THE DESIGNER ON A MISSION TO MAKE THE EARTH A BETTER PLACE, ONE HANDCRAFTED JEWELLERY COLLECTION AT A TIME.
by ANDREA KARR
PHOTOGRAPHY & STYLING by RYAN HOUSSARI
TORONTO FINE JEWELLERY designer Hania Kuzbari considers herself a citizen of the world. Take one glance at her CV and it’s easy to see why. The Syrian-Canadian has exhibited her jewellery around the globe with events in London, Milan, Amman and Dubai, but for spring 2020, she decided to bring her collectible objets d’arts home. The designer, who launched her eponymous collection in 2014, made her Canadian debut at Toronto Fashion Week in September, where she hosted a private afternoon tea at the Hazelton Hotel. “Because we deal with intimate objects, we chose to have a small event to match,” she said at the time.
The tea was an opportunity for local aesthetes to get a closer look at Kuzbari’s ready-made collections, Horseshoe and Freestyle, as well as two of her made-to-order collections, Smile and Levant. It also offered the Toronto fashion community the chance to shine a light on a woman with a fascinating history and promising future.
Kuzbari’s story begins in Damascus, the Syrian capital where she was born and where she grew up surrounded by handmade objects—from the bed she slept in to the plates she ate from. In this environment, she not only developed an appreciation for handcrafted items, but also learned skills like knitting and sculpting. She soon realized that using her hands to manipulate intricate pieces was her passion. “With jewellery, the ingredients are different, but the core of my passion is the same,” she says. “Jewellery always fascinated me. I’d think, ‘Oh my god, how did they do this? How did they solder these pieces? How do they work with metal, this solid substance? How did they do the stones?’” She started searching out the answers to her questions—a journey that continued when she moved to Jordan as a young adult and, later, on to Toronto.
Kuzbari dabbled in jewellery-making as a hobby, but it wasn’t until after she completed a business degree that she decided to pursue a career in fine jewellery design. Since then, her formal education has been a winding path that spans decades and countries. Kuzbari learned the practical skills—jewellery making and gemmology—in Canada. But she went to the Alchimia Contemporary Jewellery School in Florence to study design. “I learned how to be inspired, how to use my inspiration in my jewellery and how to think out of the box—to be free and challenge myself,” she says.
Now, she carries the two countries and their opposing influences with her. “I love Canada. I love the ideology of this country and the cultural diversity, which enriches my designs,” she says. But she’s also attracted to the intricacy of Italian-made finery. “They work with pieces that require unique skill and technique,” Kuzbari notes. “The workmanship is more advanced in Italy. In Canada, they go for simple things. I try to find a balance. My technique isn’t totally North American and I don’t call it European. It’s something in the middle.”
While Kuzbari’s time spent studying in Canada and Italy add nuance, it’s her Middle Eastern heritage that is the backbone of everything she designs. Not only does she continue to build every item at her workshop in Jordan, but her emotional connection to Syria infuses every necklace and earring, including the very first piece of fine jewellery that she ever crafted. “It was a ring made with 18-karat gold and diamonds,” she remembers. “And the inspiration was the jasmine flower, which is the flower of the Levantine region—Syria, Lebanon, Jordan. When you go there, you smell jasmine.” The ring and matching necklace remain in Kuzbari’s personal collection and make an appearance on special occasions, but they weren’t the last pieces to benefit from her love for her home country and the surrounding area.
The Levant collection, which features diamonds and tourmalines embedded in intricate 18-karat gold, uses granulation (where spheres of metal are soldered to a surface) and filigree (where threads of metal are soldered together)—two ornamentation techniques that were historically prominent in the region. The collection is a tribute to the strength of Zenobia, the third-century queen of the Palmyrene Empire known for challenging the authority of Rome, while the design elements themselves are inspired by the ancient ruins of Palmyra, Petra and Amman. These historical treasures were heavily influenced by Greek and Roman architecture and feature massive columns, stately archways and elaborate carvings, which Kuzbari nods to in her collection with contrasting geometric shapes and curving lines. Each bauble is equal parts angular and round, strong and delicate, quiet and confident and brings the essence of the past into the present.
The Smile collection is another example of Syria’s impact on Kuzbari’s life—but this time, she created the collection as a response to current events. Kuzbari was devastated when the Syrian Civil War began. “There was a huge sadness that I went through,” she remembers. “Syria is the place of my inspiration. It is my childhood. I thought, ‘I’m going to close my business.’ I was really down.” But she started playing around with stones and felt something grinning back at her. The result was a series of one-of-a-kind silver pendants with bejewelled smiling faces and human names. “I wanted to create something to make myself happy and make others happy,” she says. “It’s about the message behind these pieces: Stay kind, smile and be hopeful that things will get better.” When Kuzbari looks back on this time in her life—when she was so close to giving in to her pain—she feels immense pride that she was able to find the strength go on, and to express herself through her artistic medium.
Kuzbari brings this strength, and this penchant for storytelling, to every collection she creates. To her, jewellery-making is a form of communication. And communicating—about art, culture and conflict—is an integral part of being a global citizen and creating change in the world. It’s one of the reasons why she prefers to showcase her work at intimate events where she can actually meet everyone who comes to look at her pieces. “I have this responsibility as a member of the global community to make our world a better place by sharing, developing and improving our lifestyle,” she says. “When I talk about the stories behind my jewellery with others, and these people tell me their stories, we’re exchanging culture.” She points back to her Levant collection, which commemorates architectural treasure—many of which were destroyed during the Syrian Civil War. “It’s sad to lose something this valuable,” she says. “I want to send a message to the world to save these places and to be part of what is happening in Syria.”
Kuzbari approaches fine jewellery creation like an artist with a conscience. She may own a business, but it has heart and a purpose: to share culture, remember history and inspire change. For Kuzbari, jewellery is so much more than adornment. “My jewellery is something pretty to wear,” she says. “But I also want to send a message.” In this way, she can honour her role as a member of a global society and her obligation to leave the world better than she found it.
The jewellery brand is currently being sold at the Gardiner Museum and online at haniakuzbari.com. Look out for its brick-and-mortar shop to come next year.