It’s either too dramatic, too minimal, too traditional or too modern – a jewellery buyer, often navigates through many ifs and buts before choosing that one perfect piece. wearing jewellery is a special experience and making it, an art.
One designer who champions this art is Mumbai-based Razia Kunj, known for her art-like jewellery pieces that take the wearer on a whimsical journey of India. Her designs narrate stories of the country’s cultures, traditions, folklores and various art forms, delicately handcrafted into neckpieces, earrings, bangles, bracelets and brooches, for women and men.
A hit with the millennials
All her seven jewellery collections so far have been a hit with her customers, including actress Aditi Rao Hyadri, Maria Goretti and Vidya Balan. Balan, for Shakuntala Devi movie’s promotions, styled her handloom saree with ethnic-modern earrings and rings from Razia Kunj’s Theyyam edit, which is inspired by North Kerala’s vibrant and lively ritualistic dance form of the same name. A multicolour palette of red, green and yellow was paired with materials such as layered wood, gold-finish brass and Swarovski crystals.
Today’s consumer is not buying jewellery only as an investment, they are seeking something that inspires and ignites their imagination, informs Kunj. “These people appreciate culture and local crafts. The material or the resale value doesn’t matter to them. And I’m very proud to know that many buyers are collecting my jewellery as pieces of art.”
She also customises jewellery for her clients as per their requirements. “I feel, it is challenging to work on a specific brief, but it always opens up a new path to creativity that I otherwise might never explore.”
The beauty of handcraft
On regular days, all of Kunj’s travel stories and experiences are manifesting into jewellery. Each piece is painstakingly handmade and hand-painted. At label Razia Kunj, the design has to be practical, beautiful and comfortable. The 49-year old designer prefers working with wood, because it is natural, flexible and easier to mold, layer and paint. “Wood complements any metal or material you combine it with. Most importantly, since it is natural, it keeps me connected with nature,” she says.
“While making a collection, every single piece changes hands several times. It builds up slowly with each artisan adding his or her skill, step by step.” For Kunj, this immersive, lengthy process is far more joyful and rewarding than the final product.
The jewellery karigars in her team have more than 15 years of experience. They are experts in their generation-old craft of intricate beadwork and thread work, informs Kunj. “We are all like a family; all the artists and craftsmen who work with me have been with me since the day I began.”
Discovering the holy ghats and temples of India
Kunj’s last collection Moksha was inspired by her visit to the holy ghats of Varanasi. There, she came across Sadhus draped in orange garlands, beaded necklaces and long hairlocks. And this was the start of Moksha. Her jewellery captures the spirit of the ascetics’ unfiltered, nomadic look, enhanced with a contemporary design vocabulary. Kunj used metal Shiv Lingas, beads, cotton cords and threads to hand make necklets and bracelets, which make for beautiful adornments for ethnic and Indo-fusion outfits. Every Moksha-piece is a window inside the ancient city of North India, brought alive by Kunj and her team of craftsmen.
“India is my forever muse. With my jewellery, I always seek to discover different aspects of our rich diversity.”
Another of her collection, Jharoka, revisits the grandeur of Indian architecture. Through exquisite neckpieces, Kunj recreates the beauty of colourful geometry that one usually finds etched on the doors and windows of traditional countryside homes.
Then, there is a Temple collection, which features the graceful demeanor of the Indian gods and goddesses through vivid, graphic designs handcrafted and hand-painted by the Patwa community. Layered wood canvas is first embellished with gold-finish brass and silver foiled crystals and finally strung together with coloured glass beads.
Reinventing in the Lockdown
Kunj likes to work at her own pace and space where she is free to think and conceptualize. The lockdown gave her the most valuable gift she could ask for – time. “As an emerging designer, I am multitasking all the time and face so many challenges that it leaves me very little time for myself.” She adds, “During the lockdown, I could finally slow down, think, analyse and plan.
Currently, I’m working on my own interpretation of a universal ideology for the next collection and that’s all I can reveal right now. It should be out in a couple of months.”
Where it began…
An idea that was born over a decade ago in Razia’s mind took shape in December 2015, when she launched her eponymous brand. She was passionate to make a mark in the world of art and fashion, by doing what she knew best – designing and thinking out of the box. And to focus solely on jewellery, Kunj quit her 22-year old career in advertising and left her award-winning branding and communication firm Thought Blurb, which she co-founded with husband Vinod Kunj, back in 2007.
Two years into her new jewellery venture, Kunj in 2017 enrolled in Mumbai’s Indian Institute of Gem & Jewellery to learn about jewellery manufacturing and tools. “I feel that one can design without a formal training as design is a way of thinking. But, acquiring technical skill is very important for a creative person as well. It helps in giving definition, shape and form to an invisible idea without much trial and error,” she says.