DUBAI: Jewelry has been a passion in Nasser Farsi’s family for more than a century, says the 34-year-old Saudi from Jeddah, who carries on the tradition. The family jewelry brand, Farsi, is among the oldest in the Kingdom.
First founded by his great-grandfather Mohammed in 1907, the boutique handles all stages of the jewelry-making process, but with a distinctive local touch steeped in history.
“I am the fourth generation in the business after my grandfather and father worked as jewelers in Makkah and Jeddah,” Farsi told Arab News.
As technology has evolved and customer demands have changed, Farsi has also been forced to evolve with the times. “Every business has to adapt throughout the year,” he said. “So everything my dad did in the 1970s – the best at the time – doesn’t apply today. And what I do today won’t apply in the future.
“Each generation has to come and add whatever makes their business fit for today’s times – jewelry manufacturing, branding and designs are very different from before.”
Farsi should know. He learned his trade within his family and studied under some of the best gemologists in the world.
After completing his studies in Jeddah, he first traveled to the United States to study finance in Arlington, Virginia before pursuing a master’s degree in finance in Miami, Florida. “I wanted to have managerial skills to be both the jeweler and the one who operates the business,” he said. “My father did his bachelor’s degree in general commerce and his master’s degree in accounting as well.
Shortly thereafter, Farsi graduated in gemology and jewelry design from the highly regarded Gemological Institute of America (GIA) school in Florence, Italy – at the time the largest school of gemology in the world – before going on to return to Jeddah in 2012.
“My father had to let the practice grow on me. I had to pay whatever I wanted when I was younger working in the store,” he said. “He wanted to make the most of my free time and I’m glad he did because it became a passion.”
Now that he has inherited the family business, Farsi wants to make his mark. Pearls were the mainstay of the brand at first, then expanded to include diamonds. Finer metalworking techniques were adopted as technology improved, allowing the company to create the lighter, more delicate designs preferred by customers today.
“What was impossible by hand 10 years ago is possible today, so it’s made everything lighter and easier for the consumer,” Farsi said. The heavier gold coins, in particular, seem to be falling out of favor.
“People are more in favor of change. They don’t want to commit long term when it comes to big sets. So they’re going to invest their money in a top-notch diamond instead of a piece of jewelry that they may not be using in 10 years.
Despite changes in taste and technique, Farsi has sought to maintain the spirit and essence of traditional Arabic design – even launching its own Nasser Farsi collection in 2015, primarily aimed at the men’s jewelry market.
“It started as a hobby,” he said. “I transformed Arabic calligraphy into jewelry. I have iconic designs that people can recognize, mostly men’s bracelets. I also started designing for women, but being a man I wanted something I could use and found that gap in the market.
Timelessness is important. “Jewelers are not salespeople,” Farsi said. “We care about the quality of the stones and the value of the piece, rather than pushing a simple design that may be worthless in a few years.”
Farsi therefore embraces the old and the new a bit – keeping the classics alive while exploring the creative space that change has opened up. Although the market is fierce, it is impressed with some of the new designers joining the industry.
“It’s nice to see a lot of young names coming up. In Saudi Arabia alone, there are dozens of people in the business or who have their own lines. It is also rarer to find a male jewelry designer than a jeweler.
In such a competitive market, it certainly pays to have an older, trusted brand to back you up. That’s why Farsi is impressed with the number of successful newcomers.
“When you talk about jewelry, people mostly think of the name, quality, and reliability of the person they’re working with,” Farsi said. “So to come up with a name and start and do it is something to be proud of. There are a lot of people coming in and they’re succeeding. It can be quite difficult in the first few years, but they get through it.
Luxury items are by definition non-essential, which means that the vitality of the jewelry industry is largely dependent on purchasing power. Retail industry research from around the world suggests that customers are becoming more careful with their spending – a change that retailers themselves need to adapt to. Add the COVID-19 pandemic to the mix and the picture becomes even murkier.
Lockdown measures have forced stores across Saudi Arabia to close temporarily, including Farsi branches in Jeddah and Makkah. Also, with wedding celebrations being canceled, less bridal jewelry is being sold. The crisis has called into question the sustainability of the jewelry industry.
“There aren’t as many marriages anymore, so the whole dynamic fluctuates,” Farsi said. “It’s still not stable, but we’re prepared for the worst and working for the best. I hope I will pass this on to my children.
There is also limited data available for a detailed industry health check. “Jewellery is an industry that is barely tapped, but it takes a big chunk of the cumulative retail reports,” Farsi said. “You don’t see as many detailed or specific reports in the jewelry industry, especially in Saudi Arabia or the Middle East.
“It’s mostly run the old fashioned way in most stores. It’s not just in the Kingdom, it’s everywhere. It is very difficult to get information from jewelers.
The survival of the industry may therefore depend on better communication between retailers, manufacturers and governments – modernizing the business model, sharing expertise, determining best practices and creating regulations collectively.
“We are in continuous meetings with colleagues to try to find ways to revive business in the region and in Saudi Arabia in particular. Everyone is working really hard to implement change,” Farsi said.
If the industry’s problems are not resolved quickly, the Gulf countries risk losing a distinctive part of their precious heritage. Fortunately, people like Farsi refuse to let that happen.
“Many people in many different fields are working to keep the culture and language alive, artists from the art scene, fashion and jewelry designers, and all the younger generation,” he told Arab News. .
“There’s this really big hype around spreading culture around the world, especially as Saudi Arabia opens up to the world. There’s a pride that everyone has to show to the rest of the world.