CRE­ATIVE CHARISMA...

Son­ali Sheth: My Style, My Way

Adorn - - CONTENTS - By Shanoo Bi­jlani

SON­ALI SHETH, the ris­ing star in the In­dian jew­ellery in­dus­try, is a mul­ti­tal­ented artist who is se­ri­ous about her craft. Her fine jew­ellery col­lec­tions, sold un­der the brand Sphere, are well re­searched and stand out be­cause of their sim­ple and el­e­gant forms. A per­son with var­ied in­ter­ests rang­ing from travel, history to mu­sic, dance and more, her jew­ellery, too, re­flects the same ver­sa­til­ity and verve. Each col­lec­tion is an in­ter­est­ing blend of new-age techniques mar­ried with an­cient hand­i­crafts. The har­mo­nious syn­the­sis gives a stylish spin to her modern-day cre­ations.

Did the world of jew­ellery de­sign­ing choose you or did you opt for it vol­un­tar­ily?

I think some things are just des­tined to be. I grew up watch­ing my fa­ther as­sort di­a­monds as he was a di­a­mond man­u­fac­turer for some of the big­gest names in the in­dus­try in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

I was a sci­ence stu­dent and quite good in academics, and even though I loved maths and sci­ence, I was equally fond of arts and lit­er­a­ture. Af­ter my 12th exam, I chose to en­rol for a course in jew­ellery de­sign­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing that had been re­cently in­tro­duced in S.N.D.T. Col­lege, Mumbai. The train­ers then were from the UK.

One year into the course, I re­alised this was my call­ing. My mul­ti­ple in­ter­ests and skills were utilised in this field – pas­sion for art and de­sign, keen in­ter­est in sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy, ma­te­ri­als and man­u­fac­tur­ing, a good hand at crafts, drive for per­fec­tion and fi­nesse, love for fash­ion, ad­ver­tis­ing and mar­ket­ing, and a strong urge to write and ex­press – ev­ery­thing seemed to come to­gether.

What was your next move af­ter S.N.D.T.?

I’m a worka­holic and a life­long learner. I then learnt gem­mol­ogy, jew­ellery repair and CAD/CAM at GIA, Carlsbad. I also grad­u­ated in Psy­chol­ogy and History from Mumbai Univer­sity. I also have a Post­grad­u­ate cer­tifi­cate in Dig­i­tal Mar­ket­ing by MICA and Up­grad, and I re­cently com­pleted the Craft­ing Lux­ury and Life­style Busi­nesses Pro­gramme at IIM Ahmedabad. I reg­u­larly keep up­dat­ing my­self about the lat­est soft­ware and techniques as well.

What prompted you to name your brand Sphere?

It was a con­scious de­ci­sion. I re­frained from us­ing my name be­cause I felt that my brand had to be a lot big­ger than me. Also, de­sign­ing is a team ef­fort that goes into cre­at­ing these beau­ti­ful jew­els. One is the nat­u­ral beauty of the di­a­monds and gem­stones that are used in the jew­els, then it’s also the skill of our craftsper­sons and the ef­forts of our team to­gether with my vi­sion that help man­i­fest ideas into these wonderful ob­jects of de­sire. I just felt that I can’t pos­si­bly take the en­tire credit.

What in­spires you to turn to your In­dian moor­ings for your cre­ations?

We are a cul­tur­ally rich coun­try. The vi­brant

im­agery that we are sur­rounded with – be it the mar­ble carv­ings of the Jain tem­ples of Dil­wara or the de­tailed stone in­lay work of the Taj Ma­hal or even some­thing as ba­sic as the beau­ti­ful pat­terns and colours of the In­dian sa­ree – it’s im­pos­si­ble not to be inspired by In­dia and its in­dige­nous crafts.

Your jew­ellery is full of in­tri­cate de­tails and is influenced by your trav­els.

You guessed it right. In­spi­ra­tion for me is a feel­ing, an emo­tion. It’s like I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced all these wonderful sights and sounds and I wish to make them my own. I want to give it form in my own de­sign lan­guage. There’s a strong in­ner urge to cre­ate some­thing be­yond what I ex­pe­ri­ence, and it’s my own way of re­liv­ing those mem­o­ries and pre­sent­ing cre­ations.

What is your de­sign phi­los­o­phy?

My de­signs are gen­er­ally sim­ple with clean lines and bold forms. Emo­tions like love and be­long­ing­ness are a com­mon thread that binds all the themes that I work on. There’s a cer­tain flow, a cer­tain rhythm, a cer­tain feel in all my de­signs. My de­signs carry a lit­tle bit of me in them.

De­sign and crafts­man­ship are the two main pil­lars on which we have built our brand. It’s al­most a re­li­gion at Sphere to strive for ex­cel­lence in both these ar­eas. And I think what also sets us apart are our in­no­va­tive de­sign con­cepts and the way we han­dle the be­spoke re­quire­ments of our clients; they know that we will listen and go that ex­tra mile to cre­ate some­thing special. That’s the rea­son we have a very good re­ten­tion rate of cus­tomers.

Do you draw the pieces and then take them to the work­bench?

Each piece is a work of art, and each piece has a story to tell. There isn’t a dot in my sketch­book with­out mean­ing or a spe­cific pur­pose. When I work on a theme that in­spires me, I’m com­pletely ab­sorbed by it. Each piece in a the­matic col­lec­tion is in­ter­preted in a slightly dif­fer­ent way. At other times, when I’m de­sign­ing for a par­tic­u­lar per­son or project, I’m con­sumed by who they are and what they want.

I do draw a lot. I sketch more when I’m strug­gling to find a form based on my ideas. Some­times the ideas get clearer only on the bench or while work­ing on the CAD soft­ware. It all de­pends on the techniques I plan to use in that par­tic­u­lar col­lec­tion. My man­u­fac­tur­ing back­ground is a big boon as I can use dif­fer­ent meth­ods and come up with com­pletely new forms and tex­tures that I may not have en­vi­sioned oth­er­wise.

De­sign­ing for me is the en­tire process – from the sketch to the end prod­uct, and even its pack­ag­ing.

Can you give us an ex­am­ple of a piece that re­quired a lot of de­tail­ing and crafts­man­ship?

Cur­rently, I’m work­ing on a neck­lace and a bazuband for the idol of Lord Chin­ta­mani Parsh­wanath in a 500-year-old her­itage Jain tem­ple in Su­rat. Right from the con­cept to the man­u­fac­tur­ing, the pieces re­quire an ex­ten­sive de­sign process. The best of ru­bies and emer­alds have been se­lected from all over In­dia to en­sure that the pieces turn out to be ex­tra­or­di­nary.

For the Mi­raas col­lec­tion based on my trav­els in Turkey, I delved into Turk­ish art and cul­ture. I re­ferred to many books and sketched hun­dreds of de­signs to come up with the ini­tial con­cept. Later on, each fi­nalised de­sign had nine vari­a­tions of it in terms of pat­tern and colours. That took me al­most eight months to cre­ate, and it seemed like a never-end­ing project, but I had a clear vi­sion and I stuck to it.

I must have made 50 sam­ples even for the six shades of enamel I wanted to use. I took care of ev­ery lit­tle de­tail – I delved into the de­sign of the look book, the ac­com­pa­ny­ing web­site, the pho­tog­ra­phy of the pieces, and the pack­ag­ing. It was worth the ef­fort as the project helped me se­cure the Best Project Award at the pres­ti­gious IIM Ahmedabad.

I’m con­stantly look­ing to push the bound­aries of fine jew­ellery de­sign be­yond its tra­di­tional in­ter­pre­ta­tions.

What ac­cord­ing to you is the prime func­tion of jew­ellery?

An or­na­ment is an ex­ten­sion of one’s per­son­al­ity. It could rep­re­sent one of the best mo­ments in a per­son’s life. When it’s cre­ated with a deep mean­ing or a story, it gets a life of its own that res­onates with the per­son who can ap­pre­ci­ate it and would there­fore take the ef­fort to own it.

Which are your favourite gem­stones?

Af­ter di­a­monds I am in­clined to­wards tour­ma­lines, aqua­marines, emer­alds, es­pe­cially Colom­bian, and multi-colour sap­phires. I love colours! So whether it’s enamel or coloured stones, I do in­clude colour in my col­lec­tions. Lately, rose gold has got me hooked.

Are your pieces hand­crafted?

We use a lot of tra­di­tional techniques, along­side some of the most modern tech­nol­ogy of jew­ellery fab­ri­ca­tion. It could take a few days or even months to make a par­tic­u­lar piece based on the kind of work it de­mands. A piece re­quires mul­ti­ple skills and pro­cesses – hence it’s a chal­lenge to keep

De­sign and crafts­man­ship are the two main pil­lars on which we have built our brand. It’s al­most a re­li­gion at Sphere to strive for ex­cel­lence in both these ar­eas.

the costs and fi­nances in place in a bid to be cre­ative and in­no­va­tive all the time.

Who is your tar­get au­di­ence?

I de­sign for women who are well trav­elled and well versed with the lat­est trends and yet are rooted in their cul­ture. They are con­fi­dent and do not need val­i­da­tion for their choices.

What mo­ti­vates this mil­len­nial gen­er­a­tion to buy a be­jew­elled piece when there are so many other over­whelm­ing op­tions that vie for the con­sumer’s wal­let share?

I think the mil­len­nial gen­er­a­tion has gone be­yond the stage of “just adorn­ment”. They have at­tained a cer­tain level of ma­tu­rity in terms of value and ethos. They look for deeper mean­ings that are be­yond ma­te­rial val­ues, and that’s why they are choosy. And that’s the very rea­son I love to cre­ate jew­els for them. I am happy that they are the ones who tend to love my jew­ellery more.

I’m not in the busi­ness just for the con­sumer’s wal­let share, I’m aim­ing to win her heart – the rest fol­lows.

Tell us about your hob­bies.

I love mu­sic, es­pe­cially In­dian clas­si­cal, ghaz­als and movie songs. I also like dance, films, lit­er­a­ture, paint­ing and ar­chi­tec­ture – ba­si­cally any and ev­ery­thing re­lated to art, cul­ture and de­sign. I’m a huge fit­ness en­thu­si­ast, and I don’t like miss­ing my work­outs. Other special in­ter­ests are al­ter­na­tive heal­ing ther­a­pies like acu­pres­sure, natur­opa­thy and yoga. I love vis­it­ing mu­se­ums. You can put me in any mu­seum and I’d be happy to stay there for­ever!

Any part­ing thoughts?

I think the best part about do­ing what I do is that I get to be a part of some of the most beau­ti­ful and im­por­tant mo­ments of peo­ple’s lives. When some­one wears my jew­ellery and they get com­pli­ments – and they share their joy with me – that’s my big­gest re­ward.

The 18-karat gold pen­dant (op­po­site page) and lin­ear gold ear­rings and ear studs (this page) from the Mi­raas col­lec­tion are en­hanced with special enam­els – they are an ode to Turk­ish cul­ture.

(Clock­wise from top) Folded gold ring and pen­dant from the Mi­raas col­lec­tion; white gold bridal ear­rings set with fancy-cut di­a­monds and pearls; 18-karat white gold di­a­mond ear­rings from the Rosa col­lec­tion; multi-strand Rosa pearl neck­lace with a di­a­mond-set bloom that can be worn as a pen­dant on a chain or as a sa­ree brooch.

A strik­ing enamelled gold neck­lace from the Mi­raas col­lec­tion.

(Top left) 18-karat gold ring fea­tur­ing a spray of di­a­monds (Top right) 18-karat gold ear­rings en­hanced with bright enamel from the Her­itage col­lec­tion. (Above) 18-karat gold choker with a pen­dant bear­ing con­cen­tric cir­cles from the Mo­ments col­lec­tion.

(Top left) 18-karat gold ear­rings en­hanced with bright enamel from the Her­itage col­lec­tion (Top) Wiry di­a­mond ear­rings with di­a­mond flo­rets from the Mo­ments col­lec­tion. (Above) An 18-karat bridal gold ring set with round and baguette di­a­monds.

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