CAIRO – Azza Fahmy's latest collection includes a ring crafted in the image of a mud house found in the south of Egypt, in Nubia.
"See the house here, and the steps leading down, and this stone is the lake," says Fahmy, arranging the ring on the hand of a visitor. "It's up to you. But put it this way on your hand, it's surrounded more by the white of your skin, and I like that."
Fahmy, the driving force behind one of the most unlikely success stories in modern design, likes to have things just so. In 1969 she apprenticed with a goldsmith in Cairo's bazaar district, the first woman ever to do so.
Over the past 50 years, she's built an internationally known family-owned jewelry brand, one of only a handful of medium-sized artisanal jewelers in the world. The company today produces 40,000 pieces a year, ranging in price from several hundred to thousands of dollars, and her brand is a model not only for jewelers and designers worldwide but for Egyptian women: Fahmy is so famous in the country of more than 90 million that she is often recognized on the streets.
The company won't disclose revenues, but an average price per piece of $2,000 would put revenue at $80 million. She expects sales to increase this year by 30 percent to 35 percent. The company employs about 285 people.
Her two daughters have even more ambitions for the company, which this year opened its first store in the Mayfair district of London, adding to a network of 14 branded stores, as well as retail agreements with galleries in global cities such as Washington, D.C., and Dubai, and an online shop.
The heart of the brand's success is its unique designs, drawn from Egyptian history and Islamic culture. From pharaconic collars to twisting serpents, Azza Fahmy pieces have been spotted on celebrities from Naomi Campbell and Rihanna to Queen Rania of Jordan.