Bijou, Bijou, Bijou!
For niche jeweller Shachee Shah, her career has been firmly entrenched in the trade. Having always been interested in fashion design, she was tempted by the prospectus at Mumbai’s SNDT Women’s University into signing up for the then newly introduced course in jewellery design. After winning multiple competitions in the field, she was awarded a DeBeers scholarship that exposed her to the crafting techniques in Europe. “We travelled around, meeting designers and craftsmen in London, Paris and Italy, and it was just such a revelation,” she enthuses. “There are craftsmen who just work on minute repairs their entire lives. I’d never come across that kind of dedication and passion, paired with unbelievable skill.”
Shachee went on to work with DeBeers, helping set up design teams for brands like Asmi and Sanghini. Marriage and two daughters later, she had also put in a stint of teaching at the Indian Institute of Gems & Jewellery while slowly developing her own technique. “It took me almost five years of working, on and off, to do the research and develop my skills and the right set of machinery and tools,” she confides.
Her last collection was inspired by Venetian lace, and Shachee chose to treat it like fashion instead of going the traditional route. She rented a stall at Lakmé Fashion Week, with charming displays of creations that brought alive the beauty of fine lace, using a blend of engraving techniques to texture the gold pieces. Each pair of earrings, or pendant, or bracelet is worked on entirely by Shachee, in the corner she rents at a jewellery factory. It can take her anything from a week to two months, depending on the complexity of a piece and her other commitments. Bolstered by her success at LFW, Shachee also displayed her work at a trunk show at Chennai’s Amethyst, where she was pleasantly surprised to see the more conservative South Indian customer buying her pieces.
It can get hard explaining that she doesn’t break up the cost of a piece to show making charges, but her clients are coming around to her way of thinking. It’s the Indian karigars she finds tougher to deal with. “They are so talented, but they have their own views on a piece and will absolutely refuse to deviate from the norm,” she explains. Next up is a collection based on micro-mosaics that Shachee is in the process of fine-tuning. “I find my thrills in the details,” she says. “The challenges excite me – I can pull glass for as long as it takes to create the perfect piece for a micro-mosaic.”
The excitement is palpable as Sajil Shah reveals his treasures in the dedicated show space at his home. He pulls out a choker set with diamonds and emeralds, explaining the finely articulated jaal before laying it on a velvet-lined tray. Because each portion of the jaal is hewn out of a piece of gold, any error means that the piece has to be started all over again. It’s a painstaking art, and a detail that features prominently in the pieces Sajil shows us.
A pair of exotic earrings entices you into taking a closer look. Sajil shows how he’s had rose-cut diamonds set closely to simulate a strawberry, smoothly curving so you get barely a glimpse of metal. He talks about the ‘Lotus’ ring he made for his wife, layering rose-cut diamonds for a three dimensional feel, disguising prongs for a seamless look. What sets Sajil apart is also his take on traditional Indian jewellery – for instance, the Marwari pacheli bangles that he’s re-interpreted to simulate the Elizabethan ruffs of the 16th century.
From a family rooted in diamond manufacturing – polishing and cutting – Sajil studied in Florence, taking a mish-mash of classes at the various specialist schools dotted around the city, intending to learn enough to start a business. “But the process and feel of creating something on my own had me completely fascinated,” he says, explaining why he still works on pieces himself, for his brand Sajjante. Sometimes, it’s also because of the lack of karigars who have the expertise to create his designs. He shows us a bracelet with rose-cut diamonds set in reverse, in sharp relief as they twine their way across a textured expanse of gold. “It’s an engraving technique where fine lines are used to texturise and brighten the metal so that any stones stand out more,” he says, adding that the engraving took him over 10 hours to complete by hand.
“I approach these pieces as art, more than as an investment,” says Sajil, and this is an unusual strategy for India. People still come in to buy jewellery for a wedding, wanting to look at necklace sets, “But now they’ll look around and get intrigued by something like lace ear cuffs or the ‘Miniatura’ rings,” he explains, referencing the fine miniatures he gets made in Italy, that are then set into rings. Up next is a store designed by the architect du jour, Ashiesh Shah, where his creations will be displayed like works of art. “It’s going to be amazing,” Sajil enthuses, and we can’t help but agree.