Photo by Dennis Kwan Photography
In an era when most everything we own is mass-produced, Zameer Kassam is designing jewelry that is truly one-of-a-kind. The New York–based jeweler creates pieces that tell a client’s individual story for an heirloom that is as beautiful as it is sentimental. Fittingly, Kassam’s designs are a popular choice for engagement rings, but any milestone or tribute can be brought to life. For example, Kassam created a Times Up–inspired ring for Ashley Judd that she wore to the Oscars earlier this year. We sat down with the designer to learn about his inspired work in New York City and beyond.
What made you want to become a jewelry designer?
I grew up working at my family’s jewelry store in Vancouver, Canada. Early on, I learned that jewelry is about more than the incredible beauty of gemstones or the excitement of wearing a magnificent piece; it is about celebrating the most important moments in life in a way that will last forever. After honing my business skills at McKinsey & Company and MTV Networks International, I reentered the world of fine jewelry by joining De Beers Louis Vuitton as the head of the bridal and classics business. While I was happy to be back in the world fine jewelry, I found the industry to be impersonal. Men were programmed to walk into a jewelry store and pick “the perfect ring” from a showcase of 10 designs. I knew we could do better. I started Zameer Kassam Fine Jewelry in 2011 to design pieces that tell love stories.
What makes your pieces unique?
My team and I take our clients’ loves stories and secretly weave details of each couple into the design. Perhaps a hidden gemstone tells of the moment they met; a tiny carving signifies an important part of her heritage; or a clandestine code celebrates the moment he realized she was the one. While the designs are timeless and classic, each piece is as unique as the love story it tells.
“My mother passed away some years ago, and she was a true inspiration for me. Throughout her life she was a strong, independent woman, never afraid to press the reset button and begin life with a fresh start. As I entered into [a] new phase of my own life, I reflected upon my past with Zameer and asked him to craft a medallion that would both celebrate my mother and her role in my life, and represent my new journey ahead. He interviewed me several times and collected photographs of my mother’s home in California as well as details of our recently purchased home in the Hamptons. He noticed several motifs which reminded him of mathematical and geometric shapes that are significant in many world religions. Ultimately he took the shape of a 16-point star, which represents baptism in the Islamic faith; when reduced, it creates the eight-point star of an octagon, which also represents baptism in Christianity. This idea of rebirth resonated strongly with me as I enter this next phase of my life. On the back of this pendant there are carvings of words my mother had written to me throughout the course of my life. I already imagine presenting this to my daughter someday as a symbol of the strength and independence of the women in my family.” —Aliya, client of Zameer Kassam
How do you tell a story through your designs?
We follow a process involving three important steps:
- Tutorial: A 30 minute conversation detailing the most important criteria to keep in mind when searching for the perfect diamond—and pitfalls to avoid.
- Discovery: An hour-long casual discussion that covers the basic details of the client’s love story.
- Storytelling: My team and I share diamond options and ideas for the design infused with elements of their story.
Where do you turn for inspiration?
I draw inspiration strictly from our couple’s love stories. Unlike other designers who may be inspired by their own trip to an exotic location, I am inspired by my clients special moments, big or small. They need not have an “epic” or “over-the-top” love story to tell—oftentimes it’s the simplest moments in life that become the most momentous.
Who are your customers?
People in love. That is the only prerequisite for our business! We start at $4,900, but have made pieces set with rare and precious gemstones into the millions. Regardless of value, each piece must tell a secret love story.
What was it like to see Ashley Judd wear your creation on the red carpet?
It was extraordinary. When I built this business, I never imagined that a celebrity would reach out for a piece to tell this kind of story. When Ashley Judd contacted us, I was elated—we had the unique opportunity to join our jewelry aesthetic with an important social message. Seeing her speak about the design on the red carpet made me realize my jewelry was a platform for something important. At the same time, it felt like any other client—for years I have been honored to hear my clients speak about how their jewelry tells stories at weddings, anniversary parties, etc. In that sense, whether you’re a celebrity or a person in love, the story is what matters most.
Of all the stunning pieces you’ve created, do you have a favorite?
I could never pick a favorite. Each piece tells a unique love story, and for that reason, they are all truly special. There are some that cover many generations, and these are unique because I learn about family, culture, and love that has lasted many years.