Swapna Mehta is not your typical jewellery designer. For starters, she’s not trained in the discipline. Neither does she follow the usual process of conceptualising and designing. She can’t possibly. Because Mehta creates pieces by combining various vintage jewellery parts into one. The result is unusual, edgy and striking, with the designs evoking a sense of nostalgia.
Based out of Hyderabad, Mehta has always been fond of vintage jewellery, and preserving them came naturally to her. A few years ago, while scavenging through the old bazaars of Hyderabad, she chanced upon a lady selling her old jewellery to invest in modern, machine-made pieces. Mehta bought these trinkets, and more later, and eventually had a cache of beautiful big and small pieces that couldn’t be worn by themselves. So she decided to upcycle them into fully-formed jewellery pieces. Her experimentation slowly began defining her oeuvre, and in 2016 she created her first collection, ‘Earth Princess’, which she showcased at the now -shut concept store Bungalow 8 in Mumbai. Since then, her work has garnered rave reviews from jewellery connoisseurs looking for designs that were bold yet timeless.
Given that she creates bespoke pieces, Mehta doesn’t stock at any major store in the country and instead organises private exhibits 3-4 times a year. She has had successful shows in Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad and at the Francesca Galloway gallery in London; she was also invited by Christie’s last year to give a talk on her jewellery in Mumbai. Lifestyle Asia spoke to her about her work.
In a market driven by traditional sensibilities, what prompted you to launch a conceptual jewellery line?
My design sensibilities have always propelled my creativity towards unimagined and unprecedented directions. I try to make the experience of wearing jewellery fun. The old, original craftsmanship has always intrigued me but not necessarily the way jewellery was worn, i.e, only on big occasions and to be locked up later. I also saw that the younger generation was bored of the traditional jewels and was giving it up for the newer, machine-made options which I thought was really sad as these handcrafted beauties can never be recreated. So I started buying whatever old vintage bits and pieces that were sent for melting, no matter in what condition and put them together in a new untamed narrative. It worked well as occasion wear too, as these were unique one-off pieces. Soon people started noticing and ordering these bespoke pieces from me.
How do you bridge the gap between heritage and fashion in your pieces?
The fact that the components of my pieces are vintage and traditional but are compiled in a modern narrative bridges the gap. These are bold, statement pieces, which I wear to weddings or even when I just feel like it for an afternoon lunch with friends. It is an interesting modern accessory that does not overpower the look with opulence. And it does not need to be locked away only for special occasions.
Creating statement pieces in a market driven by trends can be challenging. How do you retain the essence of your label?
Fashion trends are a thing of the past; they come with an expiry date. Today’s world is more about aesthetics rooted in heritage and culture, tinged with modernity. Each and every piece of ours is handcrafted and is timeless, which I think is a real luxury. There will never be a second piece, which only makes it even more special.
Apart from sourcing the pieces, what are the challenges you face?
Of course, it is becoming tough to find vintage pieces. Procuring them, especially from rural and tribal areas, is getting more and more difficult as people prefer to melt it for the gold. The biggest challenge though is incorporating the finds without damaging these rare beauties.
What are your personal favourites from your collection?
The ones in which I juxtapose the vintage silver belts with gold tribal finds and vintage temple jewellery. It is with pieces like this I aspire to define my aesthetic.