Karen Dabrowska

Arab Weekly Article

Originally published: 31st August 2019

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Islamic heritage inspiring watch design

The 12-point star from the Alhambra Palace, one of the most visited sites in Europe, was chosen because of its beauty, balance and functionality.

A showcase of tradition. A view of a Miraj watch. (Karen Dabrowska)

A showcase of tradition. A view of a Miraj watch. (Karen Dabrowska)

LONDON - Islamic heritage has inspired artists from many different disciplines, finding its way to watches that display geometric Islamic design by Miraj Collections, a company that bases its products on the 12-point star of Alhambra Palace in Andalusia, Spain.

Miraj was set up by Abdullah Ahmed, a managerial economics graduate and auditor accountant at the United Kingdom’s National Audit Office, and Harun Asif, a physics graduate and digital marketing specialist.

Ahmed and Asif met in secondary school, worked and travelled together across a large part of the Middle East, Europe and Asia. They visited numerous architectural landmarks that use Arabesque art forms.

Speaking at a presentation about their watches in conjunction with London’s Craft Week, Asif said: “Travelling across the Islamic world from Andalusian Spain to the Far East, we experienced its beautiful and rich artistic traditions and a history that left a legacy that shaped the development of mathematics, art and architecture across the world.

“We were inspired by the mesmerising designs which rendered a unique sense of beauty and wanted to share this timeless tradition in a modern context. This resulted in the birth of Miraj Collections.”

“‘Miraj’ means ‘ascension’ in Arabic, which embodies our approach to design. We aspire to ascend the typical minimalistic designs of fashion offerings available today and to redefine elegance,” Asif said.

Ahmed emphasised the massive columns, beautiful gates, tile work and mosaics in Islamic architecture. “They were the things that really captivated us on our travels,” he said.

Ahmed, a watch fanatic, and Asif, a fashion fanatic, studied the market and said they were not impressed with the standard minimalist uniform designs of watches.

“We wanted to challenge the minimalist designs of the past ten years and rediscover the sublime beauty of traditional Islamic art forms through modern watches, accessories and fashion,” Asif said.

At first, the partners were not clear about which designs they would use for their creations. “Arabesque is very much like the Arabic language, which has many dialects. There are many expressions of geometry,” Ahmed said.

The 12-point star from the Alhambra Palace, one of the most visited sites in Europe, was chosen because of its beauty, balance and functionality. The challenge was to bring the intricacy and elegance of the Islamic tradition to a modern watch.

“We were looking at an architecture that is very complex and has complex art forms and we had to square that with something that is functional. We had to create something that enables the wearer to appreciate the architecture and tell the time,” Asif said.

The partners went to an event on Arabesque organised by the Barakat Trust at London’s Arab British Centre. The trust supports and promotes the study and preservation of Islamic art, heritage, architecture and culture. It was agreed that Barakat would help craft the designs and a portion of every purchase from Miraj Collections would go towards the trust’s conservation of the heritage that inspired the watch designs.

“We thought this was an amazing opportunity to link the present with what Barakat is doing about preserving the past. In our travels, particularly in Fez, we saw a lot of buildings that are being destroyed due to lack of maintenance,” Asif said.

Miraj’s design philosophy is based on elegance, authenticity, craft and heritage. “We have to capture the elegance seen in the architecture of the Alhambra, Morocco and the Muslim world,” Asif said.

“By working with experts in Islamic heritage, art and architecture we create designs true to their origin. Every material is sourced to ensure luxury, quality and precision. We are showcasing a rich tradition of 1,400 years. Our watches are inspired by the world’s most iconic landmarks decorated with geometric and Arabesque art.”

Once the design was finalised it had to be put on the watch. This was done through the 3D embossed effect, which best reflects the pattern. The watch is encased in a high-grade, stainless-steel frame that houses the Swiss-made quartz movement.

A Kickstarter funding campaign raised $15,500 in 13 days to produce 100 watches, which were expected to be ready in August. More than 60% of the watches were purchased by people from non-Middle Eastern backgrounds, including Canadians, Australians, Mexicans and Japanese. The partners’ reservations about the design not having universal appeal were allayed.

“Our primary aim is to launch a fashion brand that is as elegant as the Burberry-chequered pattern but from a completely different tradition that people may only see when they travel abroad. A great way of overcoming cultural barriers and creating a common understanding among humans from whatever background through the arts and fashion,” Asif said.