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An Exclusive Interview with Mariam Ali Al-Khalaf, Owner of Gema by Arts & Gems

 

Mariam Ali Al-Khalaf, owner of Gema by Arts & Gems and the CEO of Arts & Gems Doha, is not only a successful entrepreneur and a creative jewelry designer, but also a proud member of a prominent Qatari family.

 

A woman who shines like a gem, Mariam has granted Dunes Magazine an in-depth interview, where she spoke about her relationship with her father, her journey of discovering her passion for jewelry, and the secrets behind her stunning creations. She also shared with us the unique concept behind Gema, and a glimpse of her future plans.

 

 


 

·       Thank you for joining us today, Mariam. To begin, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background in the jewelry industry?

 

Thank you for having me! I'm Mariam Ali Al-Khalaf, the owner of Gema by Arts & Gems and the CEO of Arts & Gems Doha. Jewelry has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I grew up surrounded by it, thanks to my father, Ali Al-Khalaf, who established Arts & Gems in 1979. However, I have been working in the jewelry industry since 2014. As for my educational background, I moved to the United States, accompanied by my brother, to pursue a bachelor's degree in business administration. I then enrolled in an executive MBA program with a British university.

 

 

·       So, have you graduated directly to be a manager or a jewelry expert?

 

No, not directly. Growing up surrounded by jewelry taught me to appreciate gemstones and craftsmanship early on. I took gemology courses at GIA, the world’s foremost authority on diamonds, colored stones, and pearls. My journey involved finding my own path, as after my graduation in 2010, my father insisted that I gain work experience outside the family business first. Although it was a shock for me, as I was looking forward to joining the family business and becoming an owner instead of an employee, it was the best advice I have ever received. It taught me discipline and responsibility. My career began in the private sector, but I briefly redeployed to the Ministry of Trade and Commerce (now known as the Ministry of Commerce and Industry). I eventually joined the family business to work in the jewelry market


 

·       Can you tell us more about your work at the Ministry of Trade and Commerce? How did this experience affect your personality?

 

I worked there for almost 11 years. While it was quite hectic, it has become an important part of my life. It was an amazing experience that allowed me to meet many amazing people from around the world. My time at the ministry taught me discipline, to take my private business seriously, and to become passionate about everything I do in order to succeed, no matter how difficult or exhausting it may be. The people I have worked with and met there have taught me a lot.

 

 

·       Jewelry has been a part of your life since a very young age. Could you explain how your childhood experiences shaped your passion for the industry?

 

As the first daughter after three boys, my parents, especially my mother, adorned me with jewelry even as a child. My mother loved dressing me up with tiny earrings and bracelets. I learned to recognize different gemstones by their colors at a young age, such as diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, and others. My father often took me to Arts&Gems and the workshop, where I saw the magic of diamond setting and watch repair firsthand. In turn, this upbringing planted the seeds of passion that eventually brought me into the jewelry industry.


 



·       What role did your mother play in refining your character?

 

It is my mother's strong personality that keeps me strong and competitive. My mother is one of the most elegant ladies I have ever seen. She is beautiful inside and out, and I rely on her for the jewelry I design and the brands I bring into the boutique. Whenever I am stressed out or overloaded with work, I turn to my mother for comfort. Her listening ear and comforting presence are always there for me.

 

 

·       How would you describe your father’s influence on your journey?

 

For me, my father is not only a business figure but a role model and a source of unwavering support. His wisdom, calm demeanor, and encouragement have shaped my path. He has instilled the importance of being unique and true to oneself. He continues to support and push me, even complimenting me in front of others, which fuels my confidence. I would not be who I am today without his guidance and love. In fact, I owe a lot of my professional and personal success to both of my parents. Their support fuels my passion for jewelry and my commitment to continuing their legacy.

 

 

 

·       Speaking of Gema by Arts & Gems, what inspired the creation of Gema, and how does it differentiate itself from Arts & Gems?

 

Gema is the younger, trendier version of Arts & Gems. It is very much similar to me. I created Gema to bring something fresh and different to the market. It caters to the contemporary, working woman who seeks unique and versatile jewelry for various occasions. Gema emerged during the COVID lockdown when I realized a demand for everyday jewelry that seamlessly transitioned from work to social gatherings. Gema, meaning "gemstone" in Italian and "value of something" in Arabic, started operating in 2022 as a multi-brand store featuring 13 emerging brands with diverse cultural influences. We started with seven brands that have grown to 13 after a year.  

 

 

·       The selection process for brands at Gema seems meticulous. What criteria do you prioritize when choosing brands for the store?

 

These brands are chosen based on two main criteria: design and quality. High-quality finishing and gemstones remain non-negotiable. In other words, each piece must have excellent craftsmanship and stunning gemstones. But beyond that, I look for brands with a unique personality, a story to tell, and a connection to the Arab world. I even have my own brand, Gema by Mariam, inspired by my Qatari heritage and love for the natural world. Although my schedule is very busy, I always come up with a collection once a year. My first piece was a coin featuring His Highness the Amir, which could be worn as a brooch or pendant. Later, I designed a piece called “Gernas,” a falcon head necklace with tassels, and then a pearl necklace named "Al Gewan," representing the preciousness of pearls in our culture. I even have pieces inspired by the Msheireb architectural designs!

 

 



·       Gema seems to have a significant focus on the Qatari culture. Could you shed light on this choice?

 

The focus on the Qatari culture comes from a deep connection to my heritage and an understanding of the market's preferences. The brands at Gema are young and vibrant, offering high-quality craftsmanship. All of these brands originate from the Arab world, demonstrating the region's rich talent. I am also proud that we have designers from Lebanon, Qatar, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Morrocco, showcasing the incredible talent we have in the region.

 

 

·       Can you share more about the inspiration behind the store's design and the customer experience it aims to provide?

 

Gema's store is inspired by the natural state of gemstones, with rough finishes on the walls reminiscent of the extraction process. The feminine curves of the walls draw inspiration from the contours of a woman's wrist, neck, and fingers. The touch screen in the store allows customers to customize their jewelry, adding a modern and educational element to the shopping experience. Gema aims to offer a unique and personalized experience for customers, creating a space where they can truly value and connect with the pieces.

 

 

·       Do you have any future plans for Gema?

 

The next step involves creating an online platform. The world has become smaller because of technology, and we have countless possibilities. I am trying to raise the bar. We need to keep up with the world. Overall, Gema's growth will be gradual, with a focus on pop-ups at global events and department stores, such as Paris Fashion Week. My goal is to make Gema an umbrella brand that showcases the unique designs of the brands it houses, not just my own, Gema by Mariam.


 

·       Are you planning to open stores in other countries?

 

Why not? It would be wonderful, but I would like to focus on the regional market first and then expand to different department stores around the world.




 

·       The journey you have taken so far has been marked by ups and downs. How did you manage to carry on with your dreams and passion?

 

The challenges are tough at times, but my passion drives me to overcome them. Having a goal and working hard to achieve it, as well as enjoying the journey of making your dreams a reality with all its ups and downs, learning from every mistake, absorbing every lesson, and enjoying the success you have achieved after all that hard work, is what keeps you going.  Always believe in yourself, appreciate your efforts, and be proud of what you have accomplished so far.

 

 

·       We know you are a partner of David Webb Jewelry. Could you tell us why you chose this brand in particular?


 The legacy, history, and beautiful designs of David Webb make it one of the brands that I most admire. I am proud to be David Webb’s partner in Qatar. David Webb's boutique, located in Msheireb Downtown, is the region’s flagship store.


My choice to partner with David Webb in Doha was driven by the brand's rich history of creating high-quality jewelry worn by iconic figures around the world. We are thrilled to offer these exquisite pieces to Doha's community, reflecting timeless elegance.

David Webb's access to some of the rarest and most sought-after gemstones, along with their expertise in beautiful gold hammering techniques, sets their jewelry apart. This unique combination results in visually stunning and highly coveted pieces with exceptional value, showcasing the pinnacle of jewelry craftsmanship.


 

·       Any advice for our women’s readers on how to wear jewelry with confidence?

 

The jewelry a woman wears should reflect her personality. I encourage women to wear pieces that resonate with them personally, rather than following trends blindly. They should wear whatever makes them feel beautiful and comfortable. I also encourage them to learn about the stones they wear. When they appreciate and understand each piece, whether it is a rare stone or a unique design, they will feel more proud to wear it.

 






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