Rapaport Magazine
Style & Design

Fashion fusion

A contemporary take on polki jewelry blends Indian tradition with a modern look.

By Preeta Agarwal

India has always been obsessed with diamonds and diamond-studded jewelry. Employing techniques developed during the Mughal Empire, many Indian jewelers have kept the traditions alive by setting uncut diamonds using 24-karat gold foil to create kundanpolki jewelry. Though the results are beautiful, the method involves high-karat gold and wax, making the final product heavy and therefore pricey, as the pieces were historically sold by weight.

The early 2000s saw a huge rise in demand and supply of brilliant-cut-diamond-studded jewelry in India. These pieces, set in lower-karat gold, were more lightweight. However, their Western aesthetics meant they did not complement local wedding attire. This led to an increased effort to find a compromise between modern and traditional.

Over the years, only a few jewelry manufacturers have successfully replicated the kundanpolki look in 18-karat gold settings and without the traditional enameled back, which allows them to reduce the weight by using less wax. With both uncut and brilliant-cut stones being set in 18-karat gold, a fusion of the two designs was the most natural result. Over the past decade, colored gemstones have also become popular and have been integrated into this amalgamation of past and present.

Indian weddings become more flamboyant as you travel from south to north, where the fusion look, which adds the desired bling to the bride and her entourage, is in high demand. Such jewelry is most popular among the women of Rajasthan, Delhi, Punjab and neighboring areas.

The look is also fast crossing the seas and gaining fame among non-resident Indians in the US and UK. Ornate jewelry might look out of place in the West’s corporate environment, but smaller items such as ear studs, cocktail rings and cuffs make appearances at social events. Colorful and dramatic, polki often serves as a statement piece to complement a sleek black dress.

When dealing with the most expensive materials on the planet, venturing into the unknown requires a solid grasp of traditional techniques, a strong vision and a taste for experimentation. Only those designers who could play bold and loud have dared to rise to the challenge. Creating a stunning piece of modern polki means spending a lot of time visually balancing the jewel. Some of the most prominent jewelers working in this genre include Jaipur favorite Birdhichand Ghanshyamdas and Mumbai’s Anil Bharwani. A more recent entrant, who has given modern Indian brides a completely new look to explore, is the Mumbai-based White Jewels. These three designers have put their own contemporary stamp on the classical polki style.

Birdhichand Ghanshyamdas

This jewelry house has made and sold beautifully crafted kundanpolki jewelry since the 1940s, but over the past decade, it has started experimenting with techniques, colors and inspirations. The jeweler is based in Jaipur — also known as the Pink City — which has played an essential role throughout history in manufacturing polki and other Indian jewelry. Traditionally, pieces designed there have incorporated royal motifs such as forts. In 2011, the company launched its Adrishya collection, which teams invisible-set rubies — mounted below the girdle without visible prongs — with traditional kundanpolki, and there has been no turning back. Since then, the brand has launched collections annually, each featuring a delicately balanced fusion — the latest two being Adaa (grace) and Delhi Durbar (Delhi royal court).

Anil Bharwani

It is rightly said that a designer’s jewelry closely reflects his or her personality. Such is the case with Anil Bharwani, whose restless mind is always on the lookout for fresh adventures in life and new inspirations. Playing with bold forms and volumes, his jewelry boasts a riot of colors and a seamless union of various techniques, gemstones and cuts. Peacocks, his customers’ favorite motif, have been incorporated in every product, especially in rings and bracelets. Movement — the fourth dimension — plays an integral role in Bharwani’s pieces, with most of them turning, jiggling or rotating.

White Jewels

A new contender in the branded fine-jewelry sector, White Jewels has carved its niche with its one-of-a-kind fusion pieces and penchant for experimentation. From brushed-gold leaves to stamped flowers, multicolored gemstones, uncut diamonds in a kundan polki setting, and brilliant-cut diamonds in pavé lines, all the elements combine in one piece and work beautifully together. Catering to weddings and festivities, the jeweler employs kitschy colors and contrasts to create an exciting look that goes well with Indian attire. With gold prices as high as they are, this playful and colorful jewelry can go with multiple outfits for different looks.

Image: Birdhichand Ghanshyamdas

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - November 2018. To subscribe click here.

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