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This Indian jewellery designer is reinventing traditional jewellery for the street-style crowd

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As a child, Indian jewellery designer Akansha Sethi expressed her ideas through paintings and graphite sketches, which furthered her skills as an artist. Her background in fine art at Wolverhampton Grammar School followed by a design degree from the Goldsmith’s University of London allowed her to visualise and express ideas through a fine range of mediums. By the time, she completed her degree, Akansha felt that she had the skills required to continue developing ideas for jewellery design. 

She considered options for the next step of her journey, and toyed with the idea of a master’s course or gaining experience by working for a noted design firm. However, the design ideas she had been sketching all the while along with “a voice inside” urged her to see them translated into wearable forms. Convinced that her designs could address a gap in the market, she took the plunge: she made demi-fine jewels set with semiprecious gems and a fine jewellery slant for her brand AS by Akansha Sethi. 

“The excitement of this opportunity and an urgency to share my ideas with the world seamlessly took me from paper to production. I found this to be a cathartic process, allowing me to express my passion and create ‘objects,’ which are an extension of my personality,” explains the designer, whose initial pieces included gold vermeil jewellery set with hand-carved gems and enamel accents. 

Folio, representing the leaves changing colours through the seasons; Nritya, a series of striking statement rings inspired by the vibrant Arayesh (fresco) work from palaces in Rajasthan—its bright colours and delicate motifs rendered using semi-precious and precious gems with traditional Meenakari work; Jardin Majorelle, floral overlays in bold dashes of colours inspired by the Jardin Majorelle and the Moroccan skies realised across carved blue lapis lazulis and citrines, punctuated with rubies and emeralds, garnered her enough glory. Her cache of enamelled button covers paved the way to a booming business: bespoke wedding gifts in India. 

“It’s been an exciting journey working on bespoke wedding orders; it pushed me to work on orders with larger quantities, while still creating pieces to a fine jewellery standard,” says Akansha, about her custom bridal creations that comprise a mix of small charm pendants for Mehndi (Henna) events, button covers with matching necklaces for guests at the weddings, delicate charm bracelets given to women instead of the traditional sacred threads tied on the wrist at the Haldi ceremony. “Through these projects I’ve learnt more about the making process in a practical manner –– and I have worked efficiently to produce each piece in a more sustainable and efficient way.”

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In 2020, Akansha launched Clouds, a fine jewellery line crafted both in 14k and 18k gold. She was in India during the pandemic lockdown and took to painting while working on ideas for a new collection. The fluffy clouds and their changing shapes inspired the Clouds line: here Moonstones and labradorites combined with diamonds, set in white and yellow gold include ear cuffs, mini huggies, statement studs, pendants, rings and torque necklaces. Soon, it was expanded to include long statement earrings and a brooch. 

For Jaipur, a collection launched last summer, the London-based designer sought inspiration in the City Palace at Jaipur. The opulent patterns and unique colour combinations stirred her imagination and she nourished them once again with carved gems. But this time the pieces were part of her first high jewellery line and they demanded opulence. She decided to go bigger and bolder. 

She chose to work with gems from her personal collection that she had been carefully curating over the past ten years. “In my family, we can trace our history to more than ten generations through photographs and family heirlooms. Studying these heirlooms has helped me to understand the power of narrative in elevating the significance of the object,” says Akansha about the transformable high jewellery pieces. A sumptuous pair of rose quartz of 180 carat set in gold with baguette and pavé-set tourmalines and diamonds in the Winter Rose transforms from a torque necklace to a belt buckle and brooch. “The carving was inspired by the flora and fauna patterns from the Dara Shikoh album— a Mughal study of flowers and birds. The framework and colour combination were inspired by the Rose gate at City Palace.”

The ‘Autumn Peacock’, features an 87-carat hand-carved amethyst. Embellished with baguette emeralds and amethysts, turquoise and pavé-set diamonds, the cleverly constructed piece can be taken apart from its statement necklace form and worn as a pendant, long danglers or a pair of minimalist stud earrings. “The formation of the necklace and the colour combination have both been inspired by the detailed pattern of the peacock motifs around the Palace.”

For the ‘Green Spring’ tassel necklace with a detachable pendant, a 265-carat hand-carved fluorite is a protagonist; it features baguette emeralds and amethysts alongside pavéd diamonds. Her Blue Moon torque necklace holds its own with a 162-carat carved aquamarine that is designed to be detachable, and a reversible pendant. Melon carved lapis lazuli, emerald and diamond detailing, with dark pink hand-painted enamel roses on one side, and a carved aquamarine on the other, lends the pieces multi-wear possibilities. This necklace, she informs, draws on the ‘Chhavi Niwas’ (blue)room of City Palace Jaipur. When visiting the palace with her parents, Akansha remembered being mesmerised by how the palace seemed grand in structure yet simple from the outside and on entering it revealed the most flamboyant interiors. 

Of late, the designer has been organising trunk shows in India. “My mother has been curating a private trunk show (Interarts) introducing new home interior brands and artists from UK and Europe in all major Indian cities,” says Akansha, who decided to team up with her mom. “I have had the incredible opportunity to launch ‘AS’ in 2022 through these events starting in Kolkata, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad, followed by Delhi this year.” 

With the bridal season in full swing in India, Akansha has been on a roll. We asked her, which custom pieces are you most excited about? “There’s a lot of exciting pieces I have been working on over the past few months, using new gemstones and building on different and versatile design ideas such as a bespoke pair of rubies and rose cut diamonds on ear cuffs set with delicate, detachable pearl strands that allow the wearer to modify it to suit the desired look,” she adds.

The designer is fast turning into the ‘Princess of Ear cuffs.’ Roshni and Mehraab, both of which proved to be best-sellers since. The ear cuffs from the Mehraab collection, launched at the end of 2022, have been quite a turning point for the young brand –– with the pieces being styled on British model and actor Amy Jackson for the new Atif Aslam music video. “They were designed as a solution to wearing stackable earrings without getting extra piercings around your cartilage, which could cause permanent cartilage damage and ear infections,” she explains. 

Her newest offering, Ribbons, spirals and flows from her “fascination with the playfulness of ribbons when packing orders over the Christmas period and wanting to materialise the look and simplicity of the ribbon.” The matching rings designed in four colourways highlight emeralds, citrines, tourmalines and amethysts crafted using a combination of carved and faceted gemstones.

With being recognised as one of the 50 most influential global Indian women by Vogue India and a finalist for the ‘most innovative design’ by the National Association of Jewellers (NAJUK) for her ingenious button cover design, Akansha was awarded ‘Creative Jewellery Designer of the Year 2022’ by Retail Jeweller UK. This young designer has indeed come a long way. “So far, the best moment in 2023 was being part of the editorial shoot in the January edition of the British Vogue, which featured a new pair of citrine and diamond Mehraab ear cuffs. More exciting collaborations are in the pipeline for 2023,” adds Akansha, whose pieces are all hand-made in Jaipur.

Courtesy: Vogue

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