Repurposing or remodelling old, inherited jewellery has many paybacks, prime among them is being able to retain and wear the piece that has sentimental value attached to it. The other reason is to preserve such pieces that are created with timeless crafts — most of which are today on the verge of extinction. Shanoo Bijlani spoke to three top designers from India to find out their take on the subject.
How often have you wistfully looked at a piece of jewellery – a hand-me-down from your great grandmother or aunt – and wondered: ‘if only I could wear it!’ Sentiments prevent you from selling it, and perhaps its design may not match up to your taste and you defer wearing the dated piece. So, the precious piece lies neglected in the jewellery box for good, along with your buried pangs of guilt for having wasted an opportunity to put it to good use.
Today, though, there are many top designers in the country, who channel their creativity into transforming old jewellery to suit your style as well as retain the essence or the main motif of the ancient ornament – thus offering you a brand new piece to suit your style and personality.
More often than not, it’s pure happenstance that leads jewellery artists to double up as remodelling specialists.
Abhishek Basak, founder of Absynthe Design, New Delhi, is a graduate from NIFT Hyderabad. In 2011, after a successful career in fashion, packaging and graphic design, he opted for making jewellery using antique watch parts, and established his brand formally in 2014. Basak has created close to 4,000 unique pieces of jewellery in the last nine years.
So did he intentionally begin to upscale jewellery for consumers? “Jewellery making started as a hobby, as I needed to de-stress from the tension of my corporate job. I have always loved the process of creation, and one day, I just picked up one of my mother’s old mechanical watches to explore. I loved the small, detailed parts in the watch and used them to make something beautiful and intricate.”
Ashwini Oza, the co-founder and chief designer at Arnav & Co., Bengaluru, is also a practising interior designer for over a decade. She reminisces that remodelling jewellery came to her by chance. One of her first assignments was to modify a bunch of antique diamond necklaces that belonged to her client’s mother-in-law. “We turned it into several interesting pieces of jewellery like rings, pendants and earrings without disturbing the original closed setting,” Oza notes.
“Redesigning old pieces was a natural progression of work for me. Many a time, clients brought me their precious jewellery to exchange for new pieces. These old pieces were not in any condition to be worn, but the designs and old settings were so beautiful and unique that I would recommend we remodel them rather than melt them down. Clients would relent, and once they saw how it turned out, they would be immensely pleased that they didn’t change the core piece. Word of mouth and personal recommendations from these happy clients got a lot of people looking at me to remodel their jewellery.”
Tanya Rastogi, director, Lala Jugal Kishore Jewellers, Lucknow, had a treasury of antique pieces to get started. Rastogi recalls, “Lala Jugal Kishore Jewellers was recognised as the jeweller for the royal nawabs of Lucknow. Being one of the most sought-after brands in the jewellery industry across the Lucknow-Kanpur belt, the brand is renowned for creating exquisite designs in silver, gold, diamond and jadau-polki-kundan jewellery evoking the essence of Awadh. Since we had access to many authentic vintage jewellery pieces, I decided to create Jewels of Awadh to let true connoisseurs indulge in those pieces. For example, I had a collection of maang tikas that were almost 150 years old and were once donned by the royal courtesans of Lucknow. I used a dori (thick cord) to create a champakali haar stringing them up as pendants (pictured above).” Needless to say, the collection was a huge success.
Old heirlooms or jewellery pieces have a greater sentimental heft attached to it. How does a designer maintain a balance between retaining central motifs of the old piece and adding newer elements to make it relevant to the modern-day customer? Does a designer face any dilemma?
Basak explains: “Most of such watches and jewellery pieces, which are handed down as heirlooms, come with a lot of stories and sentiments attached to them. As a designer, I love the challenge of telling those stories and treasuring those sentiments through their designs. That’s how I ensure that the future generations will also treasure those pieces. Every element I add is to tell the story better, and not just for aesthetics. Hence, they will always remain relevant to their current and future owners.”
Like Abhishek, Ashwini, too, agrees that antique jewellery pieces have special stories to tell. It’s one mode of preserving one’s past, culture, heritage, family memories and maintaining identities through generations.
“Although newer and more efficient methods have emerged in response to the call of the markets, we make our clients aware that restoration is a way of documenting ancient karigari practices. However, old jewellery is often impractical to wear in the current context. The old ruby thodu earrings, for example, often bear a thick stem and may not fit in the ears of modern women today. Our customers prefer to recycle jewellery to maintain a balance between the old world and the new. While they associate their heirlooms with a memory or an occasion, they would like to wear it to suit the era that we live in,” Ashwini states.
Abhishek Basak remodels a watch into a bow tie and restores dials as cuff links.
Remodelling, however, can be a tricky business as designers need to work closely with their karigars, understand the technical aspects of casing that piece, and soldering them so that they don’t get damaged even as they retain their design essence and main motifs.
Rastogi comments, “When it comes to remodelling a customer’s heirloom piece, my first priority is to try and retain its basic elements and work around the same to give it a facelift as per current trends. In some cases, when the customer insists on a particular design we melt down the piece and design it from scratch too. But I try not to dilute the original design in the process.”
How does one put a price on the piece that is recycled? Abhishek states, “More than the cost, it is about the value of the piece which is historical. Such pieces are a part of our collective artistic, cultural and technological heritage. Moreover, each piece reflects the craftsmanship and finesse of those exceptional artists who had created them. Saving them and making them valuable again, is not only a privilege but also a responsibility. Such pieces are priceless since there can never be another piece that is exactly the same. So, pricing depends on attaching a value to it based on its antiquity, artistry, uniqueness and finding someone who falls in love with the piece.”
Ashwini believes that recycling is cost-effective as the client only spends on the extra value addition introduced by the designer.
The reasons for restoring and remodelling have the same underlying sentiments. Ashwini comments, “The antique jewellery pieces that clients bring to us are fine examples of the eras gone by, the stones used, their cuts, the intricacy of work and the techniques used are something that we don’t witness anymore. When the jewellery is altered to suit the clients’ sensibilities, they feel a sense of security and contentment.”
Abhishek concludes on the reasons why customers prefer to recycle a piece of jewellery. “It is for the same reasons that we treasure our memories. More than its value aspect, more than the fact that such unique pieces are never to be found again, more than the fact that it gives one a sense of pride in owning rare pieces, people identify with stories and the wonders that come with the history of such pieces.”