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May 29, 2024

How jewellery designer Shachee Shah reinvented old techniques to make them popular

Aliya Ladhabhoy

There are very few jewellery designers in India whose designs can be immediately identified in a crowd. In a sea of gold, diamonds and coloured stones, Mumbai-based Shachee Shah’s micromosaic and woven gold lace jewellery stand out. Those who are familiar with her work can spot her creations from a mile away. Shah’s biggest asset is her jewellery making technique, which makes each piece unique.
Shah specialises in two such methods which also bifurcate her collections – Venetian Lace for which gold threads are handwoven into floral and geometric motifs and her Micromosaic range for which tiny coloured tesserae (glass) are masterfully composed to create a scenery set in gold.

A jewellery manufacturing and design graduate from SNDT College, Shah spent many years in the jewellery industry before she took a sabbatical after her second child was born.

During this time, she began researching Micromosaic jewellery various techniques. She didn’t want to let go of the experience and knowledge she had gained over the years. Moreover, she longed to sit at the bench and craft pieces herself, something that not many women in India do. “I wanted to stay abreast with the jewellery world,” says Shah. So, she began teaching at the India Institute of Gems and Jewellery in Mumbai, updating her knowledge on the latest technology and, at the same time, experimenting with techniques and designs. “It was during this time that I developed the Venetian Lace technique,” adds Shah.
Blocks of gold are melted into threads and wires, and like a magician, Shah conjures flowers, foliage and vines in gold. Shah does all the work herself and only relies on a professional to set the diamonds and for assembly work. Initially, it would take her two months to complete a small piece but over the years, she has become proficient in creating these designs. “When you see my work, it reflects my love for fabrics and embroideries. I micro engineer every piece and no other jeweller can copy it because
it is my own recipe,” says Shah, who launched her line of jewellery in 2008.
Her second series is equally stunning. Shah studied the art of micromosaic from a master in Italy and examined masterpieces in Vatican museums before adding her own expression to it. Shah sources glass from Venice and personally melts it into thin strips before cutting these into tiny pieces (tesserae). She painstakingly composes sceneries using different colour compositions, which are then fashioned into earrings, rings and necklaces.

It takes her eight to nine months to create one piece. Her clients have waited for as long as three years to own a piece of Shah’s wearable art. “The work is intense and I do it at my own pace. I have 30 to 35 pieces that keep rotating,” says the designer whose micromosaic ranges between Rs2 lakh and Rs3 lakh and Venetian lace from Rs1lakh to Rs 3lakh.
“This year, I have made lighter, daily wear pieces.” The earrings, rings, charms and pendants are priced at Rs45,000 to Rs80,000. The four to five gram gold jewellery pieces are perfect for gifting and did well during Raksha Bandhan this year.
A woman’s domain
While discussing fewer women at the workbench, Shah says that some universities and colleges now offer short courses in metalsmithing, but it is very labour intensive. It is not just about design but also requires a strong foundation in engineering to understand how each metal behaves and the potential of each tool. “Be prepared for many cuts on your fingers along the way,” adds Shah candidly. Another noteworthy point is that jewellery
manufacturing in India has always been a man’s domain. Most karigars have not had any formal training but have learnt from their fathers and grandfathers. “Sometimes, to test the limits of
creativity, you need to step away from the traditional techniques and innovate with the tools yourself,” Shah shares. “I realised that sitting and working with tools and metals is my forte. I created the Venetian Lace technique through trial and error. It
took me almost eight years of research and practice
to get it right.”

Most of Shah’s marketing has been word of mouth and through participation in a few exhibitions. In the coming year, she plans to actively participate in pop-ups and exhibitions and has two upcoming in Chennai. “Many people ask me how I manage to
sit and work on one piece for an entire year. Many artists spend years working on a single work of art, so why can’t I?” Shah remarks. The designer likes creating exquisite products and is now planning to make hairpins. “People are experimenting with the way they dress. I want my jewellery to complement their new-found style.” She also plans to set her micromosaic in gemstones such as onyx, marble, lapiz lazuli and malachite.
The sky-rocketing gold prices have not affected Shah’s sales, which the designer finds surprising. “The Venetian lace collection is gold intensive but there is a demand for it. People are looking for unique pieces and my jewellery fulfils that criterion.”
Today, the younger generation equates luxury with unique designs. “They don’t want run-of-the-mill products. They are neither concerned about the amount of gold in their jewellery. They want designs that are different and brands that are highly valued. Even my daughter has asked me to only give her
unique jewellery,” says Shah.
The jewellery designer counts fellow jewellery designers and women from families who have their own jewellery businesses as her clients. “I feel very proud. Even though these women have access to so many pieces of jewellery, they want to add my
creation to their collection,” says Shah, making a case for innovation in the old industry. “I feel that in the current sluggish market, regular jewellery will lose the sales game. I often ask my clients what kind of jewellery they own. Many of them have
told me that they haven’t worked their wedding jewellery in at least 10 to 15 years! Even I have become more selective about the jewellery I purchase,” informs Shah.

One of the brands Shah looks up to is Van Cleef & Arpels. “Their vintage pieces are outstanding and so is Coco Chanel’s,” says Shah, adding that she also follows some skilled Turkish and Italian jewellery designers.
Shah’s perennial inspiration is fashion, fabrics and embroideries and she would like to explore that side of her one day. Until then, she is happy creating handmade, unique jewellery that hasn’t
been copied till date.

Pratishtha Rana


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