Almasika’s Catherine Sarr on the Intersection of Art and Jewelry

Chicago-based, French-born jewelry designer Catherine Sarr founded Almasika in 2014. Since launching, it has built

Chicago-based, French-born jewelry designer Catherine Sarr founded Almasika in 2014. Since launching, it has built a large following of both celebrities and style icons alike. Sarr’s elegant, modern designs use 18-karat gold, natural diamonds, and precious gemstones and have made a profound statement in the jewelry world. Sarr and her husband, Mamadou-Abou Sarr, are also passionate collectors of fine art — a natural fit, as jewelry can be considered wearable art. Sarr talks to us about the art and jewelry world, her most recent collection, and the symbolism behind her signature cowrie shell collection. 

You and your husband are notable art collectors. Does your involvement in the art world have any influence on your designs? 

In some ways, yes, as I have long been inspired by the power of art to spark dialogue and tell stories. I learn from various creatives and I would say that cultural craftspeople, in general, act both as interlocutors and sources of inspiration. There’s a lot of research that goes into the meaning of a shape, a story, or a form that inspires my design. Each piece of the jewelry connects to larger traditions and significance that span generations and cultures.

Where do you find your design inspiration? 

An abundance of influences goes into every design, but what is always at the core of every design are universal symbols and stories that transcend cultural boundaries. From reading a book by the fireplace to letting my mind flow in captivating art pieces, to conducting in-depth research on forms, symbols, and stories — all those elements can trigger the design of a new piece for me.

What is your personal everyday jewelry? 

My everyday jewelry are necklaces, especially ones that you can layer. They are pieces that are always with me and transition easily from day to an evening out. 

What is your favorite piece of jewelry you’ve ever designed?

The open cuff from our Berceau (‘cradle’) collection has simple, organic lines following the curves of the body, appealing to our innate aesthetic sensibilities. It takes inspiration from the cradle of humanity and the ancestral adornments that became an extension of the human form. 

Tell us about your most recent collection.

Sagesse, the name of our latest collection, means ‘wisdom’ in French. I explore deeply symbolic proverbs related to life and human aspirations. Traditional wise adages have shaped my approach to life, so my intention was to reinterpret these timeless concepts with the hallmarks of Almasika jewelry, including sculpturally rounded shapes and the symbolic significance that is essential to my creations. I have always been fascinated by the cultural aspect of jewelry, and with Sagesse, I wanted to explore further the duality of jewelry as adornment and a spiritual object.

What does the cowrie shell symbolize?

The cowrie shell was the inspiration of our Le Cauri Endiamanté collection, which we revisited with gold and diamonds. Cowries have long been a symbol of prosperity, spirituality, and fertility. From ancient times to the late 19th century, cowries have been used as ornaments, and even as currency in several kingdoms, becoming synonymous with wealth and fortune. They are still used today in the art of divination and continue to be worn as talismans in different parts of the world to bring good fortune. 

Does Almasika have a specific message it wants to share with the world?

I am interested in overlapping circles in cultures. To create a sort of universal form. Universal meaning that can be felt, by any human whatever their culture as something personal. At the core of Almasika, my guiding philosophy has been to find what we have in common with others. 

How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your business?

Before Covid-19, we held a beautiful series of trunk shows with a link to the art world — with collectors, art institutions, and galleries. When physical trunk shows became impossible, we changed our strategy to focus on online direct-to-consumer sales and independent boutiques that know their customers very well and are able to take that same curated, personal approach we had with the trunk shows. 

What has been your pinch-me moment since launching in 2014?

Since its inception, it has been amazing to see the brand embraced by so many tastemakers, editors, and stylists. Every time I wake up and see my design on luminaries such as Lizzo, Olivia Munn, or Issa Rae, it’s a pinch-me moment. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.