Last month, Saffronart and leading Indian jewellery historian Usha Balakrishnan curated India’s first
jewellery conference of its kind. ‘The Timeless Legacy of Indian Jewels’. It was held on 6th and 7th October 2017 at The Imperial Edge and Saffronart. Art Gallery in Mumbai. Participants
flew in from around the world to listen to an illustrious line-up of speakers, including Susan Stronge of the V & A Museum in London, Salam Kaoukji who curated the al-Sabah Collection in Kuwait, Tom Moses of GIA in the USA, and Maharani Radhikaraje Gaekwad of the Baroda Royal Family.
I was eager to attend the conference, and most of all, looked forward to meeting the speakers. As a jewellery blogger, I had the privilege of shooting and featuring some of the iconic jewels displayed by Saffronart which were later up for sale at their art gallery. Right from navratna necklaces to gemset kalgis and Benarasi-enamelled earrings, the exhibition offered a visual timeline of India’s jewellery designs. The sessions were like a well- woven tapestry, tracing the timeline of jewellery design in India and the influence of India’s design tradition on the world.
I had the opportunity to interact with some of the best- known names to grace the occasion. While
conversing with them, they enlightened me on their views on wide-ranging subjects such as “what luxury means to them” or in the context of the rich heritage of Indian jewelry.
What are the key points to keep in mind when purchasing antique jewellery?
Usha Balakrishnan (UB) (smiles): There is no simplified 10- point checklist. However, the provenance or history of jewellery is very important, where or whom has it come through or belonged to? There should be a match between the design, its form and the era or period it is stated to come from. The cut of the gemstones, too, vary for different periods, hence that should be taken into account as well. Lastly, by far, genuine antique pieces are always worn, handled or have been used earlier, thus if you see a piece that looks almost untouched, spotless or absolutely new, then there is reason for doubt.
SP: Consumers often come back saying that the jewellery they purchased was mentioned as antique, however they later discover that it’s not genuinely antique. How true is that?
UB: Yes, it could be true. Consumers may be purchasing jewellery without consulting or re-checking if it is genuinely antique. They may be going by the word of their family jeweller. In my opinion, the consumers too should educate themselves than blindly believing what has been told to them. For instance, a jeweller may claim the jewellery being 500 years old, the consumer must research or try knowing if that kind of jewellery even existed then.
Being a lover of hair accessories, I couldnt help myself asking her about the hair ornament
she wore. Known as Nakori in South India, it belonged to Usha’s great grandmother and
something that she treasures. It is encrusted with Burmese rubies, Golconda
diamonds and emeralds. Not only the top but the back of the ornament has a beautiful filigree. She was
kind enough to let me photograph it. Beautiful isnt it ?
François Arpels is the Managing Director of Branded Luxury & Consumer Goods of international
investment bank Bryan Garnier & Co. He is the descendant of the Van Cleef & Arpel family. He engaged the audience with hallmark jewellery pieces designed by Van Cleef & Arpels, and explored India’s role as
a source of inspiration.
SP: What is luxury for you?
François Arpels (FA): Luxury means history, heritage and quality, generation after generation.
It also means innovation. Interestingly innovation in luxury can be product development, service,
marketing and distribution channels.
SP: From all the jewellery created by your family for the maharajas of India, which one is your favorite?
FA: It’s hard to decide one, but some of the cuffs that have diamonds and enamel is my favourite.
SP: Looking back at history our Maharajas wore a lot of jewellery. However men in India are now reluctant to wear jewelry. What’s your take on that?
FA: I believe it’s a function of changing times, be it trends, designs or generations. I come from a genre
where women wear more jewellery, so it’s about a change in time.
He made an interesting observation that in India, jewelry was not just a power statement and that different pieces held meaning and so does quality. Indian fabrics inspire Francois. Designs on Banarasi
sarees or zardozi work have captured his imagination recently!
Maharani Radhikaraje Gaekwad was born into the princely family of Wankaner, Gujarat. Her presentation left me speechless as she took us through pictures which were photographed centuries ago and she managed bringing it together to show us. What took my breath away was the pearl carpet curated for her family and a chariot manufactured with tonnes of gold that could only be lifted by one particular elephant from all their elephants. Fascinating isn’t it!
SP: The craftsmanship in the jewellery made centuries ago was way superior in terms of quality or
finesse or intricacy. How can that be revived?
Maharani Radhikaraje Gaekwad (MRG): Ancient artwork in form of jadau or filigree still continues to be liked and appreciated, although there is a lack of development opportunities for these artisans and the kind of advanced sophistication that we see abroad especially in stone setting.
SP: What is your personal jewellery statement?
MRG: We have always worn jewellery that in some way represents the legacy, its sentiments or the style
statement of our family.