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Rediff.com  » Getahead » 'India had some of the best jewellery in the world'

'India had some of the best jewellery in the world'

By ANITA AIKARA
May 27, 2022 09:54 IST
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IMAGE: Suneet Varma with his mother.
Photograph: Kind courtesy Suneet Varma/Instagram

If there has to be a designer who understand jewellery inside out, it has to be Suneet Varma.

"People who know me well, within the family and the design fraternity, know that jewellery is actually my first love," he reveals.

For three decades, Suneet has blended his strong design sensibility and undying love for fashion to create breathtaking Indian ensembles.

His designs have been extremely popular among some of B-Town's leading ladies including Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Priyanka Chopra and Kangana Ranaut.

Sarah Jessica Parker, Mariah Carrey and Jennifer Lopez have flaunted his signature handbags -- Suneet Varma for Judith Leiber minaudieres are retailed across the world.

Now, he has added a new feather to his hat by designing a collection for Vivek Ramabhadran's couture-inspired jewellery brand Aulerth that is converting industrial waste into accessories.

"I am a big jewellery fan. I couldn't pretend even otherwise," says Suneet. "I have been buying trinkets and jewellery from flea markets in Spain, Turkey and New York since I was a kid.

"Luckily for me I have four nieces in my family, and I have designed the wedding jewellery for every single one of them," he adds.

Every piece of jewellery Suneet's mother has owned in the last 30 years has been bought by him. He has hundreds of books, from tribal jewellery to Mughal ones.

"I have always loved the idea of jewellery. From my grandmother I have heard stories about her jewellery, something about its preciousness, delicateness, its making and design."

In a candid chat with Anita Aikara/Rediff.com, Suneet Varma discusses his fondness for jewellery, his newly-minted role as a jewellery designer, and why he'd like people to reconsider their love for gold jewellery.

IMAGE: Badminton ace P V Sindhu looks stellar in a choker designed by Suneet Varma.

Designing clothes for over 30 years

I started at 22, and I still love what I do. I think that is because I feel I will be very bad at everything else.

It also has a lot to do with my family. My father wanted me to join fashion school since I was 15 years old. There were no fashion schools in India back then.

He wanted me to study fashion and textiles because I had a great eye for detail.

My parents were extremely supportive. When I told them I wanted to study abroad they said, 'Go to Europe, not America because it was too far and we won't be able to see you that much'.

I eventually went to England to study fashion designing.

For me fashion designing is a business, but it is something I treat as a hobby as well.

I love to go to work every day. I don't have a problem with that at all.

At a young age, I was very artistic and had won several painting competitions. I painted and draw well.

Designing jewellery for Aulerth

It is great to be the first person to offer sustainable jewellery in a country like ours which is jewellery crazy.

It is my first foray into jewellery design. Not only do I understand jewellery and the making of it, but I also respect the elements.

I respect the heritage and background stories of how Indians treat jewellery, and understand the whole jewellery story very well.

I would say that I have given it more than a 100 per cent of me to the process.

The base material of the jewellery is essentially recycled brass, and it has everything from a 18k to a 22k gold plating.

What I love about this collaboration is that they take their responsibility to create a consciousness about the brand.

I am a bit of a holistic person and I love the fact that we have an opportunity to convince someone and make them understand why they must not only invest in real gold.

For the design process, I took a lot of inspiration from Mughal architecture and their jewellery.

I went through the archives and looked at lot of Nizams jewels and all the beautiful books of jewellery I have.

IMAGE: Pooja Hedge shows off her sustainable studs, bracelet and rings.

Why is gold jewellery such a bad idea?

When you mine gold, something that is as small as a wedding band, requires 2,000 litres of water and has the approximation of a ridiculous amount of carbon that gets assimilated into the atmosphere.

One can't imagine what the mining processes for gold and other precious stones does to the soil. The carbon footprints it creates is enormous.

Most Indians who would buy jewellery for the gold content would like to turn a blind eye to the carbon footprint. As consumers, for them gold is very precious.

People treat gold as precious world over, but in India it is more so.

But at what price? It is going to take our breath away. Who are we going to give our gold?

If there is no planet, there is no soil to till, no fruit to gain, what are we going to do with the gold. It will then be like any other material.

Convincing Indians to embrace the idea of sustainable jewellery

It is a challenge, but that is the beauty of it.

Because at Aulerth not only are we giving them a great product, but we are also trying to send an important out.

I read something very beautiful the other day, 'The most sustainable piece of garment you ever bought, was the one that never got made.'

I don't understand the whole thing about consumerism. In many parts of India when the bride and the groom are weighed in gold.

What's the point of weighing Indians in gold? While we are alive, let's try and celebrate the beautiful world we are in.

I personally would go out of my way and make a sustainable effort to create a large conscious.

You might say, 'I am only one person, who cares about me?' Well, if everyone has a similar voice, it will help.

IMAGE: Huma Qureshi's Brigitta earrings and Orion ring have been made with love while being kind to the planet.

A city or country with the best jewellery

India's had some of the best jewellery in the world.

Many years ago, I hosted a television show for Star World, which was actually produced out of Singapore.

I was the style guru, and had to go to different fashion centres in the world like Milan, New York and Tokyo and explore the inspiration of designers.

I remember interviewing Tom Ford even before he became Tom Ford.

I was very fortunate to go through the archival pieces of top jewellery brands, and they have all at some point or the other said, 'Our best pieces were made for the Indian maharajas'.

They tried to buy back some of the jewellery and recreate few of the pieces they made.

I would say that European jewellery is beautiful, the Russian czar had the most incredible jewel boxes and tiaras, but some of the most spectacular jewellery was made for Indians, especially the royal families.

Finding inspiration in the ordinary

I am the very few lucky people to have found what they love, and I am able to do that every day of my life.

I am the first person to reach work and the last person to leave. I love being at my workplace.

I watch movies I like, I read books, I surround myself with people whose company I like, from whom I can learn and grow with.

For me, that is the only way to inspire myself.

Advice for aspiring jewellery designing students

Jewellery inspiration is endless.

If you look at African culture, they have their own indigenous way of wearing jewellery.

For them a teeth necklace is way more precious than gold because they have a different understanding of life and respect their surroundings.

The more you learn about different cultures and civilisations, the more you learn about jewellery, which has been around for years.

Even the pre-historic people decorated themselves with piercings and other adornments.

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ANITA AIKARA / Rediff.com