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The silver merchants of Khan El-Khalili

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Silver traders depend on Egyptian customers these days, unlike before the revolution when the whole trade was built on tourism

Ghaly Mohamed at work in his workshop Abdel-Rahman Sherief

Ghaly Mohamed at work in his workshop
Abdel-Rahman Sherief

Precious, fashionable and within the scope of most people’s budgets; silver ornaments are popular as gifts for a variety of occasions.

Ten years ago silver did not enjoy its current popularity, but in the past few years the metal was rediscovered as a fashion item and its price doubled, even tripled, as its demand increased. Rings, earrings and necklaces are among the most popular silver ornaments that are sold today.

“Silver became popular when fashion houses started featuring it instead of gold,” said Hany Ramadan, the manager of Amin’s boutique in Khan El-Khalili. “When it started to be used in the microchip industry its demand, and thus its price, increased.”

The raw silver used by local craftsmen is either Egyptian local silver, or Swiss silver, which is higher quality. Egyptian traders and artisans prefer to deal with the local silver however, as it is inexpensive.

Silver jewellery and ornament production is influenced by the latest international designs and fashion trends. Ramadan said Egyptian traders are more aware of what happens in the world now, thanks to the internet and modern communication technology. “Tourists can now find in our boutiques the same jewellery designs they see in their home countries,” he said. Local silver craftsmen are up to the challenge of producing modern pieces and despite the old fashioned tools they are using, they are more than capable of producing designs like the European fashion houses.

Ghaly Mohamed, who has been a silver craftsman for 40 years, does a lot of work based on his customers’ requests, preferring innovative work to imitating ready-made designs or copying from a catalogue. He said silver workshops in Khan El-Khalili, known as El-Khoronfesh, used to be teeming with real creative and artistic craftsmen, unlike these days. “The problem lies in poor education; schools should first teach children commitment and discipline,” Ramadan said. “If children are not committed they will learn nothing throughout their life. The core of education is to learn how to think and to become used to receiving instruction, but that is missing today.”

Silver traders depend on Egyptian customers these days, unlike before the revolution when the whole trade was built on tourism. Each group of customers has their own taste or preferences; Europeans for example tend to prefer the pharaonic style of jewellery, while the Arab and Egyptian customers prefer the Islamic style which depicts Quranic verses and Islamic designs.

Ramadan represents a new generation of silver traders who are adapting a modern mentality in their business and are trying to apply the latest marketing and business approach to the Egyptian market. His generation is curbed by the stubbornness of previous generations though, who are still dominating the market. He said there is a large gap between these mentalities, but “one day, my son and his generation will be in our place and they will have to change our minds to get used to their rules and their life style. That is how it goes, that is life.”


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