A long way from Cairo

By Melissa Walsh   Photos Yanni

When you grow up in a family of jewellers, surrounded by precious gems, blocks of gold and creativity, it’s a fairly safe bet that the craft might be in the blood. This is absolutely the case for Egyptian born Samir Soleman, a jeweller in the true sense of the word and owner of the aptly named Jewel of the Nile in Tyabb.  As an artisan and one of the few real handcrafting jewellers, Samir (or Sam as he prefers to be called), still creates all of his jewellery by hand just the way he learnt as an 11 year old working in his father’s jewellery business in Cairo 50 years ago.

“I wanted to make jewellery with my dad rather than go to school and I spent many hours just sitting there and working, learning the trade and doing everything by hand,” said Sam as he reminisces from his showroom in Tyabb, surrounded by the wonderful pieces of handcrafted jewellery he has on display. “We were living in Cairo and it was my dad’s business called Jewel of the Nile. My grandfather was also a jeweller, along with my uncle, cousins, nieces and sisters.”

How this talented artisan ended up 14,000 kilometres away from his homeland and on the Mornington Peninsula is a wonderful journey and the people of the peninsula have embraced the talents of Sam over the past 30 years with thousands of regular clients entrusting their precious jewels and gold to him.

“I came to Australia as I thought it was a good opportunity for a better life. I was 21 when I came here and was looking for something new,” said Sam, who found a home in Melbourne in 1977. “I could not work as a jeweller immediately as I did not speak English. So I went to work in a factory for GMH and studied English part time for two years.”

However, even during those years, the idea of not making jewellery was not an option for Sam who bought some equipment and made his creations at home.

“I never stopped making jewellery but after two years, I got my first job in a jewellery business in the late 70s,” said Sam, who always maintained his eye on the dream of one day having his own shop like his dad in Cairo. “I worked for different organisations and did contracting work and then one day I started up working in the Main Street Wednesday market in Mornington. I set myself up there and got a great response. I sat in the street and started to sell and trade the gold and people began to entrust me with their jewellery to have redesigned or made into something from scratch. One person even handed over $50,000 of gold to have made into a custom-designed piece. Since then, it really took off. And one day a friend told me about this shop in Tyabb that would be perfect for me to set up. That was 20 years ago and I have been at the Craft Village ever since.”

And so the final stage of Sam’s dream had come to fruition. He was still able to create his stunning jewellery designs and be part of momentous occasions in his customers’ lives.

He has his own shop, Jewel of the Nile, continuing on the family tradition from the other side of the world. And he has been able to uphold a craft that is no longer taught.

“I do custom made jewellery all the time and design the pieces. We do manufacturing of the pieces, design and remodelling, all repairs, antique repairs and have a wonderful selection of jewellery in my showroom, including pieces from my sisters and brothers who are still jewellers back in Cairo.”

For Sam, the process of making jewellery may have changed around him with more technology and less craftsmanship, but he has remained determined to continue the way his father taught him so many years ago.

“You don’t see too many real jewellers like in the old days, starting everything from a block of gold like we did. Nowadays the numbers are declining as the people are not trained the way we were.  We used to actually have to blow air to make the flame for the melting; now they use torches or gases and even lasers. Even with the welding we did everything by hand. There was no custom machine to make the jewellery which is why, when you have a handmade piece, it is truly valuable. There is a real art to it,” said Sam. “You start with a block of gold and work with it. When I was young, I had the reputation that I could sit down and make anything. I just created it out of these beautiful materials, whether it is a ring, earrings or a necklace. It was something that I just knew how to do.”

Jewel of the Nile
14 Mornington-Tyabb Road, Tyabb
(in Craft Village)

Phone 5977 3711

First published in Peninsula Essence – September 2017