Imagine the life of someone who was raised up among silver ornaments and elaborate sketches. Many families in Egypt have dedicated their days and years to shower the country, and the world, with intricate jewellery and captivating accessories. While some Egyptians have entered the silver crafting business in recent decades, others have had the same workshops, clients, and designs for a century.
From earrings, to rings and necklaces, silver is a widely popular accessory for both women and men due to its increasing value, wide price range, and the craftsmanship and skill of authentic local artists.
In Egypt’s most timeworn neighbourhood, Al-Hussein, silver workshops are filled with artists who have spent their lifetime following in the footsteps of their ancestors through creating handmade silver accessories. Mohammed Adel’s workshop is one of them.
Adel, 36, has been working as a silver merchant for 25 years. “I joined this craft when I was 11 with my father, who owned the same workshop I currently run, and I aim to leave it to my son after me to keep the circle going,” said Adel.
Adel inherited the craft from his ancestors, who all worked as silver merchants. “This handicraft defines my family and our main passion in life. My great grandfather bought this workshop 250 years ago, and ever since then, generations have been taking it one after another,” said Adel.
Despite the increasing competition between hundreds of neighbouring workshops that all specialise in silver products, Adel decided to follow the path of his relatives and refuse to incorporate any technology in producing his accessories.
“Laser machines optimise and expedite the production process, reducing the prices accordingly. Nevertheless, technologically-made items always seem to lack a bit of charm. Therefore, I refuse to depend on machines and instead go for making the accessories from scratch with my own hands,” said Adel.
Adel’s passion would sometimes lead him to spending more than one day working on a simple ring in order to reach a satisfying and authentic result that would please his point of view. “I don’t care if it takes me days of non-stopping work to hold a piece of original beauty in my hands. We don’t get to find them a lot nowadays,” shared Adel.
With that said, the most challenging part is usually related to the sophistication and accuracy of engraving. It took Adel 10 years of training to be able to reach his current level of work. “It’s not just a job, it’s a passion!” said Adel.
Ten years ago, silver wasn’t as popular as it is currently in the Egyptian market. The true turning point occurred when a few local jewellery designers started focusing on silver. The designers’ collections went viral, attracting international reviews and local sales.
“I know some of the extremely famous designers sell their pieces for over EGP 2,000; however, they depend on selling their names as brands. Meanwhile, they come to us and we are the ones that help them turn their sketches into actual products,” Adel stated. “Some of the designers ask us to help them with their new lines, so basically it’s our designs with their names.”
Despite the recent drastic-economic changes that have severely affected his trade, Adel is still fighting to overcome the situation. “I try to come up with new designs that combine modernity and Islamic designs as well as fonts that customers currently favour,” said Adel.
Photos by Mohammed Omar