By Layal Al Rustom
When you enter the gallery of Mona Siag, a positive vibe captures you. From home decoration to jewelry, the space is filled with art pieces that range from classical to modern and experimental, as well as from ancient Egyptian motifs to Arabic calligraphy, Turkish and Thai Jewelry.
Born in Cairo, Siag is a graduate of the French School Sacré Cœur Heliopolis, and attained a degree in pharmacology from Cairo University in 1980. She resides in Cairo with her husband, children and grandchildren. Her products are displayed mainly at the Mona Siag Gallery in Heliopolis, as well as in a boutique with a smaller selection at Cairo International Airport. Customers can also place online orders through Facebook and Instagram.
A friendly talk with Siag reveals the secret behind her three decades of success.
When did you begin your career and what was the inspiration behind it?
In December of 1985, I discovered a beautiful shop that designs exclusive household accessories and tableware from silver plated brass. I placed an order for my home, then I found that it would be the perfect wedding gift for my siblings and friends, and so I carried out even more orders. I then got the idea to start designing my own patterns. I worked by orders as a start, and this is how I entered the market.
The old Cairo market in Khan El Khalili was also a source of inspiration. I would stroll through its narrow alleys, stopping at random antique shops, looking at pieces and designs and chatting with the designers, until one day I met a coppersmith and designer who was keen to teach me the know-hows.
Through several meetings with him, he taught me the steps to manually design brass models: tracing it on paper, copying it on a brass sheet and finally hand engraving the design onto the brass. Later I started working with two designers who used a different, more advanced method called “chemical etching process” that is used for more modern patterns, which is when I expanded my work to include both types of brass designs.
You are now known for your distinct collection of jewelry, which is mostly composed of silver, stones and beads with traces of gold. How did you extend your passion to women’s jewelry?
My first encounter with accessories was adding small decorative touches to the home décor objects. It was in the late 80s that I fell in love with silver jewelry by the talented artist Faten El Rouby, whom I later became close friends with and we continued to work together ever since. She encouraged me to take some of her stones and try applying them to my own designs. At first I was very hesitant because it was not a field I imagined myself working in, but this quickly changed when she started her workshop and I became a frequent visitor experimenting with my own designs.
Your gallery is composed of various silver jewelry styles: Turkish, Arabic, Thai and Indian. What would you say is your best seller?
Each line of designs has its own customer, but during the revolution, most traders were importing from Turkey as the prices were reasonable, had beautiful designs and were popular because of the Turkish soap operas at the time. Currently, people prefer Thai silver, which is white gold plated and has Zircon stones, as it does not change color.
I try to combine what’s fashionable with my own personal touch. For example, chokers necklaces are in fashion now, so I include chokers in my collection. I also lean towards classical designs, because they are always in style. We also have a collection for every occasion. For example, our Mother’s Day collection is a collaborative work between Faten El Rouby and myself. Today, one of our best selling lines is the men’s accessories. Rosaries are also a bestseller; you would be surprised to know that rosaries are a very detailed job and I learned the technique from a Saudi expert.
Can you tell us about stone energies and the noticeable positive vibe in your gallery?
My office here is full of beads and stones, each carrying its own energy. When I hold a stone, I can tell if it is real by the intensity of its energy. Stones are like human beings: each is unique, has its characteristics and its intensity.
The energy that I put in my work is what stays in it. As you noticed at the entrance, the large stone there is a Rose Quartz, which is known to be the stone for love energy, the stone I always work with. On the two main corners of the gallery I have the yellow Citrine and the violet Amethyst because they clear the place and bring positivity. This is a popular combination both in the desired energy they emit as well as in the harmony of their colors.
Have you studied energy healing or is it out of personal readings that you learned about it?
I both studied and read about them, and can direct you to the stone that you need for your healing. When I travel, I take courses on different subjects available relating to energy and healing. For example, after reading about “spiritual healing,” I visited Bali and learned how it is used as a means to heal, and that while healing someone else you contribute to your own healing, but you must practice and make sure not to catch the negative energy yourself.
My curiosity grew in the subject and in 1999, I started pursuing specialized courses starting with “Usui, universal energy Reiki,” later completing courses in Luxor with the famous Christine Core entitled “Angelic Reiki” and “Merkaba: golden mean of creation.” During my visit to India, I also took a course on “Ayurvedic treatments,” which is a method similar to, yet much older, than homeopathy.
If someone is encountering a certain symptom, can you help with stones? How do you control the energy of the pieces produced by others in your workshop?
Yes, I can, but there are already professional spiritual healers and homeopaths. The place you work in must be sacred, closed and you must clear it frequently, and you must be very dedicated to the job. The stone that grounds you, if you are nervous or stressed for example, is the Hematite stone, and the genuine Amber is a healing stone for the whole body. Also, colors are significant. The stone can be unauthentic but the color is what gives you the energy, and this is why some days we have a color preference over what we wear.
To control the energy, I make sure to revise every piece being created and I approve it based on the entire outcome of the piece: the design, the length and most importantly the combination of colors and energies. It is very rare that the piece is perfect from the first attempt. We even scan each piece and examine the picture carefully, and make changes until it arrives to the harmony intended for it.
You participated this year in the “International Handicrafts Show” that took place last November. Tell us more about your experience and people’s reactions to your product.
My focus was to expose my home décor line, which is the preliminary work that I started more than three decades ago. I was very happy with the results and impressed at the quality of handmade products and at the turnout of the visitors and potential future sales. I, along with many of the exhibitors, am looking forward to another show organized by ExpoLink and El Ahram.
Because of the high quality of the finish that requires a great amount of time from the artisans, my products are considered expensive. This beautiful art and design is so rich and distinct that I wish they could be sold internationally. I have begun to work on old, unfinished brass products, and so this fair was an excellent exposure to them locally and hopefully internationally.
What distinguishes your work and enabled you to continue in the market?
Innovation is at the heart of the passion I have for work. I like changing classic designs into modern ones. I also do custom orders where I sit with a customer to combine his or her taste with my style. What distinguishes my work is that I continue buying and mixing stones that I bought throughout the years with new stones, making the combination distinct.