Sunita Shekhawat, the jewel of Jaipur, a name which is not just a name but a brand which is famous for its heritage fine jewellery and creating timeless masterpieces based on the traditional art of meenakari with a fresh and contemporary aesthetic. For over 25 years, academic curiosity and experimentation with handcraftsmanship has influenced the Sunita Shekhawat design philosophy and developed its distinctiveness; noted for its amalgamation of unusual colour palettes and interpretations of fresco motifs and architectural shapes from different regions within India.
Critically acclaimed by jewellery specialists and leading design authorities, globally and nationally, Shekhawat as a designer is recognized simultaneously as an upholder of the legacy and innovator of kundan-meena jewellery.
On 10th November 2016, the jeweller to royalty and bollywood style mavens, launched her second flagship store in the heart of South Delhi. The store presents heritage fine jewellery in a gallery format that excuses the charm and culture of Rajasthan with a backdrop wall installation of the Amer Fort.
A gracious host, Sunita has created a beautiful showcase for her partons of a behind the scene look into the art of Meenakari. From the atelier in Jaipur, artisans that work on the delicate and intricate craft of Meenakari for her eponymous label were brought down to showcase their skill and expertise. These artisans bring to form her vision for the jewelled objects of desire, this launch allowed her to display the relevance of the craft to our design history and heritage.
Meenakari and Innovation
Meenakari is a process of enamelling and ornamenting gold surfaces with intricate designs using liquid/powdered minerals and gemstones. The craft is passed on hereditarily from generation to generation and outsiders never really know the full secrets of the art of meenakari; it is a long and laborious craft form that can take up to several months (200 days to be exact) to complete one piece of jewellery.
Shekhawat has stayed true to the nature of meenakari and has invested years into researching the eccentricities and origin of the art form which emerged in the 6th Century in Rome. Whilst taking it upon herself to restore, revive and reinvent with a modern lens, Shekhawat has simultaneously pushed the boundaries and expectations of the craft by imbuing freshness through colour palettes, wearability, and creating new forms.
By amalgamating colour palettes from different regions in India, Sunita contributes to the colour theory of the art form. The collection has been made with a sense of versatile wearability. The pieces are reversible (two-faced), detachable (e.g. shoulder duster into studs), and changeable (earrings as pendants or maang tikkas). Shekhawat challenges what is possible with the craft creating new forms for its canvas, which pushes the envelope through creating one-off pieces like bejeweled hair combs, belts and arsi’s.
The New Flagship Store
The new flagship store plays on the connotations of a jewellery store in India presenting a format with the same ethos that the heritage fine jewellery brand approaches with traditional hand craftsmanship, a modern lens and freshness. The space plays on shadows, light and clean lines, and showcases the modern meenakari jewellery in a conceptual gallery-esque environment. It has museum like displays with the central focus of the store being hand engraved wall art installation that deftly replicates the skyline of the Amer Fort. The design facet brings to life the grandeur of Rajasthan and its relevance to the brand’s design history. The store which is situated in heart of South Delhi will function as a personal appointment space and retail store.
Wem at Think Shaadi, had a great time interacting with the designer about her brand story and this is what she had to say:
How did you get into Jewellery Designing?
Born in a Rajput family in Osian Thikana, a small village near Jodhpur, Rajasthan, the daughter of an Indian air force officer, I had the opportunity to travel across India. From Jodhpur, Bengalaru, Chandigarh & Delhi, absorbing the various cultures all along. The colours and contrasts of the life in Rajasthan, however, had the most profound impact on me.
I have done my diploma in Gemology and Jewellery designing from Gems and Jewellery Export promotion Council in Jaipur and a masters in history of Art & Culture from Jodhpur.
My fore-fathers and great fore-feathers had links with the Rajgharanas of Jodhpur, owing to which I had access to see the beautiful handcrafted jewellery which was otherwise inaccessible to others. These visits to view the collections of the past era inspired me to re-create this magnificent art form and create designer pieces for today’s world.
How did you start your label? What is the story behind your label?
When I started working Jaipur wasn’t what it is today. Being a Rajput, we were not allowed to put a branded board and sign. Till date there is no board in Jaipur, people still come asking [for me by] name. I was also not able to meet everybody and anybody, so appointments eventually became my signature style. I believe in overcoming the weakness with strength.
Tell us about your business struggles in the beginning
I had to face social and business struggles. The jewellery industry was male dominated. In Jaipur women are normally not suppose to work. It was a tough trade to get in to the business but I always had immense support from my husband since the beginning. Business struggles included educating the karigar and training yourself. Inventing and reinventing things so not to become stagnant, and also coming up with innovative designs were the challenges.
What was the idea behind having a flagship store?
The kind of people in Delhi who are fond of the jewellery [I create] can’t come to Jaipur all the time; so it’s another step forward by us to come to Delhi where in Delhiites can actually come and have the best of the experience while choosing their bridal jewellery.
Tell us about your designs and what are the inspirations behind their respective origins?
My designs are more colour centric, any historical place, event, or character inspires me. Imambara from Lucknow has inspired me and I will have a collection on it very soon.
How do you approach a new collection? Where do your ideas evolve from?
I can’t define it as a particular pattern as such. Everything makes sense once I put it on paper; a lot of things keep on changing after putting on paper.
Which jewellery designer/brand do you admire?
I like how afew brands marketed themselves. BVLGARI remains my favourite.
What are the upcoming trends in the jewellery design industry?
There can’t be any particular upcoming trends as much I would say. It’s an expensive thing so you can’t experiment lot with it; but try different shapes like square, rectangle, octagonal, sleek, slender, and heavy pieces, and experiment with different looks.
What has inspired your present collection?
Meenakari, I have always liked the form of Lotus which was very difficult to put in the same shape. I love the name ‘Padmapriya’ so the collection is very close to my heart as it has given me happiness in true sense while making it.
What advice will you give to someone interested in getting into this field?
I would say create your own space, don’t try to imitate anyone. Just be yourself. Even a small piece of jewellery you create will have 100 people working on it. So I would say the efforts the karigar and these people put in it will also add up to your success stories.
Which jewel/design do you feel defines a woman’s spirit?
I think it entirely depends on the mood, occasion, and age. I think every woman should consider these factors so she should not be under or over dressed. I like pieces in which I can visually see myself and also which appeals to people’s eyes. I personally like bichiyas and bangles, whereas on others I like shoulder dusters.
What is the most valuable lesson you have learned as a designer which new designers can follow?
There is a lot of difference in practicality and theory. A lot of NIFT/INIFD students come to me as interns and I guide them through the process for 4 months. They should be more focused on not only designing, but also how the final output is going to look. Visualisation is very important. They should know all of the aspects of production.
What are your favourite designs and what are the further trends in Bridal Jewellery you force in immediate future?
Padmapriya & Neelpushp are definitely my most favourite. Neelpushp is inspired by blue pottery from Jaipur, and the blue mosque in Turkey. It makes true sense where east meets west which is inclined my Mughal in a modern way.
Bridal Jewellery is definitely my favourite. It’s the bride’s journey from a girl to bride. The process is almost 5/6 months where we discuss everything from place to outfit. My most favourite moment is making her feel special on her big day with her personalised jewellery.
*Images courtesy of Sunita Shekhawat.