Offbeat by Design: India’s New Jewellery Makers

For the past eight years, Gurugram-based Aditi Sharma has made her bread and butter from interiors projects in Delhi and Himachal Pradesh. Last year, however, she added an unexpected new category to her repertoire – jewellery design. So appealing were her creations that the 32-year-old St Bede’s College alumna quickly won awards and became the darling of the fashion media. Interestingly, the one factor that unites both her diverse areas of work is the material she uses: cement.

Greytone by Aditi Sharma

The daughter of a Mussoorie-based construction baron, Sharma completed her graduation in interior design from Delhi and Master’s from the prestigious Domus Academy of Design in Milan. After cutting teeth on building construction and spatial décor for several years, she began experimenting with necklaces using materials such as cement, brass, steel, cord and thread. Sharma applied the techniques she had learnt from a product designer in Budapest, and developed ways to mix cement with other materials to make it light enough to wear. She called her label Greytone, an ode to concrete. “Jewellery is more fun,” says the newlywed when asked to compare her two parallel career paths.

Sharma is the latest entrant in the growing breed of designers who, with their out-of-the-box thinking, have redefined fashion jewellery in India in the past decade. With their feet firmly rooted in Indian culture and artisanal tradition, they have experimented with techniques and design to make a statement, whether it is a feminist one or purely an expression of love for their country’s crafts.

Most of them have nothing in common except an uncommon sensibility and an offbeat style that has generated a new customer base especially amongst globe-trotters, both Indian and international.

Awakening by Eina Ahluwalia.jpg
Breathing Space by Eina Ahluwalia

One of the stalwarts in the field of alternative jewellery is Eina Ahluwalia. The award-winning Kolkata-based management post-graduate launched her eponymous label in 2003. “I’ve always loved silver for its softness and strength, for the way it lends itself to experimentation, for its moonlike shine,” says the 42-year-old, who studied jewellery design in Italy, Thailand and Holland.

Occasionally, her brand Breathing Space – which makes jewellery priced Rs 1,500 to 32,000 – offers 18-karat gold as well, besides silver- or gold-plated brass for certain designs. Whenever she gets the chance, Ahluwalia combines these metals with unexpected material like blown glass, ceramic, wood, bone, fabric, felt, resin, pigment, silicone, plastic and acrylic.

Ahluwalia’s collection themes are mostly pacifist and idealistic in essence. A favourite with Bollywood celebrities – from Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Priyanka Chopra to Deepika Padukone and Sonam Kapoor – one of Ahluwalia’s top-selling collections, ‘Wedding Vows’, was a statement against domestic violence. Another collection, ‘One – A Trillion Paths’, promoted oneness in religious diversity.

Her latest collection, ‘Battlecry’, comes out of “feeling extremely crushed” at the current state of the world, she says. “So many things terrible things are happening. Yet I am aware so many people are doing so much good in their own capacities. Battlecry is meant to inspire us all to remember to use our lives to do something to change the chain of events, to leave something good behind.”

Zariin by Mamta and Vidhi Gupta

Another established yet unconventional label, Zariin, which means ‘golden’ in Persian, was the brainchild of sisters Mamta, 36, and Vidhi Gupta, 32. Born to a business family in Delhi, the duo pursued higher education in finance and marketing in the US before setting up their jewellery line there in 2010. “Entrepreneurship is hardwired in us, but at the same time, we wanted to do something creative,” explains Mamta.

Pioneering the use of uncut gemstones in fashion jewellery, they learnt to work with semi-precious stones in their natural state, moulding metal to the stone’s nuances. Their jewellery, priced between Rs 1,800 to 20,000, caught the fancy of American jewellery lovers and, within six months, they were selected for retail at Anthropologie, the prestigious American clothing and accessories retailer.

They are now available at almost 250 outlets worldwide, including Neiman Marcus in the US and museums and luxury hotel spas around the world. “Initially, we hadn’t planned to launch in India,” says Mamta, an alumna of SRCC college in Delhi University. “But after getting coverage in the Indian media, people began asking for our designs here too, and eventually we launched our e-store in 2015.” They now plan to grow their Indian market, and have launched a new range of occasion-wear jewellery to appeal to the wedding segment.

Outhouse by Kaabia and Sasha Grewal

Semi-precious jewellery also caught the attention of another set of Delhi-based sisters, Kaabia and Sasha Grewal who launched their eclectic jewellery label Outhouse in 2012, offering luxurious semi-precious jewellery priced Rs 5,000 to 10,000, with customised options starting from Rs 18,000 onwards. Within a very short period, they managed to hold three shows at Lakme Fashion week and were featured in the Forbes India ‘30 under 30’ list 2016.

Patronised by global glamour icons from Kangana Ranaut to Sienna Miller, they have flagship stores in Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru, and retail from Bloomingdales and Harvey Nichols internationally. With the backing of their hotelier father, Kaabia and Sasha studied gems and jewellery design and worked with top fashion brands in New York and London, respectively, before returning to India to set up their own label together. “Our handcrafted designs are a combination of our personal styles – dramatic and edgy, yet classic and wearable,” says Kaabia.

Their latest collection, ‘Imago’, uses cocoon and butterfly motifs, cast and hand-finished in metal, experimenting with 22-karat rose gold and gunmetal-plating. It also features the Maison Martin Margiela Crystalactite for Swarovski, which was developed using a special crystal-fusion technique that makes gluing unnecessary, and the Kaputt crystal by Jean Paul Gaultier for Atelier Swarovski, which offers an unusual play of clear and frosted textures.

Lai by Puja
Lai by Puja Bhargava Kamath

While the Grewal sisters are busy bringing the world to India, Puja Bhargava Kamath is taking Indian craft to the world. The Delhi-born NIFT (National Institute of Fashion Technology) graduate started her jewellery label Lai from Bengaluru in 2011 as a convergence of her three big passions –traditional Indian crafts, jewellery and history. Meant for women who seek something between “stereotypical ethnic or tribal jewellery, and ultra-modern minimalism”, Kamath designs handcrafted sterling-silver jewellery made in collaboration with craft clusters around Jaipur using time-honoured techniques.

When her husband moved to Silicon Valley in California, Kamath took her work along with her, retailing from her e-store and reputed outlets in India, while making several trips back and forth every year for production. Her latest collection, ‘Amulets, Lockets and Talismans’, features jewellery that allows you to ‘lock secrets in’, whether it’s a love note, a newborn’s lock of hair, or a motivational reminder to oneself. This summer, she will showcase her ware for the first time at a trade show in New York, making her debut into American jewellery retail.

En Inde
En Inde

Thailand-based Anupama Sukh Lalvani has also been using Indian craftsmanship as a core aesthetic and ethical value for her label En Inde, which she launched in 2004. Born in Delhi, Lalvani moved to Tehran at the age of two, and lived and studied in Lagos, London, New York and Geneva. The mother of two trained as an architect and is a certified yoga instructor. Her jewellery, priced from Rs 800 to 75,000, uses steel for its reflective quality and as talismans, and contrasts it with the organic fragility of jute.

As her business partner Sonal Sood says, “Handmade artisanal products made in India are generally undervalued globally. Even in India, they are relegated to keepsakes and souvenirs. Anupama has created a collaboration of traditional patwa techniques with sophisticated design and modern materials to reposition it as a contemporary luxe product.” The label has retail outlets across the world, from US and France to Australia and Japan, but over 80 percent of their sales are made across their Indian stores, indicating a rising number of Indian consumers who enjoy experimenting with their jewellery. Indeed, the time has come for designers ahead of their time.

First published in the autumn 2017 issue of The Leela Magazine

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