Jewelry and Jaipur

Maharaja Bhupinder Singh
Afternoons simply don't get better than this one.  The occasion was a SACHI event (Society for Art and Cultural Heritage of India) that involved sipping tea in a beautiful home comprised of hexagonal rooms in the Palo Alto hills while chatting about history and jewelry.  Jyotsna Singh, the grand-daughter of Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala, started by sharing her family history and photos.  She told us that her mother was on of 52 children (her grandfather had many wives), and that her current interest in jewelry design is clearly tied to seeing her grandmother's exquisite jewelry as a child.  Her grandfather, famous for many things beyond cricket, was the owner of the Patiala Necklace made by Cartier and featured in the recent Maharaja exhibition at the Asian Art Museum.

I love the historical photographs and family stories, but it was the jewelry that caught my eye, unsurprisingly.  Jyotsna Singh works with traditional Indian motifs, but applies her own sense of design to her pieces.  The result is strikingly modern jewelry with the occasional art deco flair.  She works in semiprecious materials and uses silver as a base to keep her jewelry accessible.  But behind each piece is a story of careful interaction with artisans and designers in India.  Singh regularly heads to Jaipur, which handles the lion's share of the world's gems (the majority of Brazilian stones are cut there).  She designs motifs, works with middlemen, informs the design process of artisans, and carefully negotiates relationships in order to create her jewelry.

Some of Singh's Designs

During the afternoon I had the opportunity to learn a bit more about traditional Indian jewelry.  There's Jadau work from Rajasthan and Gujarat that uses embedded semiprecious stones and jems.  Kundan jewelry was in vogue amongst the Rajputs, which involves precious stones embedded in lac and set with gold, with foil (often gold) beneath the stones.  (For some fabulous examples, check out Jodhaa Akbar.)  And then there's Meenakari, or enameling, introduced to Rajasthan by Raja Man Singh.  Indian jewelry is a universe unto itself, really, but it was lovely to get a little glimpse of it while hearing stores about Jaipur.  All this talk spawned multiple stories of bridal sets in bank deposit boxes, taken out once or twice in an entire lifetime to be worn.  And a bit of lamentation that American culture is so informal- where would you possibly wear something that beautiful in the states?

A big thank you to Anna for hosting us in her beautiful home in Palo Alto and sharing her collection of Indian art with us.