A pair of 80-year-old bajubands (armlets) turned into pendants for contemporary use, part of a dazzling exhibition on period jewellery, hold your attention at Delhi’s Saffronart, an auction house for modern Indian art, paintings and collectibles. Made of nine rock-crystal quartz pieces mounted on pure gold, embellished with rubies, emeralds and floral red and white enamel motifs on the back, they evoke an abiding interest in their story.

Their form may have been mutated to make them wearable but they symbolize the handcrafted jewellery traditions of a bygone time—of kundan (gem-set jewellery with gold foil between the stones), jadau (engraving) and meenakari (enamel work on precious metals), which date back to the Mughal era and beyond. “Besides viewing a piece of jewellery it’s important for us to understand the history of that piece, the aesthetic it draws from, and its purpose," says Minal Vazirani, co-founder, Saffronart, Delhi.

The exhibition Indian Period Jewelry, curated by experts from the auction house and on till 30 April, has 30 period pieces in jadau, kundan and meenakari, all dating to the 1930s-1950s. All the pieces on view are from private collections. The selection is engrossing for those who nurture a discerning interest in the decorative art traditions of India as well as for those curious to include similar, but reinterpreted or inspired pieces in their personal collections. It is hardly a coincidence that more and more jewellery houses now offer pieces inspired from period jewellery urging contemporary designers to find ways to mainstream tradition by styling such pieces to be paired with modernist, even minimalist, clothing.

Some months back, Indian jewellery brand Amrapali collaborated with designer Manish Arora for a jewellery line, fused from both precious and semi-precious materials in designs that quirkily mixed tradition with new ideas in creative crafts. Arora liberally used the enamelling technique to create bracelets, hand accessories, rings, necklaces and ear ornaments, many of them in animal motifs.

A gem-set enamel Kada with table-cut ‘polki’ diamonds and rubies

The kundan, jadau and meenakari crafts flourished under the patronage of Mughal emperors and were most visible in the courts of Jaipur and later Bikaner in Rajasthan, where traditional engraving and enamelling work is still done by local jewellers. As is the gulabi meenakari (dusky rose-pink enamelling work) of Varanasi which, in the days of yore, was done by jewellery artisans without design templates, with hand-worked precision. “Mughal emperors used their aesthetic vision to transform, metamorphose these techniques into a decorative art form, which is still so appealing to us today," adds Kumar.

Indian Period Jewelry is on till 30 April, 11am-7pm (Monday-Saturday) and 11am-4pm (Sunday), at Saffronart, The Oberoi Hotel, Dr Zakir Hussain Marg (24369415/ 24304458). Click here for details.

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