Precious Things Now Come in Small Packages

By Surekha Kadapa-Bose, Womens Feature Service

Precious things now come in small packages going by the gleaming Beat, Ritz, Jazz and other four wheel drives that were on display at the recent auto expo in the Indian capital. Yet, when it comes to jewellery, avant garde Indian designers think big. Size, they say, is now a fashion statement and one that is meant to make heads turn.

“Big, bold, chic and stylish is the new mantra in jewellery style,” explains Mumbai-based jewellery designer Bela Rastogi, as she sketches an exclusive design of a rather impressive diamond brooch. Rastogi, who specialises in polki or uncut diamonds explains that the comparatively less expensive polki encourages women to opt for larger pieces – something the exorbitant diamonds do not permit. For instance, a three-inch broad cuff in gold with polki diamonds forming the centre motif would be preferred to the traditional slim bangles. The use of polki brings down the cost by nearly 40 per cent. So a diamond cuff when designed with polki would be priced at around Rs 300,000 rather than Rs 600,000 (US$1=Rs 46.2). Furthermore, the size of the polki would be larger than the diamonds.

Today’s young professionals like to flaunt their earnings and therefore think nothing of investing large amounts in bigger pieces of jewellery. The latest celebrity to have upped the style quotient with chunky polki jewellery is actress Shilpa Shetty, known for her films, Yoga CD, stint on ‘Big Brother’ and, more recently, her lavish marriage with UK-based entrepreneur Raj Kundra. In her bridal finery, Shetty’s large polki pieces conjured images of erstwhile maharanis posing for a royal portrait. Set in larger-than-life designs, such expansive jewellery is meant to set the wearer apart.

Interestingly, modern Indian jewellery has adapted to global tastes while retaining its ethnicity. Catering to women who can wear either a sari, a pair of jeans or even an evening gown with elan, such pieces are not always cast in the traditional yellow metal or even in polished silver.

These pieces range from the wild to the creatively crafted; and from the exquisite to the downright crazy. In fact, statement jewellery is meant to be one of the easiest ways to change the entire look of one’s attire without changing the wardrobe. Flaunting a cuff, a bangle, an armband, a large pendant, danglers, flashy earrings, gigantic finger ring, a very showy hairclip, or a nose ring, is considered the hip thing to do. In fact, those who go for chunky jewellery are advised to keep the attire as simple as possible.

Bangalore-based Sangeeta Deewan, Head, Tanishq Design Studio, who has worked abroad for brands such as Mont Blanc, Cartier, Jaeger-LeCoulter, and Dunhill, credits the rising popularity of statement jewellery with the skyrocketing price of gold. Says Deewan, “Gold is becoming more and more expensive. So a large, exquisitely-crafted piece embedded with wood, glass, semi-precious or precious gems could be preferred to a heavy gold set. In any case, working women prefer the minimal but bold look. Even a large, rare motif brooch will look excellent on a simple, mono-colour evening gown.”

Talking about the willingness of connoisseurs to spend big, she says, “When people want to spend Rs 50,00,000 plus on jewellery, they want something special, which can be passed on from generation to generation. So it has to be exclusive but not experimental.”

All exclusive wear, however, needn’t burn a serious hole in your pocket. If you are one of those who like to coordinate accessories with every outfit, you will have to have a cheque book to match. Today, there are many eye-catching yet pocket-friendly options available, made by local artisans rather than exclusive designers. Ravishing designs are abundant in jewellery created from natural fibres such as jute and bamboo – one can easily pick these up at any nature bazaar or handicraft outlet in the city; hand-painted chunky stuff made from terracotta, painted glass and even wood are the other favourites.

Says internationally-renowned jewellery designer, Suhani Pittie from Hyderabad, “The idea is to wear one strong statement jewellery… it has to have an element of surprise and wonder. So statement jewellery could even be crafted out of paper, jute or acrylic, but it has to reflect one’s style. Money has nothing to do with it…” Pittie, who has been invited by the Museum of Arts and Design, New York, to retail her craft, works with silver and has clients ranging from teenagers to women in their eighties.

Mumbai-based Poonam Soni, known for her exotic designs, begs to differ. She believes that exclusivity – defined as both unaffordable and one-of-a-kind – is what makes an unforgettable piece. “More than a simple statement, the trend is to own an expensive piece of jewellery that may be an exotic heirloom or created especially by a designer and of which there is no replica. It becomes expensive because of its sheer exclusivity,” says Soni, whose exclusive designs are inspired by Spanish artist Gaudi and are available in the international market.

Soni caters to a high-end market from across the world and even from smaller towns like Ludhiana and Hyderabad. Her clients prefer to own exclusive pieces, for which they are willing to pay. “The product value may be just Rs 1,50,000 but it is the exclusivity and creativity that catapults its market value to say Rs 500,000 plus. That is what I call statement jewellery,” she says.

She adds that large chunky jewellery, while seeming modern, is part of Indian heritage. Examples abound: the ‘nath’, or gold-plated silver nose, that a large number of Maharastrian women wear on special occasions, embellished with pearls and coral; the chunky earrings and neckpieces and even bangles that Koli fisherwomen sport; the eye-catching thick silver anklets and white plastic bangles reaching up to the elbow that the married Lambani women from Kutch Gujarat put on. The list is endless.

But it is also true that in this the second decade of the millennium, many women are opting for non-fussy, minimal designs, accentuated by carefully chosen accessories. “We are currently influenced by the West and they have always styled with one important piece of jewellery. For instance, I don’t think, five years ago, we would have seen evening gowns at film award nights. But we do now…. It’s a brilliant time for creative designers!” beams Pittie.

However, it is not just the craft that has benefited from the emerging trends. Explains Deewan, “Earlier women didn’t have much choice in design as they had to pick from whatever their family karigars (craftsmen) offered. Today, designers are ready to experiment and offer women a variety of choices.” This, she believes, is creating a sort of renaissance in jewellery design.

Womens Feature Service covers developmental, political, social and economic issues in India and around the globe. To get these articles for your publication, contact WFS at the website.