Saffronart’s inaugural jewellery conference, The Timeless Legacy of Indian Jewels, concluded in Mumbai on Saturday night. The conference, which was part of Saffronart’s ongoing Dialogues in Art series, was held on 6 and 7 October. It was curated by leading jewellery historian Usha Balakrishnan, and featured speakers of international renown, including Tom Moses of the GIA, Francesca Cartier Brickell of the Cartier family, Maharani Radhikaraje Gaekwad from the Baroda Royal Family, François Arpels whose grandfather founded Van Cleef & Arpels, and Susan Stronge of the V&A museum in London.
The significance of the event was underscored by the overwhelmingly positive feedback and endorsements received by industry luminaries who participated in the conference from around the world. Sponsors included Imperial Edge, the Gem Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC), IndusInd Bank, GIA India, Gyan Museum and Forevermark.
The legacy of Indian jewels is indeed timeless, and is demonstrated better nowhere else than Saffronart’s ongoing Exhibition of Fine Jewels. Around 100 pieces are on display at Saffronart Mumbai until 14 October. From navratna necklaces to gemset kalgis and Benarasi-enamelled earrings, the exhibition offers a visual timeline of India’s jewellery designs.
Day 1 at The Imperial Club
The conference opened at The Imperial Club, with talks on the Jacob Diamond, the largest diamond in India’s crown, by Usha Balakrishnan and John Zubrzycki. The talks shed light on the mysterious merchant who sold the Diamond to the 6th Nizam of Hyderabad, with enthralling anecdotes and imagery. “Jacob, once described as one of the most romantic and arresting figures of our time, was India’s most successful purveyor of precious stones and was rumoured to be rich almost beyond the dreams of Aladdin.”
Francesca Cartier Brickell of the Cartier family shared stories from the unpublished letters and diaries of her great-grandfather, Jacques Cartier (pictured right at the Delhi Durbar). She gave a personal and intimate glimpse into Jacques’ role in bringing Cartier to international fame and spoke of the jewels designed for maharajas and royal clients, and the reciprocal interest of the West in Indian designs, such as Cartier’s famous Tutti Frutti style.
Day 2 at Saffronart
“It’s a nanoscopic range of jewels from around the world that I’d like to have in my treasuries, chosen for taste, culture and artistic skill,” said Usha Balakrishnan as she set the stage for drawing references to jewellery from history, mythology, literature and art. Anjan Chakraverty brought the dying art of Benarasi enamelling to the limelight, highlighting the ancient city of Benaras as a crucible of inspiration for textiles and jewellery alike. Derek Content traced the history of uncut diamonds, and showed examples of ancient jewels set with uncut gemstones. Tom Moses of the GIA, who has handled some of the most famous diamonds in the world including the Hope Diamond, and Pramod Kumar K G of Éka Archiving Services, steered the discussion towards the Golconda region, famed for its peerless diamonds.
Lisa Hubbard, a veteran auctioneer who is currently a Senior Advisor to Christie’s Jewellery Department, initiated an engaging and powerful discussion on what makes some jewellery more important than others. Referring to cascading necklaces, tiaras and important coloured diamonds, she drew references to pieces that set records at auction, such as Cartier’s Panther Jewel—“It was and is a marvel of a jeweller’s art,”—and the Blue Moon of Josephine, a vivid blue diamond that sold at a record $48 million at auction in 2015. “The trick is to know what to look for.”
Taking audiences into the opulence of the Mughal era, Susan Stronge of the V&A Museum in London tapped into the museum’s own collection of Mughal miniature paintings and jewellery. Salam Kaoukji, curator of the al-Sabah Collection in Kuwait, drew attention to the art of gem-setting in Indian weaponry. Kaoukji used arresting visuals of pieces from the collection of Sheikh Nasser al-Sabah. Each was incomparable in design and beauty.
In the final session, François Arpels engaged the audience with hallmark jewellery pieces designed by Van Cleef & Arpels, and explored India’s role as a source of inspiration. Maharani Radhikaraje Gaekwad brought the conference to a close with a royal touch. Sharing images of the Royal Family of Baroda, some of which had never been seen before, she spoke of the unparalleled collection of jewels acquired by her ancestors. “We have both the privilege and responsibility of keeping the legacy of the Gaekwads alive.” Following the conference Maharani Radhikaraje Gaekwad commented:
“Saffronart’s seminal Timeless Legacy of Indian Jewels was a congregation of some of the most distinguished names in the field and I found both immense honour and illumination being amidst them. The subjects were varied and insightful and the speakers most engaging.”
The conference broke new ground on discussions around art, aesthetics and jewellery design, linking them back to India’s 5,000 year legacy.
Minal Vazirani, Co-founder of Saffronart
“The conference was widely attended by participants from around Asia, and was a resounding success. The speakers invited shared their perspectives and elevated the conference to a forum that encouraged an exchange of ideas around India being the origin for important jewellery techniques. Attendees had access to perspectives which cannot be found anywhere else, and the conference introduced a new generation to India’s contribution to landmark jewellery techniques. The conference has surpassed all expectations and truly raised the benchmark for what can be achieved through such events.”
Usha Balakrishnan, Conference Curator and Leading Jewellery Historian
“Few are aware of how vast and deep the field of Indian jewellery is. The conference was intended, in some small measure, to fulfil a pressing need to open this area to discussion, thought and debate and bring the knowledge of this legacy to the public sphere. It revealed the many dimensions of jewellery in India from some of the most respected scholars and experts in the world. From the kharkhanas of the Mughals to the toshakhanas of maharajas, and from the mines of Golconda to the by-lanes of Benaras, the talks explored the history of diamonds, and the distinctive vocabulary of Indian jewellery, and jewelled accoutrements. We heard about the cultural encounters between India and the iconic luxury houses Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels from the very scions of the family, and the great jewellery sales of the century.”