Driving around Dubai recently, I was fascinated by how the city’s planning was resulting in very distinct commercial areas such as the Dubai Design District (D3), Business Bay, and the Dubai Gold and Diamond Park. It is in this latter commercial hub where I meet Australian jewellery designer, Gillian Dowland, in her showroom. Interested to know more about this dazzling new precinct, I asked Gillian to fill me in.
Gillian: It is an area of the city specifically designed for jewellery design, manufacturing and trade. When I first arrived in Dubai, I was really impressed with the fact that this area offers a “one-stop shop” for people like me who enjoy the whole process of jewellery making. You have all the elements here; you can source stones, gems and every kind of product you need. You can also source the expertise you need to make your jewellery, and you have showrooms and retail opportunities here. It’s deceiving in a way because when you first walk in, you don’t realise the enormity of this complex. Dubai is now a major jewellery centre of the world.
For Gillian, having so many other designers and crafts people working side-by-side to her is an incredibly inspiring and creative environment in which to work.
Gillian: It’s easy to get caught up in the possibilities of creativity with all the gems here, but I also find the architecture of the district also very inspiring. Everything is futuristic, but also historical, because you have a range of traditional jewellery making methods from India, Iran, Armenia and Lebanon, so you get exposed to a lot of different things.
Gillian works primarily with South Sea pearls from the intense blue waters surrounding northern Australia. Interestingly, pearling was a major source of wealth in the Emirates long before oil was discovered here. By the beginning of the twentieth century there was, according to one calculation, over 1200 pearling boats operating out of the Trucial States, each carrying an average crew of 18 men. This meant that during the summer most able-bodied men, numbering more than 22,000, were harvesting pearls.
Gillian: In the families of the UAE there is a beautiful tradition of pearling. When I work with clients, they often tell me how their grandfather was a pearl diver, or ran the boats, and they often show me their family’s pearl collection, so for me having that connection is really fascinating.
As a designer, Gillian often receives commissions for one-off designs, or the design of several complimenting pieces for a family, or bridal party.
Gillian: Firstly, they usually invite me to their home, so that helps me get a feeling for the kind of people they might be, and so it becomes a more of collaboration. We sit down and over tea we talk a lot and I get a good understanding of what they may like. We discuss the style of the bride’s dress and what kind of wedding they are going to have; and they are often very creative themselves. Today Dubai is so international, so Emirati are influenced by both the East and the West; which is lovely for me, because I like to combine that in my designs.
With fashion designers usually designing two or four collections a year depending on the season, I was keen to know more about trends in jewellery design:
Gillian: Most of my clients come to me because I usually create one-off design, so I don’t really “do” a collection. But there are definitely trends, especially when it comes to pearls. Traditionally, it just white pearls, but today we mix colours, we make pearls with ombre shading, or we make multi-coloured strands. I also look at what colours are on-trend, as we will need to use those colours in our designs. Sometimes I like to incorporate themes into the designs, especially themes connected to nature.
If you would like to see some of Gillian’s beautiful designs check her out on Instagram: australian_south_sea_pearls