If you love conscious fashion, then instead of buying more expensive jewellery, consider upcycling family heirlooms. We found four Indian designers turning family heirloom pieces pieces into avant garde everyday jewellery.
“My jewellery is for someone who loves art, is fascinated by history and heritage, is intelligent and fearless enough to buck the trend,” says Hyderabad-based Swapna Mehta. The self-taught jeweller scours the bazaars of remote villages and towns all across India looking for rare, heirloom ornaments (“sometimes broken, sometimes with a piece missing, mostly abandoned”).
She then spends weeks taking them apart and fitting them into a new story, by blending styles, genres, and geographies: Mughal with Art Deco, Cooch Behar with Konkan, Chettinad with Garhwal, et al. One of her recent projects was an elaborate neckpiece made with an early 19th century jade comb embellished with jadau work. Another more radical piece was based on an assembly of five thalis (mangalsutra pendants) from different parts of India that she roped into a single neckpiece called ‘Draupadi’s Desire’.
Mehta’s works are resplendent with ancient gold, precious stones, gems, pearls and craftsmanship from a bygone era, and marked by beautiful asymmetry rendered by karigars (artisans) who are skilled at ancient techniques. She recently strung a bunch of nath (nose rings and studs) from different parts of India into a necklace. Despite the clamour of clients, she refuses to have a boutique outlet, preferring to display her works through exhibitions and meeting clients on an appointment basis: “Luxury is not about owning an expensive branded piece, but about having something that is as unique as your fingerprint.”
Keep a tab on Mehta’s exhibitions. or reach out to her, through her Instagram
Himani Grover regards every piece of bespoke jewellery that she makes as a special story. The NIFT graduate has earlier worked in Italy for uber-luxe jewellery brands such as Cartier, Piaget, Montblanc, and Ralph Lauren. Now she spends hours in her jewellery studio Chicory Chai restoring and reviving heirloom jewellery. Recently, she gave a new lease on life to a 150-year-old ornate Rajasthani baazuband (arm band), after turning it into statement earrings.
“A better way to respect family heirloom jewellery is to make it more relevant for contemporary aesthetics and wear them, instead of locking them away,” she says. Her first restoration project still remains her most challenging assignment so far. It involved an antique nath from south India and an old pendant from Ladakh. “Each was more than 100 years old and contrasting in nature. So, I imagined it to be part of a story of a woman who was travelling the countryside and picking up mementos along the way. I strung in visual motifs of Taj Mahal, stepwell from Gujarat, ajrakh from Kutch, and shayari from Lucknow.”
All the motifs rendered in gold and precious stones were then pieced together to create an elaborate neckpiece. Another interesting project involved a set of 10 Rajasthani silver ankle rings that belonged to a client’s grandmother. “I fashioned them into cool chokers, without significantly altering the original design and now they are being worn by her daughters.”
Reach out to Grover through her Instagram
“For me, jewellery is not merely an expression of your social status or sense of aesthetics, but a retelling of your personal story, memories, learnings, and thoughts,” says the soft-spoken Abhishek Basak, founder of Absynthe Designs. The NIFT grad transforms objects as diverse as broken pen caps, pebbles, damaged idols, spectacle frames, shells—all handed over as personal memorabilia by clients—into wearable jewellery.
Sometime back, he reconstructed a tiny broken ivory idol of Christ, brought in by a client, into a brooch. “Its arms were broken, so I replaced them with a pair of metal wings.” Though he works with a wide variety of things as well as heirloom jewellery, his most signature works originate from vintage wristwatches. In his hands, the fragile innards of old defunct timekeepers are assembled into ornaments of such exquisite intricacy, you’d be inspired to write a poem or two. Basak loves exploring designs rooted in steampunk (a genre of sci-fi content inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery). Basak’s work is being exhibited at Baro, Mumbai this weekend.
For more information, visit www.absynthedesign.com or call +91 98731 43709
A former software engineer, Hyderabad-based Divya Dasari doesn’t just lend a new identity to heirloom jewellery, she also strives to add an element of clever versatility. Have a hefty gold vaddanam (waist-belt) that came as part of your bridal trousseau, which is just sitting as idle investment in your bank locker never to be worn again? Dasari will detach it into many parts that can be worn individually as earrings, necklaces, and bracelets. The extraordinary part to this multi-faceted tale is that you can put them all the pieces back together in the original vaddanam form, and then detach it again to yield your choice of ornament.
She deftly adds screws, loops, and links to different motifs on an elaborate set that can be easily detached and re-joined when needed. The resulting creation could be a happy mix of eras and genres (your grandmother’s and mother’s jewellery) that can be contemporary yet faithful to the heritage and history of the original piece.
All images: Courtesy designers