Imagine passing through the narrow alleyways of Amman, underneath the crimson Middle East skyline, and finding artisans inside a nearby storefront meticulously crafting ottoman textiles, medical Islamic ceramics, and handmade jewelry pieces conjoined with pastel colored stones. Now, picture layers of history and damaging conflict crumbling the regional and international links that once existed between these local craftsmen and the outside world.
HRH The Prince of Wales visit Turquoise Mountain in Kabul
Turquoise Mountain, founded by HRH The Prince of Wales, set out to create change and reestablish the jobs, skills, and sense of pride that was lost in the historic areas of Afghanistan, Jordan, Myanmar, and Saudi Arabia. Establishing jewelry workshops in Kabul and mentoring young artisans all around the world, in collaboration with London based jewelry designer Pippa Small, Turquoise Mountain is now celebrating a decade of creating unique, luxury, and ethically sourced jewelry at Small’s namesake shop at Brentwood Country Mart.
Seeing the role of culture and heritage as vital to rebuilding a sense of self and identity in communities at risk, HRH Prince Charles and Small sought to regenerate a new generation of artisans, creating a modern contemporary feeling in the designs produced and thus sold to international markets. Drawing on the traditional but bridging voices with a universal aesthetic, the crafts created by the men and women of Kabul appeal to those who have never been to Afghanistan or have any relationship to it.
“Our latest collection in celebrating over a decade of collaboration with the Artisans of Turquoise Mountain in Afghanistan draws on their skills with inlaying various local gems like the heavenly blue of lapis and valley green of chrysocolla and working with geometric designs so prominent all over the Islamic world,” said Small. “We also have drawn inspiration from the Ketchi nomads of the region with their necklaces of silver coins jingling around their necks as they stride across the grass lands.”
In homage to working with Turquoise Mountain for 10 years, Small is showcasing a special collection at her flagship LA based store, including her Turquoise Mountain Sharifa Necklace, influenced from the 2,000 year old Bacatarian gold crowns found in Afghanistan and famously buried and hidden by the Kabul museum director during the turbulent times of the Taliban.
Inspired by the act of creating as fundamentally an optimistic act, Small demonstrates that the power of design allows for the space to make something that will live on in the world and tell a story. Her latest collection rejoices in color and contemporary design as “glorious to wear on the beach as well as a formal occasion,” responding to forms from nature and simple primal amulets from the gems of the earth.
Unequivocally moved by working with talented jewelers across Africa and Asia, including a young Afghan woman named Saeeda Etabari who fled to a refugee camp in Pakistan after the Taliban took control, Small would love to expand her work in the Amazon with Indian crafts and further support refugees.
“I love nothing more than getting to know artisans from all over the world and having a sense of their lives and dreams,” said Small. “There is something about, for those artisans, to see their work appreciated among global style icons such as Angelina Jolie and Laura Dern. For two worlds to meet and for women to produce a piece in Kabul and see it worn on the red carpet. They share something. The maker and the wearer.”
With so much left to do, Small looks forward to the potential opportunities, providing a safe, sustainable form of employment to millions while reviving traditional gold work for the next generation.
Photography by: HRH The Prince of Wales photo courtesy of Turquoise Mountain; Pippa Small photo by Amandine Alessandra