Why we should take a fresh look at Indian jewellery

© Written by Rachael Taylor for JewelleryNetAsia

Curried egg sandwich in hand, I enjoyed a pleasurable breakfast meeting this month at the glamorous St James’s Court in London learning about the historic Indian jewels that will star in the V&A Museum’s upcoming jewellery exhibition Bejewelled Treasures: The Al Thani Collection.

The exhibition will open in London in November this year as a celebration of jewels from or inspired by the Indian subcontinent, with about 100 objects lined up to appear.

As well as the spectacular historic artefacts you would expect – a Golconda diamond given to Queen Charlotte by the Nawab of Arcot in 1767 and a jewelled gold tiger’s head finial from the throne of the Tipu Sultan of Mysore, to name but two – there will a section titled Contemporary Masters to highlight the continuing influence of traditional Indian jewellery.

There are two stars of this section of the show, one is Indian and one is not, perhaps perfectly demonstrating the power of India’s influence on the rest of the jewellery world, not just in terms of design but also techniques such as enamel work and kundan, a method of setting gemstones in gold.

The non-Indian jeweller is JAR – American Joel Arthur Rosenthal who bases himself in Paris. The V&A will display a brooch created by the jeweller in 2002 that references Mughal architecture with a central emerald stone held in place between two sheets of rock crystal with a white agate background and a diamond– and ruby-set frame.

As for the Indian superstar jeweller, that will be Viren Bhagat, who many believe to be up there competing with JAR for the title of greatest jeweller of our time, although just like JAR he is not necessarily a well-known global name. As well as having his work on display, the V&A has commissioned a special film starring Bhagat that will debut at the exhibition.

All this discussion of traditional Indian jewels and their power of influence – even Cartier fell under the spell of Indian jewels in the 1920s, reinterpreting them in Art Deco style, a piece of which will be included in the show – led me to thinking about modern Indian jewellers and the role they play in today’s industry.

Indian jewellery is no longer restricted to the sort of heavy gold traditional jewels that we instinctively think of when this category is referenced. Bhagat is joined by a wealth of contemporaries who are transforming the reputation of Indian jewels, creating fresh, modern designs that use bold colour intuitively and have a spiritual depth that references the culture from which they have come.

Exciting new names in this sector include Bina Goenka, who created an incredible gem-laden handbag for Gemfield’s major designer collaboration in 2013 and is promising a “creative reform in the jewellery industry, redefining creativity, luxury and minimalism”; Shehzad Zaveri of Minawala Jewellers, who describes himself as the “poet jeweller of India” and creates mind-blowing works such as an emerald and diamond ring inspired by the French patisserie art of croquembouche; and New York-based Armita Singh, who has been taking Indian-inspired jewels to the masses since launching her fashion jewellery and accessories brand in 2003 following stints working for Oscar de la Renta and Christian Lacroix.
With exciting new designers, a rich jewellery heritage to dip into and a moment in the international spotlight thanks to this much-anticipated new exhibition, it’s an exciting time for Indian jewellery.

This article was originally published on JewelleryNetAsia on 25.03.15. I write a weekly column for this website about global jewellery trends. 

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