x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

'We cater to women who like to wear things their own way'

The designers behind Gemme Couture talk about their lives in jewellery.

Dejana Cvetkovic and Ivana Okereke, the creators of Gemme Couture, with a display of their jewellery in Bloomingdale's, Dubai.
Dejana Cvetkovic and Ivana Okereke, the creators of Gemme Couture, with a display of their jewellery in Bloomingdale's, Dubai.

With my father's work as manager of a company, I grew up all over the place. I was in Libya as a young child and then moved to Belgrade, which is where I'm originally from, and from there to Kuwait, and then to Switzerland for boarding school. I went to university in the States and stayed for 25 years.

I was always interested in art - I've always been a painter and I did A-level art and studied it at Brown University. After that I took graduate art classes at the New York Academy of Art and jewellery design classes and workshops. I also have a law degree, so I was always between art and law, but in 2001 I started doing jewellery much more seriously. My painting background, with all the colours, really influenced my love of gems and precious and semi-precious stones, and the play of light on the stones. I went to India to buy a lot of the stones.

I left the US and moved here in 2006, and was just making jewellery here and there, and I teamed up with Dejana, my best friend from childhood in Belgrade, who's also a designer. After the whole credit crisis, we both just decided we wanted to start up our own jewellery company. I always enjoyed jewellery. My mother always had a lot and I started designing it when I was really young, like 16 or 17. Living in Kuwait there was so much gold, and I had several designs that I would draw out and get made. And I also went through all the jewellery that I got from my grandmothers and everybody else, and what I didn't like very much I had remade.

There's one piece that was really of sentimental value but I love wearing, which I put together when I was about 18: my grandmother used to buy me a little gold baby charm for everything, for Christmas, for my birthday, and I had so many of them and they were really babyish, so I put them all on a chain and I made this design with them that was very funky. I still like to wear that. Now we're coming out with a lot of jewellery that's very versatile because we really believe that today's woman is modern and has to go from work to evening being able to use the same pieces of jewellery for many different things, rather than just have it for some special occasion.

So we've come up with these charms on links that open, that you can wear on the leather bracelets, you can take off and clip on to some of the necklaces we have or your own chain, you can put them on to hoop earrings, you can wear the leather bracelet as a choker, because it's a double bracelet ... We're very much catering to women who need versatility and like to wear things their own way. Growing up in Kuwait, I actually got a lot of gold and fine jewellery for a person that young, because gold was so inexpensive at the time. I used to pile on a whole bunch of little bracelets, very much the way young kids are wearing jewellery today - we have a lot of these really, really small gold bracelets with little diamonds and things on them, and the young girls love to wear a whole bunch of them.

Art and design was basically my core education - all my life I have been a designer and that is what determines me completely. My father is an architect and I grew up with that kind of feeling, and my parents nurtured my talent. After fine art university in Belgrade, I worked in branding in my studio there, and a few years before I came to Dubai Ivana taught me to make jewellery. When I came here I worked as a creative director in a brand consulting agency and then we decided to go back to jewellery.

My personal style is exactly like the jewellery that we're making, but beside that, I like Pomellato's designs, which I think are really different from the rest. Gems are the core of our jewellery. Inspiration for me comes from the stones themselves, from personalities and from what is in fashion today, so we are trying to be relevant to that. For example we have so much in our collection that is multifunctional because we think that modern women are so versatile. The common thing with my work is a strong palette and colour is my characteristic, so you can recognise this in the jewellery. But when you are in design, designs are changing all the time, so it's a constant evolution. * Gemma Champ