Experienced The Timeless Legacy Of Indian Jewels At Saffronart
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.
Usha Balakrishnan author of “Dance of the Peacock. Jewellery Traditions of India”, is one of the most well-known jewellery historians and authors in our country.
StylePrer (SP): 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
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.
Francesca Cartier Brickell
Francesca Cartier Brickell is the great-granddaughter of Jacques Cartier, direct descendant of the renowned Cartier family. She shared stories from the unpublished letters and diaries of her
great-grandfather, Jacques Cartier. She gave a personal and intimate glimpse into Jacques’ role in bringing Cartier to international fame and spoke of the jewels designed for maharajas and royal clients, and the reciprocal interest of the West in Indian designs, such as Cartier’s famous Tutti Frutti style.
SP: What is your favourite piece of jewellery curated by Cartier from all the jewellery your family has curated?
Francesca Cartier Brickell: Honestly it’s hard to pick one, and in all likelihood it can change as I witnesses other pieces. However I love the “Tutti-Frutti” necklace which I had a chance to try myself. The necklace is whimsical, childish and yet so beautifully made-dressy.
Did You Know – Pierre Cartier, Acquired The Entire Cartier New York 5th Avenue Building Around 100 Years Ago In Exchange For Two Strands Of Perfectly Matched Natural Pearl Necklace Valued Around $ 1 Million.
Anjan Chakraverty, Former Dean, Faculty of Visual Art, Banaras Hindu University brought the dying art of Benarasi enamelling to the limelight, highlighting the ancient city of Benaras as a crucible of inspiration for textiles and jewellery alike.
SP: What are the kinds of Banarsi Meenakari (enamel)? Tips for consumer to understand or to pay attention for a good quality meenakari?
Anjan Chakraverty (AC): In Banaars, there are two schools for meenakari. They specialise in pink
meenakari and till date there are artisans that are being trained and do some fantastic pink meenakari.
The artisans in Banaras are now working on “do mukha” meenakari and there are patrons who wish to show the meenakari in their jewellery. They are giving space for pink enamel in this and the inverse is completely enamelled. In between these are adding gemstones that enhance the pink enamelling.
John Zubrzycki is a Sydney-based author, journalist and researcher specialising in South Asia, and India in particular. He is the author of “Jacob: The Mysterious Diamond Merchant”
Did You Know : In 1891, a notorious curio-dealer from Simla offered to sell the world’s largest brilliant-cut diamond to the sixth Nizam of Hyderabad. The dealer was Alexander Malcolm Jacob, a man of mysterious origins and colourful infamy.
SP: Tell me a secret about the book that nobody knows?
John Zubrzycki (JZ) (laughs): Jacob was extremely well known in his days; he was one of those figures that nobody really knew where he came from and what happened to him. He was born in Turkey, came to India when he was a little boy, in short it’s a rags to riches story. He arrived with nothing and within 15-20 years was India’s most sought- after diamond merchant and dealer. His luck ran out when he tried selling the Imperial Diamond to the 6th Nizam. His career was ruined after that and he died in poverty, here in Bombay in 1921. There is a lot of mystery that happened in those 71 years that we dont know about.
SP: From all your research and stories written, your favourite diamond is..?
JZ (Laughs): For sure the Imperial Diamond. 184 cts, which is almost twice the size of the
I did not get a chance to personally interview all the speakers who enlightened us on various subjects that they expertise in, however here are some excerpts from the sessions that I attended.
Content is an eminent British Jewellery historian, dealer and consultant in London.
He traced the history of uncut diamonds, and showed examples of ancient jewels set with uncut gemstones. According to him, today when we think of diamonds, we think of sparkling glittering jewels, but it was not always this. From the first mention of diamonds in the 4th or 3rd century BC until the invention of diamond-cutting in the early 15th century, diamonds were used pretty much “as found” in their natural state.
Minal Vazirani is the co-founder of Saffronart. Commenting on the conference, she said,, “The conference
was widely attended by participants from around Asia, and was a resounding success. The speakers invited shared their perspectives and elevated the conference to a forum that encouraged an exchange of ideas around India being the origin for important jewellery techniques.”
Tom Moses, Executive Vice President and Chief Laboratory and Research Officer, GIA,
has handled some of the most famous diamonds in the world including the Hope Diamond. His session took us through the history of Golconda diamonds, and sheds light on how they compare with important diamonds from other regions.
Lisa Hubbard is an international jewellery specialist, former jewellery chairman of the Americas for
Sotheby’s and current senior advisor to Christie’s jewellery department, USA. She initiated an engaging and powerful discussion on what makes some jewellery more important than others. Referring to cascading necklaces, tiaras and important coloured diamonds, she drew references to pieces that set records at auction, such as Cartier’s Panther Jewel—“It was and is a marvel of a jeweller’s art,”— and the Blue Moon of Josephine, a vivid blue diamond that sold at a record $48 million at auction in 2015. “The trick is to know what to look for.”
Salam Kaoukji, curator of the al-Sabah Collection in Kuwait, drew attention to the art of gem-setting in
Indian weaponry. Kaoukji used arresting visuals of pieces from the collection of Sheikh Nasser al-Sabah.
Each piece was incomparable in design and beauty.
Pramod Kumar KG
Pramod Kumar K G, Managing Director of Éka Archiving Services, steered the discussion towards the
Golconda region, famed for its peerless diamonds.
Susan Stronge, Senior Curator, Asian Department, Victoria & Albert Museum, London took the audience
into the opulence of the Mughal era. She tapped into the museum’s own collection of Mughal miniature
paintings and jewellery.
StylePrer was overwhelmed with an enriching experience of the knowledge shared by historians and
experts from the gems and jewellery industry. In my opinion, Saffronart must definitely host these
conferences much more frequently.