The city of Jaipur has been a hub of creativity since it was established in the eighteenth century. Artisans and craftsmen have dominated the city’s traditional economic networks ranging from lacquer workers to perfume makers occupying narrow alleys to brass workers, textile merchants and jewelers boasting fancy retail in the common markets. The importance of jewelry and gemstones and the prevalence of its traders and sellers can be gauged by the fact that one of the most famous markets – Johri Bazar gets its name from the wealthy jeweler community of the city.
Taking inspiration from the city’s cultural fabric and combining it with their enthusiasm for heritage, two history graduates Rajiv Arora and Rajesh Ajmera founded Amrapali. Over forty years of its existence, Amrapali has now become a globally renowned luxury brand that seeks to bridge the gap between traditional artisanship and contemporary fashion trends.
In this interview Tarang Arora the son of Rajiv Arora and CEO of Amrapali Jewels shares about Amrapali’s global success and efforts in preserving traditional jewelry arts.
What has been the inspiration behind Amrapali’s creations?
The brand gets its name from the muse– Amrapali, who is regarded as a symbol of timeless beauty, grace and wisdom. As the story goes, a young and beautiful orphan girl was found under a Mango tree by her foster parents thus getting her name as Amrapali or the one nourished by the mango tree. Taking inspiration from this, a lot of our designs show mangoes or kairi, a motif that is also quite popular in traditional crafts. Another motif that inspires our design is that of Lotus. The flower is elaborately mentioned in Indian texts and scriptures and is a symbol of this country. It was an important symbol during the Buddhist era as well. For these reasons, the lotus motif is a hallmark of our designs and is also reflected in our brand logo. The history and diversity of Rajasthan have also influenced our creations. Whereas Ranthambhore and Dark Maharaja give a flavor of royalty, we have recreated tribal silver jewelry to give a more modern and quirkier look. The diversity of designs, techniques and materials is truly a celebration of India’s cultural riches and diversity.
How has Amrapali sought to revive and preserve the ancient art of jewelry making?
Jewelry making is an intricate art that has evolved over time. The most authentic and traditional jewelry making happened at homes and in informal set-ups rather than factories or workshops as is the case today. “While in order to cater to greater demand, a shift to workshop-style is necessary, it is equally important for us to preserve and promote traditional craftsmanship. We at Amrapali give a lot of importance in understanding and implementing old styles and techniques in jewelry making. We also encourage our artisans to stick to traditional methods to a considerable extent, even as they experiment with modern tools and techniques. For instance, despite newer methods of enameling, we try to use old enamel glass as much as possible. This is what makes our creations unique and reflect on our heritage.”
A ruby ornament cut in the shape of lotus
Having made inroads to the global luxury market, what makes Amrapali a bespoke brand?
For Amrapali, the first and foremost priority has been the quality of its product. We deliver a 100% product be it in terms of design, quality, or usability. And this is a principle not just for our export products but for everything that we manufacture. However, being in the international market has also taught us that less is more and how even the simplest of the Indian motifs can be designed in a way that satisfies global fashion trends and fulfills consumer demands across geographies. And this is what has led to Amrapali getting international appreciation– making Indian jewelry wearable at all occasions by giving our creations a modern look and feel. We feel that this trend is also being adopted by the Indian clientele.
We also consciously believe that we need to take the Indian craft story across the world, and for this reason, we have been making use of every opportunity possible to open our retail outlets outside India. We already have a presence in the fashion capitals of the world – New York and London and also in countries like China and Sri Lanka.
Having an international presence is not just about increasing our brand but about telling the world what Indian jewelry is and the mastery that goes behind in making it. The craftsmanship involved in making a single piece of jewelry in India is unparalleled anywhere in the world. “A minimum of ten highly-skilled artisans contribute to the process of making a single Jadau ornament. Each person performs a specialized task ranging from stone cutting, enameling, chiseling and adorning kundan work on it. Nowhere in the world does this level of multi-craftsmanship exists as it does in India and this is one of the major reasons why jewelry-making is a special and beautiful form of art.
Speaking of stories, can you tell about the collections stored at the Amrapali Museum?
More often than not, jewelry businesses are family-run and since my father had no family background, they did not possess any prior understanding of this sector either. However, back then, they did not have a single place where they could go and learn about jewelry traditions. As history students, they had always felt that jewelry was a great source of unearthing social and cultural milieus of the past.
The Amrapali museum was thus created for posterity, with the idea that artisans, designers and fashion enthusiasts can learn about our traditions, history, and practices through jewelry. The museum hosts the biggest collection of silver Indian tribal ornaments in the world. Each of the 4000 artifacts collected over a period of 38 years tell some story about India and its diversity. Just as our food habits, language, clothing, rituals and practices change at the span of every 20-30 km, so does our accessories and styling. Besides being a form of adornment or a craft collection, jewelry is also considered as a form of investment. One can find a silver pendant with a Shivling inside and another one with a pocket-sorts to hold coins. Similarly, there is a keychain of silver that has all the tools to make a paan, something commonly had after meals in most parts of India. So jewelry was an ornament that allowed people to hold onto something which was dear to them. The museum in this sense is a design center that preserves interesting antiques, showcases various forms of crafts across India which attracts craft enthusiasts from across the world. Creating awareness about jewelry art has been the primary idea.
When people visit the museum, they are also able to better appreciate our products and when they purchase something from us, it feels like taking a piece of heritage home. In this way, we have been able to give our business a sentimental attachment as well.
Being a creative director and a designer yourself, how can jewelry making be promoted to contribute to India’s creative industries.
The crafts industry especially jewelry and gemstones have been hit hard due to the ongoing coronavirus. Being on the luxury side, it is amongst the first industries to get affected and the slowest to recover. But I think this has also brought back the traditional wisdom that was passed down through generations i.e. investment in precious metals will never go wrong and hold value across time.
Secondly, this time has allowed more ideas to brew and digitization has played an important role in this. Not only has it made designing an easier process but also made communication hassle-free so design requirements and other communication can be done via the internet without being physically present in times of social distancing. Also, many designers are able to create more designs and seek inspiration from across the world through social media platforms. In general, digitization has revolutionized manufacturing through newer tools as well as designing. Going forward, it will become a core enabler for most of the creative businesses.
Lastly, I feel that there will be an automatic increase in the demand for crafted goods as consumer choices incline towards products that have a soul. The value of the product will depend not just on its price, but how well it has been handcrafted, the investment of skills and the love for crafts that is reflected in one-of-its-kind products. There would also be an emotional attachment to the products knowing that each purchase will improve the livelihood of an artisan family. All of these factors will lead to an upturn in the creative industries across domains in India.