Bejeweled

Karma El Khalil’s Edgy Jewels Have Attracted an Elite Following

Karma El Khalil didn’t set out to become a designer, but her love of drawing, plus the gift of a diamond, sparked her passion for creating jewelry. Here, she wears her Dancing Pyramid lariat necklace and a stack of bracelets, including her Double Line and Line cuffs. Top: El Khalil’s love of contrasts is evident in her jewelry, which feature strong lines and large pastel stones.

Karma El Khalil didn’t intend to become a jewelry designer, but once she did, she infused the craft with a singular artistry.

All it takes is one quick look at her jewelry to see that it is elegant and edgy, twinkling with diamonds and semiprecious stones. You might think these are just the type of sexy, sparkly gems that show up on the red carpet. And indeed, they do. A-listers Charlize Theron, Emma Stone and Scarlett Johansson have flaunted El Khalil’s covetable creations at press events and premieres, and style icons Angelina Jolie, Miley Cyrus and Kim Kardashian have her pieces in their personal collections. The jewels are beautiful and wearable, because El Khalil puts as much thought into her designs and how they are made as a sculptor does into a statue. They reflect her peripatetic life, her experience and her ideas.

This selection of El Khalil’s necklaces includes her gold and pavé diamond Starburst choker, Vertebrae body chain and raw ruby bezel-set pendant with rose gold chain.

Born in Washington, D.C., and now based in Brooklyn, El Khalil was named Karma by her father. “He felt I had an extremely peaceful look on my face and that I was an old soul when I was born,” she explains. “As a student of Zen philosophy, he thought the name suited me.” She spent her early childhood in Nigeria, where her family operated its business, then lived in Paris from age 12 to 19. After graduating from Tufts University, in Massachusetts, El Khalil planned to pursue a master’s degree in psychology in London. Despite a verbal confirmation of her acceptance in the program, however, the classes were overbooked and she couldn’t attend. Crestfallen, she went to live with her family in Lebanon for the summer and consoled herself with art. “I started drawing a lot because I was confused and lost,” she says. “Drawing was my way of expressing my feelings.”

Before starting her line, El Khalil studied technical design and gemology at Gemological Institute of America in New York. Pieces above include her Halo cuff, Railway cuffdiamond and peridot Line choker and Double Rainbow cuff.

Jewelry entered her work life after she received a diamond weighing around 1.5 carats from her mother for her 23rd birthday, in 2003. “I thought, ‘I have never drawn a diamond,’ and I started drawing designs to wear it as belly ring,” remembers El Khalil. She went with her mother to the family jeweler, Tabbah, which manufactured the piece. The jeweler complimented her on her talent and added that if she manufactured the pieces with him, he would sell them at his store. Her parents gave her some seed money, and her career as a designer was launched. “My mother threw a big party. There was a DJ, and I gave a speech about how piercing was like body art,” says El Khalil.

El Khalil’s diamond Sunrise ear cuff (top left) was inspired by the elaborate sun motifs — symbols of the Sun King, Louis XIV — that are seen around Paris and at Versailles. The other items pictured are (clockwise from top right) a morganite and diamond Linear Ark ring, Spiky Half Moon earrings and ruby Geometric Hedgehog studs.

The budding designer knew she was on the right path when she went to a jewelry fair in the Middle East in 2004. “I felt like I had met the love of my life,” recalls El Khalil. She moved to New York City to attend the Gemological Institute of America, where she studied technical design and gemology. At this time, she also learned about jewelry manufacturing. “I was enchanted by gems,” she says. “After class, I was excited to go home and study.”

Karma El Khalil Jewelry
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Karma El Khalil Jewelry

El Khalil’s jewelry numbers among its fans celebrities like Angelina Jolie, Miley Cyrus and Kim Kardashian. Pieces above include her sunstone Hedgehog drop earringsPyramid earringsMatchstick Line necklaceblue chalcedony and diamond Sunrise earrings and Strata hoops.

Her jewelry career lost momentum, however, when her mother was diagnosed with cancer. El Khalil went to Geneva to spend time with her in the hospital. “I designed the first collection next to her in the hospital bed,” El Khalil says. “She saw the first drawings but didn’t live to see the jewels.”

El Khalil designed a belly ring for the diamond her mother gave her on her 23rd birthday. The family jeweler, Tabbah, manufactured the piece and suggested that she design a line, which they would sell.

El Khalil got back on track in 2007 when a friend invited her to create a collection of jewelry for a charity event in Los Angeles. “She knew I needed to get busy with jewelry,” says El Khalil, who officially launched her brand that year.

Over time, her work has remained remarkably consistent in appearance and approach. “The contrast between matter and the absence of matter is very powerful to me,” El Khalil says. “Growing up in Paris, I loved looking at the architecture, the pyramid at the Louvre and obelisk in the Place de la Concorde.” Negative spaces and strong sculptural shapes characterize El Khalil’s Line and Tiger cuffs and Trilogy ring. Her Spike and Hedgehog jewels display various pyramidal forms.

A couple of her pieces have very specific inspirations. El Khalil created her Floating Triangle ring after seeing the cross cut out of the concrete wall at Tadao Ando’s Church of Light, in Japan. One of her most dramatic jewels, the diamond Sunrise ear cuff, reflects the elaborate sun motifs, symbolizing the Sun King, Louis XIV, seen around Paris and at Versailles.

Karma El Khalil gold rings
El Khalil’s Floating Triangle ring (center right) was inspired by the the cross cut of out the concrete wall at Tadao Ando’s Church of Light, in Japan. Her architectural leaning is also evident in the yellow gold and diamond Geometric Triangle ring and 18-karat yellow gold Geometric Hexagon ring.

The vast majority of stones in El Khalil’s pieces are large and pastel hued, including blue chalcedony, jade, moonstone and rose quartz. The palette is intentionally romantic. “I love creating contrasts,” she says. “The colors of the gems infuse the softer side of my character into the edginess of the goldwork.”

El Khalil also closely oversees the manufacturing of her pieces, working with master craftsmen in Beirut and Los Angeles. “Jewelry should be comfortable and easy to wear,” she says. “My mother instilled those lessons in me when she taught me practical things, like how pavé-set diamonds should be smooth to the touch and not snag if you run them over your stockings.”

The women who love El Khalil’s jewelry may not be aware of all that goes into its creation, but they probably sense it in the joy they get from wearing and owning the pieces. For El Khalil, the process is as important as the end result. “I am as attached to the artistry,” she says, “as to the air that I breathe.”

 

Karma El Khalil’s Talking Points

“Negative space has been a recurring theme in my collections. I find the relationship between matter and space incredibly powerful. The Floating Triangles ring is constructed in a way where the triangles appear to be floating seamlessly in the midst of space.”

“Five hundred diamonds make up the multifaceted diamond Trilogy ring. It takes thirty hours, and a microscope, to set each millimeter of its intricate structure. Madonna owns the Trilogy ring in champagne diamonds. Fun fact: If you can run your jewelry against silk stockings without a single snag, you’ve got the perfect pavé.”

“While designing the Tiger cuff, I took a sheet of gold and imagined what it would look like if a tiger clawed through it. The substantial thickness of the gold, cut out in angular and geometric lines, expresses a strong and bold character.”

“Light is an element I constantly seek in my designs. I always think about the woman’s body first and then how I would like light to be reflected off her. Jewelry becomes alive truly as a conduit of motion and light. This piece is entirely flexible and adapts to the wearer’s neck and movements.”

“The space around us is an extension of our being, so why not design for it? The Saturn ear cuff is worn around the ear and hangs freely without the use of a post or a clip. As an innovative design, it defies attire constraints and can be worn casually just as well as at a black-tie event.”

“I love pushing the boundaries of my creativity, design and manufacturing norms. The goal of the Sunrise ear cuff was to appear as a part of the ear, without any visible clasps or attachment. While it is a substantial piece, it is light in weight and can be maneuvered to adapt to any ear.”

“The Linea ring was inspired by the idea that everything in design starts with a dot. The dot is the inception of a line, and a line creates any form imaginable. I played around with this concept by creating a ring that is completely malleable and adapts to the form of the wearer’s finger.”

 

“As a gemologist, I revel in being able to custom design and cut my gems from rough. With these earrings, I wanted to combine a light and gentle blue with sparkly and bright diamonds set in handmade gold spikes, creating a contrasting aesthetic. They are perfectly suitable for a night at the opera.”

“I designed the chrysocolla Ridge ring intending to honor the varying color and intricate details of the chrysocolla gemstone. I created a matte 18-karat gold shank in a pyramidal shape, which is found throughout my collections. Miley Cyrus owns this ring and stacks it with various other designs.”

“The T cuff was inspired by the letter T, eponym of the love of my life. The intersection of its simple lines frames the wrist in an organic but structured pattern. It can be worn alone or stacked and comes in various gems and gold colors. Angelina Jolie owns the large T cuff and wore it while receiving the Heart of Sarajevo award.”

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