Professional Jeweler Archive: India Focuses on Design

September 2004


India Focuses on Design

American retailers benefit as jewelry moves beyond "just the basics"

"I’m always looking for the new frontier in jewelry manufacturing,” says Lee Michael Berg, president and owner of Lee Michaels Fine Jewelry, Baton Rouge, LA. “And India is the new frontier.” For this retailer of higher-end jewels and watches, the Indian jewelry manufacturing industry has met his exacting standards for quality and design. “The designs are clean and elegant; the settings are well done, with no porosity,” he says.

Though Berg also likes the jewels he sees in Hong Kong, Bangkok and Singapore, Indian jewelry has a third magical factor so important to today’s jeweler: the most attractive prices. “As our industry becomes more branded, our margins are shrinking,” he says. “We need sources with lower labor costs and lower duties, and India has both.” Berg uses his Indian suppliers’ jewels for his own store brand jewelry and finds the styles are perfect for his mostly southern U.S. buyers.

Beryl Raff, senior vice president for jewelry at J.C. Penney, agrees: “Indian manufacturers have come a long way since their early days of producing jewelry. They’re beginning to understand the American market and focus better on the kinds of jewelry we need for the middle market. They’re very smart.”

From There to Here

As recently as 10 years ago, India exported little jewelry to the U.S. Known as the capital of small-diamond cutting, it began to recognize the wisdom of adding value to the diamonds it manufactured – years before De Beers’ Diamond Trading Co. began touting the idea through its Supplier of Choice initiative.

The focus on jewelry as a value-added industry is due mostly to the Indo Argyle Diamond Council, an organization that helped India tailor its designs to international tastes and facilitate liaisons with U.S. retailers. IADC is still hard at work, says Beth Canter, director of education at MVI Marketing, the Paso Robles, CA, company that represents IADC in the U.S. IADC encourages Indian jewelry designers in myriad ways, from visiting international trade shows to consulting with U.S. design experts on style. It conducts designer fairs, meetings with jewelry store merchandisers, design innovation programs and individual design sessions where cross-fertilization of ideas is the norm.

Today, India exports more than $2 billion in jewelry worldwide, almost two-thirds to the U.S. India’s Gem & Jewellery Export Promotion Council has set an ambitious goal to increase combined exports of gems and jewelry from $10.6 billion in 2003 to $16 billion by 2007. Because India already cuts the lion’s share of the world’s diamonds, this growth will come mainly from jewelry exports.

Evolution of Design

Improving design is crucial to the effort. From its beginnings making simple bread-and-butter products, the industry’s designs now run the gamut from handcrafted high-end creations to mass-produced jewelry for the low- and mid-market.

Indian jewelers are investing heavily in new factories and in a rapid expansion of the use of computer-assisted design and manufacturing. “Indian manufacturers, in their love of learning and accomplishment, embrace new technology,” says Johanna Trotter, who spent years working for IADC advising manufacturers on designing for U.S. tastes. Trotter now performs many of the same functions working for Jewelex, New York City, one of the companies that pioneered bringing Indian jewelry to the U.S. in the early 1990s.

In Trotter’s view, India’s growing talent for fine design isn’t just a matter of time and better technology. “India is a land of incredible history and social and cultural diversity, and these influences are brought into Indian design,” she says. “I think Indian designers have a great eye for, and love of, detail and symmetry and have the patience it takes to produce complex designs.”

“Indians have loved jewelry forever,” adds Abhilasha Lakhi Kalra, who designs jewelry for Studio Rêves, a new higher-end designer line produced by the Lakhi Group. The India-based designer says a figurine of a dancing girl adorned with jewelry was found in the ruins of the ancient Indus Valley civilization and is proof of the industry’s long heritage.

Studio Rêves, being introduced in the U.S. this year, will be added to the Lakhi Group’s more fashion-oriented line, Gemglow. Typical of the progression of Indian companies, the Lakhi Group began as a diamond manufacturer and still supplies fine-make small diamonds in the U.S. through its Vishinda division. Gemglow was its first foray into the jewelry market here, and Studio Rêves offers an even higher level of fine design. “The industry is reinventing itself,” says Prakash Lakhi, chairman of Gemglow and president of Vishinda. “It is time [it] turns professional.”

The Role of Education

To help take the jewelry to an even higher level, the industry works closely with national design groups such as India’s National Institute of Fashion Technology and the National Institute of Design. The Gem & Jewellery Export Promotion Council also opened an Indian Institute of Gems & Jewellery to offer a comprehensive three-year diploma course in jewelry design and manufacture. The Gemological Institute of America offers gemological training to complement design education. It recently opened a school in Mumbai, underwritten already by two major donations by Indian manufacturers.

Design experts from outside the gem and jewelry industry are taking notice of the growth. One of India’s foremost international artists, Padmashri Dashrath Patel, just designed a jewelry line for Ringcraft that will be introduced in the U.S. by Simplex Diam, an importer and wholesaler of Indian jewelry. Patel has collaborated with artists worldwide, including Henri Cartier-Bresson, Louis Kahn, Charles Eames, Robert Rauschenberg and John Cage. He is the founding design director of India’s National Institute of Design and is an acknowledged innovator in industrial design and an accomplished photographer. His first collection for Ringcraft will be based on Indian temples (see box on page 23).

To illustrate the growing depth and breadth of Indian jewelry design, Professional Jeweler invited a cross-section of Indian companies to submit examples of well-designed jewelry, which are featured throughout this section.

– by Peggy Jo Donahue

Emerald pendant is by Bapalal Keshavlal, Mumbai, India; (91-22) 2368-4578 or (91-22) 2368-4587,
Pendant with three shades of cultured pearls is by Bapalal Keshavlal, Mumbai, India; (91-22) 2368-4578 or (91-22) 2368-4587,
White gold ring is channel-set with round diamonds. K.P. Sanghvi & Sons, Mumbai, India; (91-22) 2363-0315,
Ring and pendant feature baguette and princess-cut diamonds. Gold Star Jewellery, New York City; (212) 391-2021,
Rich yellow gold ring with diamonds is by Tara Jewels Exports, Mumbai, India; (91-22) 2829-1491 or (91-22) 2829-2823.
A winner of the Diamond Promotion Service’s 2004 right-hand ring competition, this design highlights marquise diamonds. Robin Garin for Verigold Jewelry, New York City; (212) 986-7287.
Channel-set fashion band (top) features one round and eight princess-cut diamonds totaling 1 carat in white gold. The channel-set engagement ring has 10 alternating baguette and round diamonds and a marquise center stone in white gold; diamond weight totals 1.19 carats. Unidesign Jewellery Pvt. Ltd., Mumbai, India; (91-22) 5668-1000,
Diamonds sparkle amid the swirls of these matching yellow gold earrings and necklace. M. Suresh Jewellery, Mumbai, India; (91-22) 2363-9001,
Heart bracelet with diamonds is by Ciemme, New York City; (877) 398-9666,
Round, baguette and square diamonds highlight these bands by Dinurje, New York City; (212) 944-1200, fax (212) 221-5955,
14k gold pendant holds 0.35 carat of diamonds. Amerings International, New York City; (212) 575-2372.
Colored gems glisten in this pendant by River Jewels, New York City; (212) 768-0252,
Dangle earrings feature multiple diamond settings. Interjewel, New York City; (212) 869-7801.

Indian Inspiration

Where do Indian jewelry artists get their inspiration? Designers planning lines for the U.S. study international influences at trade fairs in Switzerland, Hong Kong and the U.S., but they’re also profoundly influenced by the rich history of native Indian design. “Indian art, craft and design are interlinked through nature and culture into one holistic celebration of life,” says Padmashri Dashrath Patel, an internationally famous artist who just designed his first collection of jewelry.

Patel’s line for Jewelcraft is based on Indian temple plans. “Though our temples built thousands of years ago are very complex in their ornamentation, their plans are simple and pure. The basic geometry is so clean and uncluttered that it takes all the subsequent layers of ornamentation in an unefforted way,” he says.

“Jewelry designs in Indian heritage have been greatly influenced by the lovely flora and fauna,” adds Abhilasha Lakhi Kalra, who designs jewelry for Studio Rêves, a new higher-end designer line produced by the Lakhi Group. “The paisley found in many Indian artifacts, including jewelry, is inspired by mangoes,” the artist says by way of an example. Kalra also cites the influence of India’s rich appreciation of diamonds as well as gemstones such as emeralds, rubies and pearls.

“In Indian design you find vines, flowers, serpents, elephants and other animals, the sun and moon,” says Johanna Trotter, who works for Jewelex, New York City, to inspire its jewelry design artists. “You find the influence of India’s many deities and sacred symbols. You find the influence of architecture with its arches, domes and ornate stone carving. You find the influence of the textile artists with their intricate weaves, embellishments and colors.”

Trotter and Kalra say these native influences are blended with western designs and techniques that consumers will find universally appealing, while the jewelry remains practical to manufacture. Kalra says Indian motifs came in very handy during the chandelier earring craze, for example, as well as with right-hand rings. The unique designs of the subcontinent are also well-suited to the many shapes and settings today’s diamond jewelry boasts. “Besides our right-hand ring collection, Jewelex is expanding our machine-set round and fancy-shaped diamond designs,” says Trotter. “We’re also capitalizing on the pink gold and tricolor gold trends, the geometric trend and the linear earring trend.”

– P.J.D.

Braided pink gold complements diamonds in this suite by Jewelex New York Ltd., New York City; (800) 208-9999 or (212) 840-6970,

Pendant and matching earrings are by Studio Rêves. In the U.S., call Gemglow in New York City at (866) 443-6456 or (212) 829-0868. In Canada, call Praash Jewels Inc. in Toronto, Ontario, at (866) 772-2740.

Copyright © 2004 by Bond Communications