For Delhi-based designer, SUMIT SAWHNEY, jewellery-making is nothing short of a spiritual pursuit, and he makes heavenly bijoux with motifs of gods and goddesses congregating on large canvases of carved gems decorated and framed with relief work in wood and silver. He recently debuted at the India International Jewellery Week in Mumbai and sold some of his showstopper pieces off the ramp. Sumit revealed that there is a spiritual force that gently guides him to create extraordinary pieces of fine art. That again reinforces him to connect with the inner spiritual guide that resides in the recesses of his heart.
By SHANOO BIJLANI
Nick Bantock, renowned British artist and author, has rightly said: ‘Art becomes a spiritual process depending upon the degree of commitment that you bring to it. Every experience becomes direct food for your art. Then your art teaches you about life.’
For Sumit Sawhney, too, art is a path that nourishes his soul. Sumit admits that he is deeply connected to the Almighty and listens to the higher call to craft jewels that evoke a deep sense of spirituality and draw you towards them.
It is difficult not to fall in love with his work at first sight. His jewellery begs us to be reverential towards it and yet it is experimental, funky and bold. Different worlds come together in Sumit’s creations to give the pieces an overall spiritual tone.
Trained at the Jewellery Design & Technology Institute in Noida, Sumit is only 30, but he speaks with such maturity and devotion to his craft. He brushes it off lightly by saying, “But I started very young.” At the Noida institute he received hands-on training in manufacturing, designing, and gemmology. After the four-year course, he completed a short course at GIA, Mumbai. Thereafter, he trained with some design houses before launching his own brand Apala in 2006. ‘Apala’ means very beautiful and the jewellery that he makes befits the description. Currently, he operates from two showrooms based in New Delhi and Gurgaon.
He is a first generation jeweller but his grasp on the subject is noteworthy. “I was always surrounded by art,” he notes. His mother, Arti Sawhney, runs a designer furniture brand wicker world, and from childhood Sumit has seen how wood gets transformed into beautiful and intricate designs. That is one reason why you see a lot of woodwork in his jewellery, too. Observing his mother at close quarters taught him to hone his keen sense for aesthetics. It also taught him the value of patience required to create a thing of beauty.
However, he was surefooted even then that he would pursue only jewellery designing. “I loved the way my mother decked herself up with jewellery,” he recalls, adding, “If you have an institution at home, you don’t need to go very far. I was also a well-travelled child and often accompanied my parents to Europe, the seat of art and culture, and came back filled with ideas.”
Today, he brings the early and diverse inspirations that he received during the time spent with his artistic mother into his jewellery. His pieces have a strong outline and are intricately carved. Wood carvings find a predominant place in his creations – a carryover of the influences of his childhood.
THE ARTISTIC JOURNEY
As a child, Sumit was good at sketching. He recalls carving chalks and beading them with wire to make neckpieces. He used unusual material, including grapes, and dried twigs and stems to fashion bracelets and necklaces. Clay and carved stones were other materials he used early on even before receiving training.
“I am fascinated by history and mythology and get to visit old tombs and museums. I studied fine arts in school and have been a voracious reader of Indian, Egyptian, Roman and Greek cultures, since they are such rich civilisations. Then, too, my focus is on spiritual art because I am religious by nature. Spirituality gives me positivity, and so it appears as the central element in all my jewellery,” says Sumit.
A regular visitor to temples, churches and mosques, Sumit says that he can spend hours admiring the carvings and architecture of these serene places of worship. “You cannot take art out of me. Wherever I travel, I have to first visit museums,” he laughs.
But once he sits down to designing, he brings his own interpretation into play rather than reproducing it directly. This despite the fact that he has a photographic memory!
Sumit declares that he looks at life in frames, and remembers every detail clearly. “It is as if the scenes or the carvings are imprinted on my mind,” he says, adding, “Art is something I was born with. I don’t push too hard either to create things. Inspiration just flows naturally. It is the passion for creating new things that drives me totally and helps me break my own barriers while designing.”
“I am inspired by nature and architecture and I often meld ornate and geometric forms in my collections. I enjoy the process of creation from within and that helps me to strike a perfect balance between work and personal life.”
Sumit’s creations are mostly mounted in silver, the metal that he cannot do without. “There are several reasons. One, I am not worried about wastage. Second, I can get more detailing in my carvings and mould the metal according to my will and vision. It frees me from monetary constraints as the metal is not so expensive and importantly, it does not hamper my creativity. I also include wood, acrylic, thread as accompaniments in the patterns,” comments Sumit. He also does kundan jewellery but gives it an enjoyable twist.
His favourite techniques are repousse (chitrai) that helps him to design intricate floral patterns or carvings, and granulation (rava) that adds a delicate touch to the piece. Carvings and gem-faceting is another highlight of Sumit’s jewellery. At times, he admits to taking apart antique silver lamps, for instance, and turning them into earrings or other trinkets.
Among gemstones, Sumit turns towards rubies, corals, and onyx, but confesses, “Lapis is my new favourite. It has an excellent vibrancy and its pure blue colour fascinates me. I also love to do unusual combinations and tend to mix rubies with lapis, pink and orange corals and turquoise and so on. I feel a certain vibe in the stones and that draws me to them.” Sumit also includes neutral shades of labrodorite as the stone has typical characteristics. “I love it because they have inclusions in it. I make the gem the focus of my jewellery piece,” he notes.
Most of Apala’s pieces have some signature traits – they are bold in character with strong narratives and have a high design quotient. The collections are thematic and wearable. Even if they look large in form they are light in weight. “When women think of jewellery they should think of Apala – that is my aim. I try to achieve the best of gold in silver without compromising on the designs,” states Sumit.
His forte is necklaces and earrings, but he loves to indulge himself once in a while and make over-the-top, audacious pieces. He reasons, “Sometimes I just don’t care about the saleability of the piece. The exercise helps me break my own boundaries. When people see such signature pieces they automatically upgrade their taste and go for semi-bold pieces, if not for those that are too strong for their liking.”
Sumit has a large and loyal clientele who appreciate his work. “They are the types who are ready to experiment with new and daring ideas. Most of them come from the corporate world, or have a musical background or are artists. I have grown up among such people and so I easily understand their aesthetics.” Still, his handmade jewellery is affordable, and ranges from Rs. 2,500 to Rs. 4 lakh. “My jewellery is for everyone. Whoever walks my store should be able to find something for herself.”
If art is his soul, music is his breath. “I love listening to spiritual music, Islamic and Himalayan chants or European music when I sit with paper and pencil to sketch the designs. Music plays a big role in my life and steers me to create jewellery. My wife, too, has a similar background. She is a classical singer and that is the main reason why I was attracted to her,” Sumit admits.
The young designer soaks his soul with artistic pursuits – he dabbles in oil painting and photography. “Ever since I founded Apala, I started concentrating more on jewellery. I want to renew my ties with painting again.”
Originality is something that he cherishes. “It is very important for me to convey what I strongly feel through various mediums,” he signs off.