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How to give heirloom jewellery a chic twist

As more consumers reinvent old jewellery, designers share tips and things to keep in mind while recreating those cherished pieces

A multifunctional piece from Amrapali

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The pandemic has inspired most of us to look inside our closet and find ways to infuse a new lease of life into pieces, especially jewellery, that hold a special emotional value but only come out on selective occasions. In the post-lockdown world, more people are finding ways to reconfigure heritage heirlooms and recontextualise them to suit today’s style sensibilities.

For instance, jewellery houses are witnessing a growing demand from customers to turn a pair of antique pajeb, or anklet, into a trendy neck choker, or rearrange precious stones in a necklace to assume a new contemporary shape that doesn’t compromise on the original design.

Also read: The changing definition of heirloom jewellery

“I think more than a trend it is a classic old practice to revive Indian art and present it in new ways as design sensibilities continue to evolve,” says Tarang Arora, the chief executive officer and creative director of Amrapali Jewels. Having said that, he adds, the pandemic “did give everyone food for thought and that’s how upcycling and repurposing became a thing.” Keeping this demand in mind, Amrapali offers a wide range of versatile pieces that are reversible, modular or multifunctional, and can seamlessly transition from daywear to nightwear.

Another reason, says Yash Agarwal, the creative director of Birdhichand Ghanshyamdas Jewellers, is that during lockdowns, people started realising more the importance of their culture, family and heirlooms. “One very interesting thing that came up during the lockdown was my grandmother’s bejewelled veil, which was broken,” says Agarwal. “So, we recomposed it and made heritage jewellery out of it.”

Repurposing heritage jewellery is also a conscious step towards sustainable buying, believes Abhishek Raniwala, the co-founder and creative director of Jaipur-based jewellery house Raniwala 1881. “The consumers are looking inwards and moving towards value rather than erratic consumerism. So yes, we do see that clients are opting for variability in their own closets to repurpose some of those classic heritage jewellery pieces,” he says.

Perhaps that’s why it’s not uncommon to see brides-to-be now bringing their heirloom pieces for redesigning. “They want to keep the original craft and tradition alive yet make it modern,” Arora says. “In terms of design, we usually get requests to make the piece more versatile so it can be used even after the wedding.”

A unique eye

It’s mostly women in their late 20s or 30s who want to give a chic makeover to old pieces, says Umang Gupta, a seventh-generation owner and gemologist at Shri Ram Hari Ram in Old Delhi’s Dariba Kalan.

“They want to convert those pieces into something that they would wear more regularly. Everyone has a personalised taste so there’s no general style really,” he explains. “They very much want the piece to still hold the vintage look and feel. These pieces hold high sentimental value so they have to be handled with a lot of care. Most heritage pieces are old and it’s hard to source their key components... for instance, the Burmese rubies. Also the kind of craftsmanship that went into the piece.... We try to keep it as close to the original design and elements used in it.”

While this jewellery mixology sounds fun, it’s imperative to keep the design integrity intact, agree jewellery designers.

“You have to carefully redesign the piece and preserve the big and essential parts and motifs,” pinpoints Arora. “Jewellers should not compromise on the quality of gold and shouldn’t ignore the smaller parts like beads, pearls and other stones, as they add the finishing touch to the piece. If it’s a custom piece, then it’s always better to understand the sentiments of the client before modifying so you don’t miss out on the finer details.

On the styling side

Gallerist Bhavna Kakar of Latitude 28 gallery owns a set of pre-Partition jewellery given by her grandmother.

“My mother wanted to melt some of our heirloom jewellery a few years ago and get something new, but I was extremely attached to my nani, and I wanted to hold on to them even though I never wore them. After keeping them in the locker for years, I decided to remould the traditional setting into something more versatile and functional,” she says. “I also had an old diamond and gold set. Its setting was rather regular but I couldn’t bear to part with it..”

Eventually, Kakar turned them into a pendant, as she likes to wear stringy long necklaces, and a band. She’s also remodelled some antique silver wear that she had bought in the early 2000s.

Fashion designer Pranay Baidya, on the other hand, likes repurposing vintage rings and bracelets into pendants and neck chains.

“I have done so with several of my heirloom pieces and really enjoy styling them,” Baidya says. “As part of my everyday style, I wear a whole bunch of printed cotton shirts or round neck cotton T-shirts paired with over-shirts or jackets. These pendants or neck chains work well with them because they are so versatile. I find myself wearing them during a workday as well as when I’m out for a cocktail party.”

Baidya suggests that while “it’s wonderful if you can get away with styling heirloom pieces with minimal remodelling, but if you have to completely redesign them, one should not feel guilty. At least that way you will wear them and and keep its journey alive,” he says, adding. “A piece of beauty is meant to be worn and adorned.”

Also read: The charm of breast milk jewellery to celebrate mom-child bond

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