JCK Asks…Almasika Designer Catherine Sarr



Catherine SarrThe Paris-born, Chicago-based designer behind Almasika and its “grown-up talisman” jewelry

Talismanic jewelry has arguably never been more popular. But Almasika isn’t simply jumping on the proverbial bandwagon. Its signature collection, Le Cauri Endiamanté, is built on a beloved centuries-old symbol: the cowrie shell. “They represent spirituality, prosperity, and even fertility in many cultures around the world. I wanted to pay homage to this ancestral symbol,” says designer Catherine Sarr. “I used to wear a natural cowrie shell pendant when I was a teenager.” Now those pieces are crafted from diamonds (almasi in Swahili) and gold (sika in various West African languages). 

Age: 39

Number of years in the biz: 16

Number of employees you oversee: Me with agencies and consultants.

Almasika Berceau bracelets
Almasika Berceau bangles in 18k yellow, rose, and white gold

Family and pets: Twin girls, two boys, and my lovely husband.

Describe your personal style: Minimalist with interesting details and sometimes bold colors.

First piece you ever designed: Diamond cowrie shell that became central to my Le Cauri Endiamanté collection.

Piece of jewelry you’re most proud of: My Berceau bracelet. It is a simple band of gold, which undulates around the wrist. We went through multiple iterations to get to a seamless look and feel.

Best piece of advice you ever received: “Taking a step ­backward can be the way forward.”

Worst piece of advice: “Play safe.”

First job ever: Working at my local pharmacy in Château-­Thierry, France. Even in the smallest French villages you will see the reassuring green cross. Pharmacies play a significant role in our lives, so I felt very important!

Almasika universum ring with sapphire
Universum ring in 18k yellow gold with blue sapphire

How did you get started designing jewelry? I spent several years at the heart of the fine jewelry industry in London ­promoting gold and diamond jewelry.

If you weren’t designing jewelry, what would you be doing? I would probably be a naturopathic practitioner. I have a passion for natural medicine, and I am this annoying friend who would recommend essential oils, homeopathy, plants, etc., for anything. 

Jewelry you’re wearing right now: Le Cauri Endiamanté ­necklace (every day), Sagesse medallion, four Berceau bracelets, my wedding band, a gold ring my mother gave me, and a vintage Cartier watch.

Burna Boy
Burna Boy

Five items on your desk right now: A sculpture, my jewelry box, prototype sample of a ring, a notebook, and Frozen 2 ­sing-along book.

Five songs on your playlist: “Elyne Road,” Toumani Diabaté; “Jolie Nana,” Aya Nakamura; “Wonderful,” Burna Boy; “Micaela,” La Sonora Carruseles; anything by Mary J. Blige.

Jump ropeExercise regimen: Jumping rope every day.

What did you have for breakfast? Tartine with butter and Bonne Maman strawberry confiture with tea. I miss my French croissants.

Guilty pleasure: Warm tarte aux pommes with vanilla ice cream.

Tarte aux pommes with ice creamDrink (daytime/evening): Honey lemon tea.

First website you check every day (not your own!): LeMonde.fr

How do you unwind? Watch a movie or (sigh) binge-watch reality TV.

How have you been spending the past few months? Making the most of family time with my children and husband.

Chicago museum of contemporary art
Museum of Contemporary Art

Book you’re reading: A Column of Fire by Ken Follett.

A must-visit spot in Chicago: The Museum of Contemporary Art.

Favorite movie: Rue Cases-Nègres by Euzhan Palcy.

Regina King
Regina King

Who would play you in your life story? Regina King.

Personal motto: “PHD: Passion, Humility, Dedication.”

Top: Le Cauri Endiamanté necklace in 18k gold with black diamonds, Le Cauri Endiamanté necklace in 18k gold with white diamonds; almasika.com

(Jump-rope: Malerapaso/iStock/iStock/Getty; Burna Boy: Joseph Okpako/Wireimage/Getty; dessert: Mark Waugh/Alamy; Museum of Contemporary Art: Kendall McCaugherty © Hall+Merrick; King: Toni Anne Barson/Wireimage/Getty)