Sonali Sheth: My Style, My Way
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.