Catherine Sarr eloquently combines her African roots with her elegant sense of style and fashion. A former curator of one-of-a-kind jewelry collections with the De Beers group, Sarr has successfully married her years of industry experience to create the Almasika jewelry line. Fusing Africa’s rich jewelry and ornament heritage resulted in the design of two very distinct collections.
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The debut collection, Le Cauri Endiamanté, revisits the most recognizable symbol of Africa’s heritage, culture, and spirituality: the cowry shell, which has long been a symbol of prosperity, spirituality, and fertility. Her second collection, called Vallée de l’Omo, is inspired by the people of the valley where Kenya, Sudan, and Ethiopia meet. Unlike any other place on earth, this meeting point, the Lower Omo Valley, is believed to be the cradle of humanity.
BlackEnterprise.com got the chance to speak with Catherine about Almasika, her design inspiration, and the importance of recognizing African craftsmanship in the world of fashion.
BlackEnterprise.com: What is the inspiration behind Almasika Fine Jewelry?
Sarr: I was born in Paris and, whenever I would go to my home country of Benin with my family, I would count down the days before each trip with fervor. Jewelry was always at the heart of my anticipation, as my mother would always let me wear one glittering piece from her collection to traditional festivities. Each outing also came with the reward of a dazzling show of jewelry adorning relatives and trips to the market where, for hours at a time, I would watch craftspeople transforming traditional materials into magnificent necklaces, earrings, and bracelets.
After graduating, I moved to London where I worked for various luxury brands, including several years spent at the heart of the diamond and fine jewelry industry, De Beers Group. My passion for jewelry and my fascination with ancestral designs drew me closer to my own African heritage with the desire to revisit its rich jewelry, ornament wealth, and, ultimately, [lead] to the creation of Almasika Fine Jewelry.
What goes into the design process of your jewelry pieces?
It usually starts with a story (family, historical or fictive) or a mix of my imagination, my travels, pieces that I collect [or] books I read. I imagine a design that would represent a piece of history so anyone would be able to appreciate the design, but also the story behind it. I have designed a pair a cuff links following a walk on a beach where I saw my husband and my little boy sharing a precious father and son moment. These diamond cuff links are now one of our best-selling pieces.
How are you differentiating your products and brand within the fine jewelry marketplace?
Almasika is the first fine jewelry brand inspired by African heritage. We fuse iconic motifs with an international sensibility, to create jewelry with universal allure. Being a ‘first’ in any market is a huge advantage. We are also different in terms of retail strategy, as we aim to penetrate each market through prestigious and sought after boutiques: Colette in Paris, Luisa Via Roma in Florence, Meister in Zurich, and now Stone and Strand in the U.S.
How important is the recognition of African craftsmanship in the world
African craftsmanship inspires a lot of contemporary international designers in the world of fashion. As such, the traditional cloths and fabrics are seen on catwalks around the world. Therefore, I am excited to revisit African craftsmanship in the jewelry world with Almasika.
What key pieces of advice do you have for those who want to break into this industry?
[Have] passion, humility, and dedication. My husband called it holding the ‘Ph.D. skills.’ Internships are also a must. You should approach them with enthusiasm and an opportunity to learn, and start to build your network.
Daron Pressley (@daronpressley) is an entrepreneur and former Fortune 500 sales and marketing executive who has been featured on outlets including Fox45 News, Black Enterprise magazine, and The Washington Post. Knowledgeable in marketing and branding, Pressley works with professional athletes, organizations, and individuals to develop strategies to create, build, and grow brands. As a speaker Pressley has reached over 20,000 students. He provides dynamic insights on leadership and branding via his Website, DaronPressley.com