Jaipur-based designer, Sunita Shekhawat touted as the ‘Modern Meenakar’, talks about exploring the French enameling technique, pliqué-a-jour and its various colour opportunities for her new Bijou Bijou collection.
“Colour has always been my greatest inspiration,” says Jaipur-based designer, Sunita Shekhawat known for her distinctive style of meenakari or encrusted-enamel jewellery. “In spite of creating kundan, meena and polki jewellery for 25 years, there is always an artistic craving. It is this desire that led me to explore the French enameling technique, pliqué-a-jour for my new collection”.
Plique-à-jour literally means ‘letting in daylight’ in French and is a vitreous enameling technique where the enamel is applied in cells with no backing so light can shine through it. “The advantage of using this technique to create jewellery is that it provides you with multiple colours to work with. The transparent or translucent enamel serves almost as a Pantone shade card of colours for instance, a simple purple colour can have 15-20 hues. The vast colour palette is almost like the one a painter has at their disposal, even the most precious gemstones can’t match its vibrancy of colour. This liberty doesn’t exist in kundan meena, thereby leading new to explore this technique,” she explains.
Moving away from the constraints of traditional meenakari jewellery also allows her to experiment with precious gemstones and a modern aesthetic. The brand’s constant leitmotif, the Lotus flower gets a modern makeover as a vibrant purple-hued kunzite stone sits boldly on a lotus leaf using green enamel. Other pieces from the collection employ the use of unique colour combinations like turquoise gemstone with green enamel set, art nouveau pieces in coral and translucent mother-of-pearl pieces with floral designs.
The pliqué-a-jour technique also serves as an unexpected solution to design plagiarism, an issue that Sunita Shekhawat’s designs often face. “The designs and technique behind the pieces can’t easily be copied, it can easily take 4-5 years to do so,” says the designer. “The process is very time consuming and chances of failure are very high. The application of enamel in the gold valve has to be very precise, and one wrong step and you will have to redo the whole thing. It’s very important that the enamel creates a vitreous stained-glass effect as per desire so that the precious stones can be placed around it.”
It is for these reasons that this highly-specialised form took over two years to develop and perfect at the House of Sunita Shekhawat. The designer painstakingly trained her in-house craftsmen in the technique. “These artisans have been working with me for almost 25 years now and their lives and work isn’t simply governed by monetary gains but by passion for the form. They are as passionate and invested in creating beautiful jewellery as me, and we often sit across the table discussing and perfecting the pieces. The karigars are an integral part of the process,” says Sunita Shekhawat.
The city of Jaipur serves as a perennial inspiration as well as a playing field of opportunities for the designer to work with. “The advantage of being in the city is that you can source any gemstone, get it cut as per your requirement, work with the best artisans, meenakars and polishers in the country. The big French and Italian jewellery houses often come here and stay for months to get their pieces made. I am lucky to be based here and this helps me create the kind of jewellery that is expected from the house of Sunita Shekhawat.” From traditional meenakari pieces to the modern art deco styles of the Bijou Bijou collection, each piece is designed to cater to various whims and fancies of the modern day woman.
Here’s a closer look at some of the masterpieces from the collection –
Images: Courtesy Sunita Shekhawat