GARGI RATHI has no fondness for any other gemstone except emeralds. For this UK-based next-gen jewellery designer, emeralds are her first and only love, and the love affair is an old one. As a child, she’d lost her heart to the verdant green hues of the emerald at a market in Zambia, where these gorgeous gems were being sold alongside vegetables. The sunlight beating down on the emeralds in the bazaar emanated a beautiful green glow that mesmerised her – and perhaps helped forge her future as a jewellery designer.
Today, as the first-generation founder and creative head of House of Meraki, Gargi sources ethically mined emeralds from Gemfields for her handcrafted collections. Hers is the only jewellery brand in the world that focuses purely on emeralds. Other than bespoke creations, she has an array of ready-to-wear emerald jewellery collections in which diamonds and pearls get to play a supporting role. She believes that emeralds should be owned and worn by all, not just a select few. Here’s the story of the designer who advocates for the precious green gem.
By Shanoo Bijlani
You are known as the Emerald Lady. Could you tell us how you earned this moniker? Why this fascination for emeralds? Are there any memories associated with these gemstones?
I am indeed known as the Emerald Lady – being the founder and creative director of the first emerald-focused jewellery brand in the world.
My fascination for emeralds began at an early age and dates back to one of my earliest memories growing up in Zambia. I was vegetable shopping with my mother in Lusaka’s famous Tuesday market. Among the fruit and vegetable vendors, I spotted these incredible green stones, glistening with the rays of sunlight beaming through them. This immediately caught my attention. The local miners quickly exchanged hands, selling rough emeralds on the side of the street. At the time, few people knew of the emerald mines in Zambia that produced emeralds with exceptionally deep green hues.
The sight of those fascinating gems sparkling under the African sun stayed with me forever. It was love at first sight!
Tell us a little more about yourself – do you belong to a family of jewellers or gem manufacturers?
Not at all! In fact, it was initially tough when I entered the market, but I quickly made a name for myself due to the specialisation in emeralds. Nonetheless, I belong to a family of passionate collectors and connoisseurs of rare jewellery.
So, did this eventually lead you to study gemmology?
I started to study the chemistry behind the green tones of emeralds and explore every facet these romantic stones have to offer. I realised each emerald is unique; you can never get two emeralds that are exactly the same, and it is this uniqueness that has fascinated me to bring ‘Meraki emeralds’ into the daily life of a woman. Studying gemmology helped me educate myself about the chemical composition and provenance, and has further reiterated my belief that emeralds are one of the rarest and most priceless beauties in the world.
Your jewellery is accented with diamonds and pearls, and no other gemstone, but emeralds. Tell us how your aesthetic signature came into being? You must be the only brand that uses ‘only emeralds’, we presume?
We are proud to be the first emerald-focused jewellery house in the world! The emerald is the central focus of our jewellery. We dress our emeralds with diamonds and pearls to offset their raw beauty.
The world of gemstones is so vast and diverse. So, we prefer to work only with responsible mining partners like Gemfields, which gives us access to some of the finest responsibly sourced emeralds that plays an important role in helping us realise our creative vision.
Traceability is paramount! I feel it is extremely important to master one specific gemstone and be the best at it. This is the only way you will be able to give the piece of jewellery the love and importance it deserves. This pride resonates down to the owners of a ‘Meraki emerald’.
Since you are fascinated by the gemstone, how do you decide if you would prefer a Zambian or a Colombian gem for a particular design? Do you personally source the rough from different miners?
It’s like asking a mother to differentiate between her children. Emeralds from both regions hold exceptional chemical composition and provenance. However, if the design aesthetic is more contemporary, I use Zambian emeralds, as that’s what’s trending right now! But if the requirement were for something more classic, I would lean towards Colombian emeralds. Our emeralds are sourced from Gemfields’ Kagem mines in Zambia and the Muzo mine in Colombia. House of Meraki practises responsible sourcing and ethical production maintaining accountability and traceability of all ‘Meraki emeralds’. We pride ourselves in complete transparency, disclosing the chain of custody for every emerald we sell.
What inspires you the most when designing a piece of jewellery?
The jewellery I design challenges the ordinary by using modern and minimalistic silhouettes with European sensibilities. The pieces are notable as I use different shades, shapes and sizes, highlighting each emerald. It is the asymmetrical nature of the jewellery, which always makes a statement and their faceted cuts, in many ways, reflect the many dimensions of a woman’s personality.
I take inspiration from the provenance of the emeralds. So, my latest collection Impossible Love is inspired by the Victoria Falls in Zambia and the bluish-green landscape surrounding the waterfall. Each piece dares to go beyond conventional design by celebrating nature’s asymmetrical beauty. There is no point in wearing jewellery unless it makes a statement!
The new collection Impossible Love has gained phenomenal success globally, in a short period of time. It is currently sold at Harvey Nichols London, Four Seasons, Mumbai, and on our brand new e-commerce platform. It is set to be stocked at various retail platforms globally within the next quarter.
How long is the journey from conception to creation?
Typically, it takes us up to eight months to create a new collection. That’s why we only create one collection per year, allowing us to give each piece the importance it deserves. The process is lengthy and requires a lot of work that goes behind it.
I usually start the design process with a mood board which illustrates the inspiration. It also sets the stage for the direction I am going in terms of the design process. I then play around with emeralds extensively – examining different permutations and combinations until I can create the most suitable format to highlight the emeralds.
What is your design philosophy?
Less is more!
When did you start your brand?
It has been three years since inception. House of Meraki started with specialising in bespoke commissions catering to private clients dotted around the world. Working with responsible partners like Gemfields has not only got us recognition globally, but also has helped provide an enviable inventory of ethically sourced emeralds at competitive prices, as we practise mine to market, allowing us to control all stages of the supply chain.
Gaining exceptional success, we decided to make emeralds accessible for everyday wear at an affordable price point. The idea behind the Prêt line was that every woman should be able to go out and purchase a piece of jewellery, which is an investment, without asking a man to buy it for her—House of Meraki was built upon this foundation. Empowered women, empower women!
I would say our USP is our pricing strategy, as it allows for every woman to own a ‘Meraki emerald’.
Who is the woman the brand Meraki designs for?
I have adopted a more unconventional approach of combining different shapes, sizes and shades of emeralds into one piece of jewellery. This ensures that no two pieces of jewellery are exactly the same, making each Meraki jewel unique. The brand is designed for the career woman who feels empowered to buy a piece of jewellery.
If you weren’t a jewellery designer, what would you be?
A lawyer, and a very successful one, too, ha ha! I take part in charitable initiatives and developing this within House of Meraki; I also like boxing, cooking, wine tasting, yoga and travelling.
JELLY FISH gold earrings accented with Zambian emeralds.
THE LA SCALA gold ring is topped with an exceptional 5.43-carat Zambian emerald flanked by round and baguette diamonds arranged in steps.
SAGE gold ring designed with six drop-shaped Gemfields Zambian emeralds.
THE MEDUSA gold ring features a 17.55-carat carved Zambian emerald surrounded by 13.67 carats of Russian diamonds and 7 carats of brilliant-cut emeralds.