Agata Karwoska: taking inspiration from decorative Middle Eastern architecture

Posted by Rae Gellel on

One of the most striking and distinguishable features of Middle Eastern architecture is patternation. The walls and ceilings of traditional Islamic buildings such as mosques, tombs and palaces are often alive with intricate, vibrantly colourful patterns that make use of every inch of available space, and that are at times almost hypnotic in their repetitiveness.

Whilst visiting Istanbul, and landmarks such as the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace, Polish-born jewellery designer Agata Karwowska found herself inspired by this highly decorative architectural style. It helped form the creative groundwork for Evergreen, a jewellery collection that employs similar use of rhythmic, arabesque-like floral patterns, elliptical forms and bold, contrasting colours.

Unlike many modern jewellers, Agata did not enter the industry through the path of formal education or training. Instead, she was introduced to the craft by a friend in 2014, whilst still based in her native country of Poland, and set about learning essential jewellery-making skills on her own terms:

“I'm basically a self-taught jeweller. My friend suggested I try jewellery making because she felt I’d always had a talent for painting and sculpture. She gave me some basic supplies and told me, just try it, and I fell for it instantly. I haven’t stopped since.

Jeweller Agata Karwowska in her studio

I started out mainly working in silver, but after moving to the UK, began using more gold and precious stones. Right now, my workshop is based in Hatton Garden. I'm very, very happy to be there, making my own designs, mostly in gold and silver.”

Agata remained a self-taught jeweller until 2020, when she began studying at the British Academy of Jewellery, graduating with a Level Three Diploma in Jewellery Design and Manufacture, and completing beginner and intermediate courses in stone setting.

The Goldsmiths' Centre first took note of Agata’s burgeoning talent as a jewellery designer in 2021, when she enrolled in Getting Started, our intensive introduction to business course. That same year, Agata would be chosen for annual Goldsmiths’ Centre exhibition Shine 2021, which highlights makers who show unusual flair and promise at an early stage in their careers.

Agata’s natural aptitude for her craft is evident throughout Evergreen, a title that references several components and themes within the fine jewellery collection. Perhaps most prominently, this title conjures images of nature and foliage, and gently textured floral patterns are key to each of the collection’s pieces - such as the Carved Sterling Silver and Sapphire Earrings which are embellished with soft, flowing leaves. These designs are reminiscent of those that adorn the historic bath houses and bazaars of Istanbul.

"The collection includes rings, earrings, and necklaces that I’ve designed, and these pieces have one common element, and that is texture. The texture is lovely and decorative and made up of leaves, tendrils, and little flowers.”

Jeweller Agata Karwowska shows an example of wax pressed jewellery

This textured effect is achieved through the technique of wax pressing, which involves embossing designs on wax, followed by metal, to permanent results. The word “evergreen” means perennial, everlasting; the title is therefore also a subtle nod to the longevity of this technique, and of precious metals in general.

“I chose the name Evergreen because I wanted to show that during the process of making this collection, I used a technique called wax pressing. It involves transferring the pattern from a silver element into wax. It's permanent, it's durable, it stays there forever, and uses floral elements - which is the connection to the title Evergreen."

In traditional Islamic buildings, particularly those of a religious nature, highly repetitive patterns give the illusion that they continue infinitely, suggesting the infinite nature of the universe and the infinite power of God. The concept of infinity is yet one more reference to the idea of something being never ending, and thus to the title of Evergreen.

Another way in which Agata draws on her Middle Eastern theme is through the shapes that form the basis of her pieces. The Textured Silver, Sapphire and Opal Mandala Necklace is perhaps the most overt example of this. Whilst the mandala is a symbol often associated with eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, the necklace’s elliptical curves are evocative of the polylobed arches and domed mosques so widespread throughout Middle Eastern towns and cities.

This necklace also prominently features blue sapphires and fire opals, which is typical of the collection - brightly coloured gemstones are included throughout. The colours chosen by Agata are those commonly seen in traditional Islamic decorative paintings, and are juxtaposed with highly textured silver to create a dramatic contrast in colours.

“I’ve created a high-definition contrast between the metal and the stones. For example, I’ve used blue sapphire and a very intense yellow citrine. For the earrings, which are inspired mostly by elements of Middle Eastern architecture like arches and domes, I’ve incorporated gemstones like garnets and fire opals, because I wanted them to stand out and contrast nicely with a bright silver. The same applies to the necklaces in the collection - I’ve used sapphires and fire opals because colours like gold, blue, orange, and red are very widely used in Middle Eastern architecture.”

Whilst sterling silver is Agata's metal of choice in Evergreen, the Honey Citrine Sterling and Silver Gold Ring also includes gold, to create a bold contrast in colours. The piece is a particular point of pride for the maker.

“The rings are my version of alternative wedding bands, made using silver and 18 karat gold. I really love the Honey Citrine wedding band. I just used a simple wedding band with my signature texture, and added some 18 carat gold, which looks striking against the citrine. There is a connection with traditional and contemporary jewellery, so I think it's a good piece, my favourite one.”

The patterns on the Honey Citrine ring, as is the case with many of the pieces that accompany it, are intricate and tight-knit, closely contained within the band. To achieve such fine detail on a such a small surface area is no doubt an impressive feat - one that Agata confesses she initially found intimidating.

"I was really afraid that I may be unable to incorporate the Middle Eastern style of architecture in the collection, because the buildings use texture and colour so intensely that I thought I’d have trouble applying this to a tiny piece of jewellery, but I made use of all the space that I could."

The cumulative effect of all these different elements is a collection that, by Agata's own assessment, is both traditional and contemporary:

"The style is definitely decorative and I incorporate, in my opinion, both a traditional and contemporary approach to jewellery. Traditional because rich textures and decorations are typical for traditional jewellery, and contemporary because the collection uses minimal forms overall. I believe that I managed to achieve that balance.”

Overall, the largely self-taught maker is successful in producing jewellery that skilfully pays tribute to a culturally and historically significant era of architecture; translating vast structures into beautiful, jewellery-sized forms whilst exploring themes relating to the evergreen and the ever-lasting.

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