Stone Appeal - Leshna Shah

Leshna Shah – founder and Creative Head of Aurelle – is among a rare breed of jewellery designers whose creations feel like wearable works of art. The Mumbai-based designer who has spent over 15 years in the industry is quickly becoming a trailblazer for contemporary jewellery. In a conversation with You & I, Leshna shares her philosophy, chats about trends in jewellery design, and much more.

When did you first discover that you wanted to be a jewellery designer?
When I was about 17 years old I was sure that I wanted to do something in the creative field. My interest in those days was interiors or jewellery. Gemstones fascinated me a little more than homes. S.N.D.T. Women’s University had just come up with their diploma course in design and manufacturing, and that’s when I took the opportunity to explore my fascination. It was during the course of my education and my time working in New York as a merchandiser that I realised that this was my calling. I started out designing pieces only for myself, but that changed with time.

How would you describe your designs? What makes your collections unique?
My designs and collections are minimalistic and internationally inspired. They use clean lines and forms, highlighting a certain aspect of their design. That aspect could be the setting used to make the piece or the theme of the collection itself. The central point of focus is generally isolated. I also like to make sure that I design jewellery that can be worn easily. This inspiration I draw from my personal experience. I have a beautiful collection of jewellery that I got made during my wedding, but once my wedding was over the pieces came out only on rare occasions. My designs are statement pieces but are also versatile and chic. They can be paired with Indian outfits as well as casual work clothes or red carpet events. Our collections are unique because they are designed with current fashion and jewellery trends in mind. The young modern woman today dresses very differently than 15 years ago. Our designs are innovative and tend to push the envelope. We strive to use techniques and stones that are less commonly used, like the slice diamonds and the sliced colour stones. We take the utmost care to make the jewellery pieces very light, without compromising on the look of the piece.

What are your favourite materials to work with?
My favourite materials to work with are the slice diamonds. They have unique characteristics and are extremely challenging. They are also quite difficult to source.

What inspires you as a designer?
I believe inspirations exist everywhere if one seeks them out. A lot of times stones and their characteristics inspire me; sometimes it’s the texture, and other times it’s fashion trends. Then there are times when a certain technique and craftsmanship influences me and I create a collection around that.

What is your favourite piece that you’ve created, and what makes it so special?
My favourite piece is what I call our signature earrings. It’s extremely special because it was one of the first pieces I designed as part of the Aurelle collection. These earrings are big but extremely light, and completely flexible. To work out the linking of the piece was tricky, but fun and challenging at the same.

What is the biggest risk you’ve taken with a design?
I think we take a big risk with jewellery design every day. We strive to be innovative and unconventional. With that philosophy, everything we design is a risk because we are not looking at it with a commercial aspect, whether it is introducing a new kind of stone or setting or using a raw material. The success of that risk is only assessed or known after the line is realised, based on how well it is received.

What are the upcoming trends in the jewellery design industry?
The world of jewellery design is changing and evolving in India. As in fashion, where Indian designers have really advanced and created their mark, the same is happening in jewellery design. Today you see many new trends being accepted in India as well. New settings are accepted, and people are looking for pieces that are unique and not replicated or repeated.

Who are some of your favourite designers?
Internationally I admire Buccellati and Graff. I take a lot of inspiration from what’s trending in the fashion world. I also feel like a lot of the jewellery design inspiration and trends go hand-in-hand with the fashion world, and in that sense I admire Anamika Khanna among Indian designers. I love how she uses her cuts and drapes to create statements out of her outfits, and internationally I admire Valentino.

What advice would you give to someone interested in getting into the jewellery design business?
A person must be very clear on what aspect of the business they are getting into. Are they designing to be a brand or are they just jewellery stores. I believe there is a huge difference. Jewellery brands work according to their set design aesthetics, are futuristic and are mainly designed on what can or may work. Designs of brands may not appeal to all the clients initially, and the process of positioning yourself is harder.

The other is a jeweller or a jewellery store. Designing for this is a more open-ended aspect and there is no distinct style. They usually do a bit of everything and their designs are mainly based on what is working in the market. You tend to get mass appeal because you align yourself with every customer. So it is very important to identify what is your calling – the first or the second.

So what’s next?
I just introduced a small collection of our pieces in New York at the Sachin & Babi. The response to our designs was overwhelming and very positive. We plan to expand and take the brand to a global platform in the coming years. Currently, we are gearing up for our wedding collection, which will be launched this August.