Janhavi Kamani is the inheritor of an illustrious legacy. Her maternal grandfather Nanubhai Jhaveri was a famous figure in the jewellery industry and catered to royalty in India and abroad. A far-sighted individual, Jhaveri was the mentor of yet another luminary, Ambaji Shinde, who later went on to become the head designer of Harry Winston. Raised on glorious tales of her family patriarch, Janhavi was, in part, a product of a jeweller’s family, but for most part of her early life she was raised and educated in Jamshedpur. However, the inherent traits and passion for jewelley came through when she accidentally found her dream job. Her baptism into the industry was not without trials. Owing to her celebrated lineage, Janhavi, found it difficult to get a break as most family jewellers are tight-knit. Today, though, she is happy to pursue her vocation, and make a mark on her own terms. She is a product of today’s society and drafts designs that have a unique flavour and have a stamp of easy eloquence.
By Shanoo Bijlani
“We went to the Van Cleef & Arpels boutique. There, to my delight, was a Bugs Bunny brooch, crafted in mother-of-pearl and diamonds to commemorate the opening of the new Warner Brothers store.”
Did you get the chance to meet your grandfather, Nanubhai Jhaveri?
Unfortunately, I never met him. He passed away when my mother was very young. My mother married out of the industry and I grew up in Jamshedpur. The connection with Mumbai therefore was only during my holiday visits when I came to visit my grandmother, and sometimes travelled with her. I have this one memory of visiting New York at age 10. My grandmother took us to various stores of the jewelers she had been friends with in the days when my grandfather had been alive. We went to the Van Cleef & Arpels boutique. There, to my delight, was a Bugs Bunny brooch, carrot and all, crafted in mother-of-pearl and diamonds to commemorate the opening of the new Warner Brothers store.
We were taken to a vault where we saw the mock-up of the crown created for the former Queen Empress of Iran Farah Diba, and I also got the chance to put it on!
Looking back, I realise that even 50 years after his death, people remember my grandfather with respect. He put Indian jewellers on the global map. He manufactured jewellery, which was bought and sold by international jewellers.
His designer for 20 years, Ambaji Shinde, who was trained and taught by him, went on to become head designer of Harry Winston, a close friend of my grandfather.
He was the royal jeweller to the king of Nepal, the Nawab of Palanpur, the Maharaja of Ratlam, Aga Khan, His Highness of Nawanagar, His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of Ethiopia, the Maharaja of Travancore, the Maharaja Saheb of Bhavnagar, the Maharaja of Gwalior, the King of Saudi Arabia, and the Maharaja of Jamnagar to name a few.
My grandfather was a man of vision and ambition, and wore his legacy lightly. In his heydays, he branched out from the jewellery industry, and pioneered the synthetic yarn industry in India and put up Nirlon, named after my mother, with the help of his two nephews, whom he had educated in the US for this very purpose.
Had my grandfather been alive today, all the doors in the industry would have been open to me. As it is though, everyone I meet reveres and remembers him. The jewellery business in India is very much a family affair, which is the reason I could not intern with anyone over here. I was on my own, and struggling when I started out.
When did you start your brand Wanderlust ?
Wanderlust started in November 2012 a little haphazardly, as I was the first member in my family in over 40 years to re-enter the jewellery field. I had no contacts with karigars, gemstone dealers and so on. I was qualified, but had no idea of the trade. I had my designs but was without the means to execute them. It was then that I met Pradip Kothari of Kothari Jewellers, one of the most respected jewellers in India, who helped and guided me. He put me in touch with the right people; without his help I would probably still be floundering. I was raised in Jamshedpur and we moved to Mumbai in 2001. During that period I was focused on photography, but felt something was tugging at my heart. I was not creatively satisfied. It was then that I decided to study gemmology. The course drew me closer to gemstones and I realised my calling. I liked designing jewellery and this led me to study further. In 2009, I did a short course at the Indian Institute of Jewellery (IIJ) to study the basics of gemmology. A year later, I moved to London and enrolled at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). I studied to become a graduate gemmologist, jewellery designer and an accredited jewellery professional.
Tell us more about your life at the GIA.
Life at the institute was amazing. We had a five-day class and on the weekends we usually had so much homework there was barely time for anything else. Studying gemmology was fascinating. One day, I just may go back and re-do the course for fun! There was such a diverse mix of students and teachers from various parts of Europe and Asia that it gives you a unique perspective into different cultures and the part jewellery plays in their lives. I made some amazing friends, most of whom I am in touch with even today.
Where and how did you begin to sell jewellery?
My first pieces of jewellery were sold by my mother at her dear friend Narjis Abedi’s exhibition in Delhi. Actually, she was holding a show at her residence for her brand Narjis, which comprised chikankari suits and saris and she suggested to my mother, who was travelling to Delhi at that time, to bring some of my jewellery pieces for the exhibition. My mother took 12 pairs of earrings designed by me. Eleven of those were sold, and this gave me a huge sense of validation. It was so encouraging to know I was on the right path.
Could you define your brand Wanderlust’s USP?
Wanderlust fits into a peculiar niche – there are only a handful of jewellery designers who work with non-precious metals, but use semi-precious gemstones. My brand fits into this slot. I am also trying to associate my brand with “travel jewellery”, to promote it as the go-to label for jewellery that is rich and luxurious without the need to burn a hole in the pocket. My design aesthetics lean towards wearable jewellery, versatile pieces that can be used on a daily basis. I often work with silver or brass and use semi-precious stones such as amethysts, topaz, tourmalines and more. The base metal depends on the piece I make. For the cuffs, I prefer to work with brass since they are heavy, while for the earrings and rings I am more likely to use silver. My pieces start at 5,000 and go up to 50.000. It all depends on the materials used.
Do you design for a particular age group?
I don’t think there is a definite age group for whom I make jewellery. I’ve had customers from 18 to 60 years of age. This is mainly due to the design aesthetic which keeps the jewellery neutral in look and it really depends on the woman and how she carries it off.
What drives you to make jewellery?
The purpose behind Wanderlust is to create quality pieces of value that are beautiful and affordable. My original idea was to create “travel jewellery” as the brand name suggests, but I have deviated slightly to creating trendy pieces as well. However, the root philosophy is to create something classic.
I was raised in Jamshedpur and we moved to Mumbai in 2001.During that period I was focused on photography, but felt something was tugging at my heart.
What generally draws you in – travel experiences or nature?
I love to travel, and photography is still a passion of mine. Spending time with my three dogs is another of my pastimes. My design process is erratic, there are some days where I don’t think about design at all because I’m focused on manufacturing or marketing. On other days, I pore over design books and old photographs and designs from my grandfather’s time to look for inspiration. Art Deco jewellery is my all-time favourite and that is where I’m heading towards in my upcoming collection. I also love jadau jewellery and am creating some important pieces in the near future. My designs are based upon what I am feeling or interested in at the time of creating, hence the diversity in the pieces. I do not have a recurring theme or pattern in my jewellery, but at the same time, I feel that my designs carry a bit of “me” in them.