From nail rings to ankle belts, four designers who are redefining the function and design of jewellery
Four young designers, such as Bhavya Ramesh and Akansha Sethi, are opening our eyes to new possibilities when it comes to jewellery
In her London studio, Akansha Sethi takes classic Indian jewellery-making techniques and fine gemstones to construct reversible necklaces, statement ear cuffs and button covers that would be right at home whether in Milan, Paris, New York or Mumbai. Closer to home, Bengaluru’s Bhavya Ramesh works with artisans in Jaipur to present her clients with silver jewellery pieces that cover one’s entire finger and others that sit snugly on one’s nails or knuckles. A new breed of designers is redefining the function and form of jewellery — digging deep and going beyond the cookie-cutter formula by opening our eyes to new possibilities and avante garde concepts. We talk to four designers who pride themselves on pushing the boundaries of jewellery design and producing pieces of wearable art.
Akansha Sethi, who lives in London, had to intern at multiple fashion houses before she found that it is jewellery that is her calling. At first, Akansha started off creating bespoke pieces and came to the realisation that people were very interested in her designs. And so she was motivated to launch her ready-to-wear line. “I was lucky to have the means to set up on my own and give myself the chance to explore the possibilities,” shares Akansha.
The designer primarily works with hand-carved gemstones and enamelling, using Indian techniques, like meenakari, to craft unique pieces such as reversible necklaces (featuring a rotating pendant with a labradorite and moonstone bead set in 14k or 18k gold), button covers (made from semi-precious gems that are to be clipped over sleeve buttons) and striking ear cuffs (studded with diamonds, citrine, golden topaz, diamonds and moonstones). “All my designs are sketched by hand, and then I determine the gemstones that will work best for the design. Once each sample is designed, we do some tests to ensure that the jewellery is sturdy,” she explains. There are also numerous other statement pieces such as the Leaf Necklace, which is strung with hand-carved pink, green and watermelon tourmalines; and the Gyan Ring, made with a carved melon-hued fluorite stone which is encased in a rotating pink enamel cap. The playful and fun ring also has an internal adjustable band that allows the wearer to change the tightness up to three sizes. Originally from Indore, Akansha takes inspiration from varied sources such as the 400-year-old City Palace in Udaipur, Yves Saint Laurent’s Majorelle Gardens in Morocco and the colours of autumn in London.
Akansha currently retails out of her website and also at stores in London and Los Angeles. “I’m a first generation jeweller, so, it is important for me to have the support of multi-designer boutiques, but my long-term goal for now is to open a standalone store,” she reveals, signing off.
The reason Bengaluru-based Bhavya Ramesh set up her jewellery label, back in 2018, was mostly strategic. While strategy does not always ensure success, Bhavya’s story is an exception and most importantly, her designs speak for themselves. “I’m actually a computer science engineer by qualification. After I graduated, I worked for five months. One day, it hit me that I can’t work for anyone. I wanted to be my own boss. I knew I wanted to do something creative. However, I ruled out designing clothes, because if it didn’t take off, I’d be left with a lot of raw material that I wouldn’t be able to do anything with. So, I decided to work with silver, thinking it wouldn’t count as a total loss if people don’t end up buying my jewellery as silver is a good investment,” shares Bhavya. With her pieces making their way to the Met Gala (worn by Natasha Poonawalla) and the Grammys (worn by Australian musician Naomi Saalfield aka Nai Palm), earlier this year, it’s safe to say that her silver didn’t have to be confined to a locker.
The success of her jewellery lies not only in their unique structures and forms, but also their function and the parts of the body they are designed for. Before Bhavya, one didn’t know that one needed a ‘nail crown’ — nail shaped rings that sit at the top of your fingers, or ‘palm cuffs’ — sort of like a harness that wraps around your palms and between your fingers. There are also pieces like the Man Eater and King Lucifer that cover your entire finger, sharp at the nails, with little wings on the sides and ending in a curved and raised shape. Decorated with kundan work, broken mirrors and precious stones, the jewellery heavily benefits from Bhavya’s college degree. “When people first see my products, they are a little unsure of how comfortable they will be and if they’d be able to move their fingers normally. I think that’s where my engineering degree comes in handy,” explains the self-taught designer. “What I design is meant to shock and amuse, but it is also functional,” she adds.
Made from sterling silver and crafted through traditional methods, the aesthetic of the label is global but it also manages to celebrate Indianness. “Indians love jewellery. It is an integral part of our culture and historically, it has had a huge impact on us. Even when you look at our craft forms — they are so numerous. There’s no other country in the world that is as rich in craft forms as ours. So, it was very natural for me to decide to use that to my advantage,” says Bhavya, whose most recent launch was Glare Killers (a line of intricately designed silver-rimmed sunglasses).
This Ahmedabad-based label is instantly recognisable by its minimalistic earrings, necklaces and cuffs that take the shape and form of insects. An unusual love for beetles, moths and mantises saw founder Jinal Patel, who is also a sculptor, replicating the contours of their tiny bodies through epoxy sculptures. “One day, on a whim, I made a pair of earrings for my sister. That’s when I knew I was onto something,” recalls Jinal. Later, the epoxy was replaced with non-precious soft metal — copper and brass — and her label Dookdi was born in 2017.
The stylised folds and curves that feature on the wings of a luna moth or the abdomen of a ground beetle are abstractions that would appeal to jewellery collectors of all ages. Jinal likes to keep the colours as natural as possible, with minimal use of techniques like enamelling and patination, adding dashes of cyan and turquoise blue that pop against the earthy shades of the metal. “One of our most popular pieces is Paradox. It’s like an open collar that sits around your neck. It does not have a closure. When I first conceptualised it, people were not very convinced it would take off. But it’s so unique, beautiful and functional that we get many orders for it,” says Jinal, whose pieces have been worn by actresses like Vidya Balan and Kirti Kulhari.
In November 2020, right in the middle of the raging pandemic, Kavya Potluri decided to unveil her label to the world. “It was my mom who sort of gave me a little nudge and told me to try jewellery-making. When I was little, I had this bead station and I would make colourful necklaces for my friends and family. I’m sure they weren’t great, but I enjoyed myself thoroughly while making them,” begins Hyderabad-based Kavya. “So after that talk with my mom, I enrolled in a design school and then started exploring the art and discovering my style.”
When the designer set out to conceptualise her label, she was mostly motivated by the fact that she was bored by the jewellery she’d see people wearing. “For me, jewellery should be fun and interesting and so that’s what I did,” she says. While some of her designs have an uncanny resemblance to Bhavya Ramesh’s designs, Kavya clarifies that she is inspired by the Bengaluru-based designer. She was also influenced by a diamond-studded nail ring she saw at a show in Las Vegas, USA.
Handcrafted from brass and copper and plated with gold, each piece of jewellery starts off as a sketch or as Kavya puts it “a lot of scribbling.” “I get lost in my own world just drawing,” she reveals, adding, “I don’t always have a story to tell. I just want to make beautiful things.” And some of the most beautiful pieces from her shelves include the oversized Alana ear cuffs with intricately carved vines and floral shapes, the Vivian ankle belts that sit above the ankles like a crown with metal fringes, and the Neo Mystic headgear that is worn at the back of the head, with its starburst pattern rising above the hair and elegantly crowning it.