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Sabyasachi Mukherjee: Even diamonds need some storytelling

For his new collaboration with Forevermark, Sabyasachi Mukherjee imagines diamond jewellery for the jazz age

Sabyasachi Mukherjee at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, Colaba, Mumbai. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Sabyasachi Mukherjee at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, Colaba, Mumbai. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

Two-and-a-half years in the making, Zanyah is a new collection of diamond jewellery by Sabyasachi Mukherjee and Forevermark. The designer travelled to Milan, the creative headquarters of Forevermark, because he “always work backwards, from the manufacturing end", and translated his now-characteristic aesthetic to diamonds. The collaboration with Forevermark—a company with a vigorous testing and ethical sourcing philosophy—aligns with Sabyasachi’s instinct for fine craftsmanship and his continuing interest in craft revival.

Drop earrings with blue or black enamel work, elegant pavé diamond settings, briolette diamond drops, rings for men and women in yellow, rose and white gold, intricate filigree patterns—there’s more to diamonds than just the brilliance of the stone itself, and that’s the story Sabyasachi Mukherjee tells. Edited excerpts from an interview:

Is jewellery a natural progression for you?

Not many people know that I used to be a jeweller before I became a clothing designer. I used to do a lot of costume jewellery. Also, being Bengali, I have always valued art and artisanship. My mother used to be fond of jewellery. It was, however, my grandfather—my mother’s father—who was the pivot in the family for buying the good things in life. He was wealthy; he owned rice mills in Bengal. Sometimes I wonder why I have such exuberant taste, and I think it must be his genes. He used to teach me about diamonds, fine jewellery, art and literature. He was what we would call a very shaukeen man. So growing up, jewellery was very important in my life.

Sketches from the ‘Zanyah’ collection.

How did this collaboration come about?

I had been wanting to start something of my own, something that was exuberant but also fine. Then Sachin (Jain, president of Forevermark Diamonds) and I met and he asked if I would be interested in doing jewellery. I remember smiling and saying “the universe has conspired".

Diamond jewellery in India has become only about the stone. The stone is the core but the periphery has to live up to it. -

Is there an ideological fit between Sabyasachi and Forevermark?

I’ve built a brand based on integrity, and you can tread murky waters if you’re working with diamonds. Forevermark sources diamonds ethically. That was important to me. As was the trust and flexibility. I must have driven them up the wall with all my demands....

A piece from the ‘Zanyah’ collection.

Tell us about the inspirations and influences in the making of ‘Zanyah’.

The 1920s, the era of the speakeasies and the flappers. Think old Florentine and Ponte Vecchio. Italian, especially Sicilian jewellery, has a lovely similarity with Bengali jewellery, the filigree work for instance. In my heart, I’m a 1920s child, so I thought at least the first collection should be inspired by the 1920s.

A piece from the ‘Zanyah’ collection.

Is there a specific consumer insight that you came across while working on jewellery?

People don’t want to just consume a stone, they also want some storytelling around it. Diamond jewellery in India has become only about the stone. The stone is the core but the periphery has to live up to it. So when I started designing Zanyah, I wanted to imbue it with a certain romantic, bohemian, whimsical notion. It’s in the way they are set or polished. It’s the mixing of gold, white gold and rose gold that gives them a vintage look. Forevermark doesn’t use coloured stones, only diamonds. But you will notice enamel work in this collection. What looks like emerald or black onyx is actually enamel on gold. And enamel is something that’s age-old, hand-me-down, it’s paramparik. It’s something that you can’t just go to a factory and ask to be made. There is know-how, dexterity and skill involved that gets passed on from generation to generation.

Another piece from the ‘Zanyah’ collection.

You’re calling them modern heirlooms. That’s quite an expectation to live up to, considering the emotion that an heirloom comes with?

Yes, and that quality comes from the craftsmanship. Historically, if you look at how jewellery was done, every family had their personal jeweller. You could not go to a jeweller and say, I have a wedding day after tomorrow, make me something. They had their own arrogance because they were craftsmen and artists. And I like that spirit of craftsmanship, the fact that even if you have the money you can’t own it, because it requires time and skill.

Craft revival is a common thread that runs through most of your endeavours.

For me, this jewellery is not just about diamonds, it’s also about craft revival. And we’ve done craft revival in everything, whether it’s furniture with Pottery Barn or hand-stitched leather moccasins for Christian Louboutin. The way the world is going, every human endeavour is replaced by a machine. Twenty-five years later, when people are hankering to get something touched by hand, there will be huge demand but no supply.

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