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Jewel Bright

It is hard to link jewellery designing with lab coats and number crunching, but chemistry and maths both go into the making of a nice necklace. Sanchita Guha reports.

education Updated: Jun 20, 2012 17:38 IST
Sanchita Guha

It is hard to link jewellery designing with lab coats and number crunching, but chemistry and maths both go into the making of a nice necklace.

“Jewellery designing requires great aesthetic sense, illustration skill, technical skill, familiarity with chemistry, alloy and a comfort level with maths for the chemical equations,” says Sangeeta Dewan, head of design at Tanishq. These things are taught at design schools like the National Institute of Design (NID) and the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) as part of their course.

Things have changed from the time our grandmother’s trustee goldsmith would reproduce a design granny or mom had copied for his reference. Today, the Indian jewellery industry is a mini-behemoth, employing 13 lakh people, as per, a career information website.

The buyer base is so huge and jewellery so much a part of Indian life that the market accommodates numerous small to medium houses as well as big players. So, job prospects are bright.

However, the industry is yet to develop the kind of structure that will tell an aspirant where the stepping stones are. “They will find jobs (mostly) with private players, and it’s likely to be so in future,” says Dewan.

Interning for a top brand is like tonic for a designer’s career. Dewan went to NIFT, worked with a jeweller, got a scholarship to go to Milan and then interned with Van Cleef & Arpels, the French jewellery house, before the circle closed in India.

Elsewhere in the world, the career graph of South African Pieter Erasmus, a fine arts student, was also heading towards designing. A section in his art course was on jewellery design. One thing led to another, and Erasmus got a job in London at Erickson Beamon, the “baubles-and-bangles empire”. Now based in Delhi and most recently famous as the person whose creation graced Michelle Obama’s neck, Erasmus makes costume jewellery and for one with a bent for this kind of jewellery, “research and creativity matter more than craftsmanship”. That means studying trends and staying ahead of the curve.

Luckily, a start-up does not mean huge money. “To work with semi-precious gems, you at first need Rs 1.5 lakh-2 lakh,” says Rekha Arora, a designer who sources raw material from all over the world — from Jaipur to Turkey to Thailand — for her label Rika.

Arora, who retails in Delhi from White, a store in Hauz Khas village, closed the deal quite easily, but usually, networking through a design school is the way ahead.

At NIFT, jewellery designing is a part of the BDes programme and students get to work with retailers such as Tanishq and Hazoorilal. “The World Gold Council collaborates with us, and we have tie-ups with international institutions,” says Preetha Hussain, associate professor, BDes, NIFT.

The students learn software, sketching, use of wood and metals, and also marketing strategies. After graduation, the ties with the alma mater remain. As Hussain says, “Our graduates keep coming back for guidance.”

What's it About?
A jewellery designer can work independently, designing alone or with a small staff and retailing out of some stores. A designer can also work with one of the big brands or a smaller private player as an employee. While it takes courage to plunge into the middle of things as an entrepreneur, internship gives one the necessary experience, confidence and feel of the market. Aspirants armed with a good degree will get a hearing at jewellery houses in India and abroad. “NID and NIFT degrees are recognised internationally,” says Sangeeta Dewan, head of design at Tanishq and NIFT alumna. A jewellery designer these days is a tech-savvy one, working with 3D and graphic software, though one does need to know about the hands-on technique, mix of metals, stones etc to decide which designs can go from the drawing board to the store shelf

Clock Work
If self-employed:
8 am: Start work on designs
10 am: Coffee break
10.30 am: Speak/meet with individual clients or the stores that stock the jewellery
12.30 pm: Lunch
1.30 pm: Back to designs
4.30 pm: Review the day’s work and designs
6 pm: Read up for inspiration
8 pm: Done for the day

If designing for a jeweller:
9 am: Reach office and run through the day’s worklist
9.30 am: Start work on designs
1 pm: Lunch
2 pm: Back to designs
5 pm: Review the day’s work
6 pm: Leave for home

The Payoff
Since a large number of Indian jewellery designers work for private players, salaries can vary wildly, depending on how experienced a designer is and how much s/he is valued by the employer. A designer with a major retailer can get Rs 10,000 to Rs 25,000 a month in the beginning and then the pay can go above Rs 1 lakh a month, depending on seniority and calibre

A knack for illustration
. A keen eye for detail
. An affinity for fine art
. Comfort level with numbers

How do i get there?
A student with a Bachelor’s degree can go abroad for an internship with a jewellery house or study further at an institute like the Politecnico di Milano. The NIFT graduation programme requires a student to do a 22-week project with a jewellery house, making two or three collections for them. “They first understand the trends, go to the shop floor to see the production process and learn about marketing before deciding how their idea can be translated into a viable visual language,” says Preetha Hussain, associate professor, BDes, NIFT

Institutes & urls
. National Institute of Fashion Technology (various centres)
. NID, Ahmedabad
. Jewellery Design & Technology Institute, Noida
. SNDT University, Mumbai

Pros & Cons
. An extremely creative profession
. Opportunity to travel the world while sourcing material
. Making saleable collections to order can be tough
. Huge pressure during festive seasons

The prospects are getting better by the day

The head honcho of a major retail brand talks about what it means to have a design degree

How many designers does a major jewellery retailer typically employ?
A major jewellery manufacturer, retailer, wholesaler or exporter employs around 2,000 artisans trained in the making of gold, diamond, kundan and polki jewellery.

While the manufacturing line is artisan-based, we employ degree/diploma holders and use their talent to create the new design lines launched from time to time. The job prospects of qualified jewellery designers are getting better by the day, because they are well aware of fashion trends and preferences in the international market as well as the domestic one.

How much creative freedom is given to a designer employed by a big jewellery brand?
A designer employed by us is free to develop designs. Then we decide as per the commercial angle which designs are to be finally manufactured, depending on the preferences of our target clients.

Normally, jewellers launch new collections on Akshay Tritiya, Dhanteras, Valentine’s Day and the wedding season.

How does India’s jewellery export impact a designer’s career?
Despite the downturn, the Indian gem and jewellery industry recorded total exports worth US$ 21.11 billion in April 2008-March 2009, up from US$ 2.08 billion the year before. As export/sale goes up, naturally it has a direct bearing on a jewellery designer’s career.

Balram Garg, managing director, PC Jewellers Interviewed by Sanchita Guha