drawing, they can make it in a few hours. It’s very quick.
What was the inspiration behind your medieval collection?
The collection is called “Relic”. I was looking through a book of medieval decorative arts from the 12th Century. It was this huge, old book that I found in the library. On one of the pages was a relic box. There was an image of the box from the front and the side, and I looked at this picture and I thought it was so amazing. And I thought to myself, let me try to play with that. So I started to draw something inspired by this relic box. And the first piece that I designed was this pair of big earrings, and they are called the Relic earrings. That’s how it all took shape.
Which pieces have customers really respond to?
It’s been such a positive response. I think that people like the fact that the jewelry is rich. In the sense that, you know, nowadays you have a lot of minimalist and simple pieces. I think for some reason this collection resonates with a different time.
Do you think living around the world has influenced your designs?
I think it has. I wouldn’t be able to tell you exactly how. More than anything, I think my Middle Eastern origins came out. The Relic collection is a completely medieval concept but somehow everyone tells me it looks Oriental. It looks Middle Eastern. And it’s true. There’s a feel to each piece that looks Arabesque, and I was really wondering why, and I think that’s what just naturally came out of me.
Where do you see the brand in five years?
I don’t know. In a very good place. It’s such a difficult question! I think just bigger and stronger.
Do you have a dream client?
I do. I have so many celebrities that I admire. I love Cate Blanchett. I would be very happy to see her wear my jewelry.
Anything to add?
I just thought of the answer to your question about where I see the brand in five years. I would like to have a shop on Madison Avenue. Yeah, that’s my answer.