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The changing definition of heirloom jewellery

Like in fashion, our approach to wearing jewellery is also changing. It’s about being functional and fuss-free

From Amrapali Jewels
From Amrapali Jewels

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With Navratri and the wedding season around the corner, and Diwali just a few weeks away, jewellers in India are once again looking forward to welcoming more customers. India is perhaps the only country that has such a deep and special relationship with jewellery, considering the spiritual as well as symbolic significance it carries in our traditions.

Of all the objects, jewellery is seen more than just a piece of beauty. It is the ultimate investment. But its actual value is much more, especially when it comes to heirloom jewellery. It is about emotions and sentiments. Often the most precious things we own may not be the most expensive pieces, but they still hold a special place in our heart.

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Recently, “everyday jewellery” has become a buzzword. Pieces that can be worn regularly have become more important compared to large jewellery items that come out of the locker only on special occasions. “While the definition of heirloom jewellery remains the same, there is a shift. Pieces have now become simpler and versatile but they still hold the same value,” says Tarang Arora, the chief executive and creative director of Amrapali Jewels, a Jaipur-based design house that’s been creating timeless designs since the 1970s.

While quality will always be a defining part of an heirloom piece, the traditional view of jewellery sets being the most important part of a woman’s collection is changing.


A pair of earrings by Hanut Singh
A pair of earrings by Hanut Singh

How does that affect the classic set, be it one made of diamonds, coloured gemstones or polki stones, that has long occupied a special spot in family vaults? “It’s about a less precious way of wearing jewels. You can wear one important thing or many, but the formality of the ‘set’ is receding. People are wearing jewels with a different flair and attitude,” says Hanut Singh, a Delhi-based jeweller whose pieces are sold at New York’s iconic Fred Leighton boutique. His pieces have been worn by celebrities like Nicole Kidman, Rihanna, Masaba Gupta and Kareena Kapoor Khan.

Hailing from the Kapurthala royal family, Singh was exposed to the finest of jewellery early in life, which reflects in his approach to design. He marries Art Deco designs with Mughal motifs and then punctuates them with a modern architectural feel. His statement earrings and pendants are considered new age collectibles. Selecting exceptional materials that range from “megawatt emeralds” to “hammered rock crystals”, he has a unique take on gemstone selection, which very much fits in with the dressing diktats of today.

Former fashion journalist Nisha Jhangiani, who has worked closely with several jewellery brands over the years and is the founder of prêt jadau brand Stackables by NJ, explains, “Look at how our approach to fashion has changed, from brides who want to wear lighter clothes, to how we dress for a night out. It is all about ease, convenience and individualism.” An eclectic approach to dressing is what defines style today. She adds, “We like to style things in a unique manner, which means wearing precious pieces with something semi-precious and even throwing in a costume piece.” Her brand offers “snackable” jadau pieces that can be worn every day and even mixed with larger heirloom pieces to add a fun element.

Made in silver and then dipped in gold, all Stackables by NJ pieces are sold separately and nothing comes in a suite. “I think the nature of how we buy jewellery has changed. Before, when our parents and grandparents were choosing jewellery, they viewed it as an investment. Their first consideration was whether the piece could be passed on. Now it is about what I will enjoy wearing,” she says.

Bracelets by Stackables by NJ
Bracelets by Stackables by NJ (Courtesy Stackables by NJ/Instagram)

We are looking at jewellery the same way we are viewing clothes: the cost per wear.

What is the point of jewellery that sits in a locker then?

Today’s brides are looking to repurpose pieces, even if it’s an heirloom. As Arora says, “We had a client who had the most beautiful emerald ring, an heirloom. She said it was too massive for her to wear and wanted to do something with it and use it for her wedding. So we transformed the ring into a pendant. We used the crown of the ring, added more stones and elements and removed the shank. It was functional but the sentimental value was intact.”

One of the reasons for the increase in more wearable jewellery, Arora explains, is that more women are buying what they like. They are no longer waiting for their family or husband to gift them or approve their choice. That’s why you see jewellery houses, like Cartier, Van Cleef and Arpels, and Amrapali, now catering to this more casual approach to fine jewellery. All are creating more functional and layer-friendly pieces.

While Arora notes bridal jewellery sets will always be important in India, he says the jewellery industry is transforming itself to match the new customer’s demand.

He explains: “We have different verticals under Amrapali that were defined and developed keeping in mind preferences and sensibilities of today’s women. Legend Amrapali, which has dainty gold jewellery pieces for the everyday look, can be worn to office. Tribe Amrapali is for those who are experimental and edgy; and Amrapali jewels is for bridal and luxe jewellery. You have to offer something to everyone.”

So how do we define heirloom jewellery today? Arundhati De Sheth, a Mumbai-based jewellery advisor, offers an answer: “Heirloom jewellery has just one constant definition. It’s a jewellery piece a woman buys today because she loves it and wants to wear it. It’s in vogue at the time of buying, is well made and stands the test of time.” Basically, it is time to throw the rulebook out and wear what you love.

Dress Sense is a monthly fashion column that takes a look at the clothes that we wear every day and what it means to us.

Sujata Assomull is a journalist, author and mindful fashion advocate.


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