Stories from an Opulent Past form collector’s item
From grand palace courts and temples where deities reign supreme come jewellery that Krishnan Nair and Sons – KNS Jewellers painstakingly revives. Antique jewellery falls under that category of designs once used to adorn temple deities and members of royalty.
Antique jewellery, for KNS Jewellers, is about reviving ornaments once created by master craftsmen for royalty and temple deities
A meeting with Suman Suresh, Managing Director, ensures you’ll emerge more informed than before. A story collector, she has a keen ear for tales from the past that might lead to more inspiration for design. Under the watchful eye of the dynamic jeweller, the store in the heart of Kerala’s capital city has been introducing exquisite pieces of handmade antique jewellery, each a collector’s item and a sight to behold. She explains the elaborate designs that have taken shape at KNS over the last few years, each with a story to tell.
For royalty, jewellery was not merely for ornamentation. Rather, it conveyed discreet messages to other members of the governing circle. Motifs of gods engraved on the pieces were meant to ward off the evil eye. The mudra mothiram, a KNS offering of a stunning ring with a parrot perched on top, was once used only by royalty. “The direction in which it was worn by the king or queen, and on which finger, was used as a cue by the minister to execute decisions. The parrot head could also be opened to reveal a chamber with a message inside.”
Suman has the mudra mothiram made in limited numbers, as with all other patterns, as they take months of labour. From the ashta lakshmi maala, jadaau maala, udyana maala to many more, the gemmologist and jewellery designer has been taking a chance, not knowing how they would be received by clients. But she has also had the satisfaction of watching them being picked up in no time by those who believe in saving for posterity.
“The goldsmiths in our team are from families my grandfathers have been working with. Yet, there’s no telling if the coming generations will be able to craft the same patterns that their ancestors created.” At KNS, semi-precious stones and enamel are used only sparingly. Constant research is what drives Suman and her sister Sunanda, be it through books or by talking to people. “Some of our goldsmiths are directly related to court jewellers but the information that is passed on can also be confidential,” she notes. Jewellery has been used as signs, the colours of the stones meant to serve a particular purpose.
Suman says the pendants, often large, come with a chamber at the back, held close by a clasp. “This could hold an amulet or a message, depending on what the situation demanded,” she says, showing a jadaau maala that was created at the store’s workshop. The many necklaces at KNS are also inspired by jewellery once used by royals. Nizami jewellery leaves her in awe. Closer home, she says the jewellery worn by the Travancore royal family, is as priceless. “The haara or garland with an emerald pendant that falls at the chest of the Maharaja, worn during the araattu procession of Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple, tells us that there are patterns followed by the royals even today.”
Suman took a bet on the ashta lakshmi maala, a 40-sovereign necklace engraved with eight representations of Goddess Lakshmi, done with traditional Pachchikam work in natural rubies and polki (uncut diamonds). Suman also commissioned a piece that combines the traditional coin necklace with a miniature Goddess Lakshmi motif linking each coin to the main piece and a central pendant of the goddess again. While open to custom orders for smaller versions, she bemoans compromise on workmanship. “Anyone is welcome to the store for wearing the kaashu maala and experiencing the difference,” she says. She adds that while customers place orders for antique styles, there are people who are resistant to the dull finish. “Or they don’t want elements. You can’t alter traditional sensibilities too much and still call them antique designs,” she says.
Suman has observed that it is her clientele in their 40s and 50s who place orders specifically for antique designs to add to the family heirloom. Though KNS Jewellers has developed a customer base among the younger crowd Suman would like for them to go beyond a desire to simply keep up with trends. “These days, every bride wants antique jewellery. Unfortunately, of late, it is seen more among people who follow social media and express their desire to wear what other people are wearing. It would be a great joy to know that this desire comes out of the longing to own an exquisite piece of art or after knowing the history of the jewellery they have chosen.”
The question that irks her is, “How much will it fetch on resale? Yet, Suman has found, much to her surprise, clients where she least expected it. “I have been humbled to see people fall in love with the design and book a piece so that they can save up to make it their own. When clients understand the labour that has gone into creating the pieces and show that respect, it is touching.”