A recent entrant into the field of jewellery making, Delhi-based NEHA DANI is already being counted in the stratosphere of rare jewellery artists. Although her detailed renditions in custom-coloured rhodium-plated 18-karat gold set with a multitude of gemstones draw heavily from nature, the one-off, sculptural pieces resemble artworks of impressionist painters.
Balancing her act by infusing oodles of femininity, her works of art articulate a bold and emotional narrative encapsulated in dynamic forms. She breathes life into her pieces by adding colourless and natural fancy colour diamonds that beautify and reinforce the design element. The multiple-layered pieces evoking floral petals, twigs or leaves are captured in unexpected meandering twists and turns.
Each piece presents a challenge to make, but that is what Neha revels in – to push the creative boundaries in order to seek artistic nirvana.
By Shanoo Bijlani
You are a Fellow of the Gemological Association of England and a Gemological Institute of America-certified graduate gemmologist. When did you veer towards making jewellery?
I started my career as a gemmologist in an international lab which was just starting out in India. I soon moved to designing high-end jewellery and being a buying consultant for high quality large-size diamonds, I was usually dealing in very expensive and big diamonds. I used to spend a lot of time at the jewellery manufacturing workshops with bench craftsmen and setters. Observing the whole process of fabrication got me more and more inclined to creating unique pieces of jewellery.
Where did you study the art of jewellery making?
I did my jewellery diploma in designing and wax carving techniques from GIA in the United States, but as mentioned earlier, I learnt the art and techniques of jewellery making by observing craftsmen. So a lot of it is also just experimenting with designs and wax models.
When did you launch your own line and where do you retail? Do you sell in India too?
I debuted at the Couture show (Las Vegas) in 2016, and it was very exciting to be so quickly recognised by the international design community. Currently, we retail in the United States at Cayen Collection (Carmel, California) and Copious Row (Greenwich, Connecticut) and are about to launch a special trunk show for Moda Operandi, which is available online internationally. Because the collections are small and every piece is one-of-a-kind, we are specifically going very slow in terms of our retail presence, but will continue to grow and expand with the right partners.
Tell us more about your design philosophy. Most of your jewellery is organic and three-dimensional in form, teeming with a variety of gemstones. How do you bring the pieces to life?
True, most of my jewellery is very organic as it’s usually inspired from nature and the world around us. I love playing with different forms and turning them around to enhance the three-dimensionality of the piece. Mixing different shades of gemstones adds more depth to each piece, making the jewellery look almost alive.
What inspires you to make jewellery? Tell us something about your various collections…
I spend a lot of time observing Mother Nature focusing on the minute details and can feel the ever-growing and evolving process of the natural world around us.
One of my collections Cadence was inspired by aquatic plants and the fauna that live on the bottom of the sea-bed. I worked very hard to create pieces emphasising the free-flowing movement of the plants underwater, and their vibrant colours were brought out by custom-coloured rhodium. The pieces were quite rhythmic and full of curls and twists looking almost alive.
My latest collection, Tidal, is inspired by the sea waves and the crest and the splash of the waves on the shore. The froth and the foam, the gushing of water… the whole experience of the sea that each one of us can endlessly enjoy. A moment that is always calming to our mind and always cherished.
I am also working on a new collection that’s inspired by the tiny flowers that usually grow on shrubs and climbers. It is inspired by the coiling creepers and hanging buds.
We would like to know your process of creation. Do you weave stories into your jewellery pieces?
The process starts with a concept that may have stirred my imagination. Once a design is conceptualised, I usually work with a rough sketch and soft wax models. I discuss the inspiration and the subtle feeling of the piece with the bench craftsmen. Once the process of wax carving begins, the design evolves every day. I work very closely with the wax carvers to bring out the desired form and movement in every piece of jewellery.
Though each and every piece of jewellery draws cues from some natural form, it is never an exact replica. It’s usually an abstract narration of the inspiration emulating a feeling of jubilation or exuberance.
Can you give us an example of a piece that required a lot of detailing and high-level craftsmanship from your end?
A piece of jewel that required a lot of detailing and craftsmanship was Amarante – a big cuff set only in natural fancy pink diamonds. It is made up of 18 flowers nesting 18 pieces of very rare natural fancy vivid purplish pink diamonds as its pollen. Each petal of the flower was individually carved and set on both sides. The wax carving itself took nearly four months as we worked and reworked on it. It was later set with over 12,000 melee natural fancy pink diamonds all the way around taking up close to 2,000 man hours. Though a bold piece of jewellery, it’s still very delicate and the pink hue adds to its femininity.
All of my pieces are miniature sculptures, taking a minimum of three or four weeks of wax carving as they are quite detailed and minutely carved. Some pieces have also taken a month or two to get the desired form and shape. Fabrication and setting also takes a long time as the gems are microscopically set as very often I use a large number of gemstones in each piece.
What according to you is the prime function of jewellery? Is it a piece of art or does it simply serve as a piece of adornment?
Principally, jewellery is an adornment, but a creatively done piece is not just about the gemstones set in it. It’s about a philosophy that speaks of the inspiration and passion of the creator. It reflects the innermost mind of the artist and eventually reflects in the personality of the wearer. It’s certainly a piece of art. It is also fun as the whole process is thoroughly enjoyed by each one involved with it. Finally, it imparts that joy to its wearer.
Which are your favourite gemstones and your preferred metal?
It’s impossible to pick a favourite. As a gemmologist, I have studied the crystal formations and their selective absorption of light. The formation of each and every gemstone is truly fascinating and mesmerising. The choice of the gemstone in a particular piece of jewellery is more about how its colour suits the design. I have mostly worked with gold and the custom-coloured rhodium enables you to be more expressive with it.
You rely a lot on rhodium finishes to enhance the pieces. Is that acceptable in couture jewellery?
Couture jewellery is also how one perceives it. Creative jewellery has no boundaries in terms of the choice of metal or gemstones. All white gold jewellery also has white rhodium, so coloured rhodium is just a different colour that helps in lending more drama to the piece. I think someone who wants to wear a unique piece of jewellery will easily accept coloured rhodium.
How has the experience been so far? Was it worth your effort to move from being a gemmologist to a designer?
It has been a very interesting and satisfying journey. I come from a business family that is not engaged in the business of jewellery; whatever I have done up until now is pretty much on my own steam. I have had some great opportunities of working independently and creating some magnificent pieces of jewellery.
Are all your pieces handmade?
Yes, all my pieces are handcrafted as that enables you to explore the concept and it’s a more hands-on approach. You are more connected to the piece and it helps in detailing and fully enhancing the piece.
Tell us more about yourself. Where are you from and were you artistic even as a child?
I grew up in a small city of southern India, although I am originally from the northern part of the country. India is a land of diverse cultures and handicrafts – and this has certainly influenced my creativity.
My family has always been connoisseurs of art. My mother was a perfectionist and she influenced me in many ways. As a family, we travelled a lot and I had a chance to visit some very important museums around the world which nurtured my passion for creativity and attention to detail. I was always good at conceptualising and visualising objects and design from my schooldays.
How long does it take you to produce a collection or a special, one-off piece?
Special pieces can be extremely time-consuming. Amarante took close to a year from start to finish. The average time for a piece and a limited edition collection takes more like three to four months.
Other than jewellery making, what interests you the most?
I love to travel, observe various cultures and learn about the history and native forms of art. I enjoy spending time in art galleries and I’m especially interested in three-dimensional sculptural art.
The Bonita cuff mounted in 18-karat gold and plated with custom colour blue rhodium is dressed up with 1.2 carats of rose cuts, 7.7 carats of round full cut diamonds and sapphires totalling 11.1 carats.
The 18-karat two-tone Teal ring is highlighted with custom-colour blue and green rhodium. It is further embellished with 3.9 carats of diamonds, 2.83 carats of sapphires and 2.62 carats of tsavorites.
Mounted in 18-karat gold and plated with custom-colour green rhodium polish, the Jolene earrings are set with 5.5 carats of diamonds and 7.4 carats of tsavorites.