Jewelry designer Jasmine Ataullah has been steadily building her line with a unique South Asian design sensibility and point of view for seven years. Her amuletic pieces, which evoke a sense of Eastern regency and opulence, nostalgically reference the ornaments of Islamic art: think ornately carved rings (best worn in stacks) and hoop earrings adorned with precious gemstones. They’re pieces you want to put on immediately and wear with your everyday wardrobe, but they still have the air of precious heirlooms.
Ataullah, a Pakistani-British artist, has fostered her striking aesthetic by drawing inspiration from the Mughal Empire era of South Asian history, specifically the Islamic art, architecture, and textiles that came out of the epoch. There’s a heavy presence of geometry, symmetry, and balance in her creations; they mix hard elements that carry visual weight with softer, delicate elements like beads and chains. “I’ll look at the intricacies of pattern work on steps and pillars,” she tells TZR. “Things like textiles, little beads on the fringe of my shawls. [History is] where it all comes from. But it also has to fit into my own artistic expression.”
Keeping such a clear-eyed design sensibility is no small feat in a landscape where Tik Tok declares a new “It” aesthetic nearly every day. But the Brighton-based jeweler has no interest in keeping up to date on passing trends — she’s just making the styles that she wants to wear herself. That’s not to say Ataullah is immune to outside pressure: She admits to trying to make simple, affordable pieces that weren’t quite her style for the sake of building her business at one point. But without her heart and soul behind it, the jewelry was not received with nearly as much excitement as the jewelry that truly honors Ataullah’s passion and interests. “It’s always the kind of pieces that I feel strongly about that my customers receive strongly too,” she says. “So I’ve just learned to trust my intuition.”
Ataullah grew up loving jewelry, always digging into her mother’s personal collection. “My mum had a few pieces from my family from my dad’s side, but the majority of the pieces she had were made of silver,” she says. “She had all these pots of silver jewelry that she collected. But I always had an affinity for small, dainty, tiny things.” And Ataullah started making her own jewelry at age 23, when she grew bored of her graphic design job and began looking for a craft to fuel her creativity. She’d saved up a bit to travel through Southeast Asia and New Zealand for eight months in a van and made and sold silver jewelry on the road, using the profits to buy more materials and extend her travel.
“My boyfriend made me a little bench in the back of my van,” Ataullah remembers. “The way that I make jewelry, it’s all traditional techniques. Everything is hand-fabricated using basic tools: saws, setting tools, metal, flame. The way that I approached it at that point [was really simple], so I was able to take things on the road.” When she got back to the U.K. after that fateful trip, Attaullah decided to invest in her vision for a brand instead of hunting for a new full-time job, and not long after, the self-taught designer started supporting herself full-time with her craft.
Like any new creative trying to turn her art into a business, Ataullah has learned everything in practice — including things like the importance of durability. She’d see her customers out in public, eager to show her what they’d purchased from her collection. Excited as she was, the jeweler began to notice that rings only three or four months old would get scratched and misshapen from daily wear. “I don’t wanna spend all this time making something that’s not gonna last, especially with the detailed nature of my work,” she said. Still, she was wary at the thought of creating items in a higher price bracket. “The designs are just longer-lasting when done in gold. But it was risky, I was unsure if my customers were going to want [the more expensive options]. But as soon as I released pieces in gold, the months that followed really affirmed to me that I was on the right path.”
So while Ataullah first taught herself to metalsmith using silver, she made the decision to transition her collection completely to solid gold during the pandemic, trading a more affordable material for a more durable one. She uses a method traditional to South Asia called lost-wax casting, wherein a design is carved and engraved in wax, a mold is made, and then metal is cast into the mold, producing a precise, detailed metal replica of the original model. This process is perfect for passing intricate detail from mold to metal.
In a sense, Ataullah has been building on top of her own work for years: the more pieces she sold, the more tools she could afford. New tools meant experimenting with different techniques, metals, and designs. And then she hit her stride. “A lot of where I was [getting inspiration] from before wasn’t really hitting at the same level as when I started bringing my cultural roots into my jewelry. Design-wise, I’ve developed my style a lot through cultural roots.”
Logistically, Ataullah has to be a businessperson, but she’s still an artist first. And as an artist, she has a constant stream of ambition and ideas that she’s chipping away at. In her head is a store of inspiration with shapes and patterns, chains and baubles, that have yet to go from gray matter to gold. “There are already full pieces designed in my head for next year.”
At the end of the day, though, Ataullah is always more interested in learning and growing rather than comfortably resting on the foundation she’s built from the ground up. “Being self-taught has allowed me to get ahead a little more because I’m not afraid to try things,” she says, reflecting on the twists and turns her professional trajectory has taken her on. “I think having a more traditional path can hold you back a little bit sometimes: You’re taught all these rules, so I think there’s an instinct to follow them. I never had any particular method in mind. It’s been trial and error my entire career. A lot of mistakes, but so much has been gained.”
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