Saturday Feb 25, 2023
DOHA: A Qatari businesswoman turned heads at the Doha Jewellery and Watches Exhibition, pitting herself against giants of the industry while also bucking trends in the conservative country.
Noora al-Ansari — a Qatari woman running her own company and dealing with customers herself — is a rarity in the wealthy Gulf state, where a growing number of women work but few have made their name in the business.
Since opening her first Papillon store in the capital Doha, she said customers have been curious about her nationality.
"When women saw me standing in Papillon, they were wondering whether I was Qatari or not," she told AFP, her exhibition stand flanked by household names of the jewellery world.
"They were not used to seeing a Qatari woman standing in her shop" and dealing with the business and customers, she said.
"When they found out they said, 'we are so proud of you. You have beautiful pieces. And that encourages me."
The week-long exhibition ending on Saturday reflects the opulence of Qatar, whose massive gas reserves have made it one of the world's wealthiest countries but where women's rights have caused controversy.
Ansari said she calls the annual show, which has drawn more than 30,000 visitors, "the big Qatari wedding" because it is highly anticipated among Doha society.
A steady flow of luxury cars could be seen pulling up outside the exhibition, where Louis Vuitton, Bulgari and other global names were showcasing their designs.
One Cartier necklace was on sale for $21 million.
A former education and oil industry executive, Ansari designed her first solitaire ring in 2008 and launched her business three years later.
In 2022, she moved her store into one of Doha's most expensive malls alongside the international names she is competing with at the show.
"I am very proud as a woman to be a jeweller because all the names that you hear about in Doha, all the jewellery stores here, are owned by men," she said.
She added that her customers appreciated her efforts to explain the "four Cs" of diamonds — cut, clarity, colour and carat.
"When I visited jewellery stores, no one was telling us what is a diamond, why it is valuable, why we should have it and enjoy it. We just keep hearing that a diamond is a girl's best friend," she told AFP.
When she started out, there were only one or two Qatari designers while now there are at least 10 at the Doha show, according to Ansari.
"As a local brand, to be among the big names in the world is an honour, of course. It means that our jewellery is presenting our local tastes and high standards," she said.