The leading ladies of the Indian diamond industry have quite literally taken the phrase ‘Diamonds are a girl’s best friend’ and turned it into their life’s journey. For this International Women’s Day, I spoke with 12 women from different walks of life who contribute to the diamond industry in India. These women have proved their strength and durability in an industry heavily dominated by men, breaking the glass ceiling for others to join. They are taking charge and moving to the forefront by filling in positions of jewellery designers, manufacturers, entrepreneurs, directors of multinationals and even deans of institutes. They are becoming diamond assorters and are valued as artisans who craft jewellery meticulously. It doesn’t stop there, they are also seen driving trucks at mining sites alongside their male counterparts.
When I visited the De Beers Venetia Mines in Limpopo, South Africa I was told that it takes approximately 10 tonnes of ore to result in 1 carat worth of polished diamonds. That’s where it occurred to me how rare of a miracle a natural diamond is! Although the industry caters largely to women, the majority of the businesses are run by men. A woman pushing past these barriers draws a similarity to how an ethical diamond is born. These women have beaten all odds by not only producing authentic, stunning jewellery collections that make for statement pieces, but also by becoming their wearers.
It is my honour to feature some of these leading ladies from the modern natural diamond industry in India. Today, we reminisce about their journey this far, and a piece of natural diamond jewellery they cannot live without!
“It’s been almost 18 years for me in this business and each passing year has been a stepping stone in one way or the other. The memory that I really cherish is my trip to the African diamond mines where I had an opportunity to see the actual sourcing and the origin of the diamonds. That’s when I fell deeper in love with the gemstone that I work on every day as I saw it in its purest, rarest form. It made it all the more valuable for me.” comments Prerna Khurana, the Director at Khurana Jewellery House. With an experience of 18 years in the industry, she reminisces the time she started off and how she survived in the industry.
“The piece of jewellery that I don’t leave my house without is a 4-carat oval-shaped diamond ring. I am absolutely in love with it as I love fancy shaped diamonds. It’s all the more special as it’s a gift given to me by my love on our 25th wedding anniversary.”
“There are so many moments! From earning a Guinness World Record, designing a Royal Diamond Tiara, being featured on a Belgian postage stamp to designing historic pieces with the first ever diamonds recovered from Ontario, Canada and Bunder mine in India holding some of the most celebrated diamonds in the world.” highlights Reena Ahluwalia who is a jewellery designer, painter, professor and Founder at Reena Ahluwalia Design Inc as she speaks of the sparkling moments of her career.
“My star-shaped diamond pendant with a large solitaire. It reminds me to receive light from others, share my own light and to never forget that all I need, I carry within myself, brilliantly,” adds Reena as she speaks of the jewellery she never leaves the house without.
“One of the most thrilling shoots was when our team flew to LA to shoot with Kim Kardashian West for our cover story. We had with us a pair of diamond earrings so massive, they weighed probably 500 gms each. They were amazingly over the top and created by the brand Estaa for this shoot. They were truly the definition of statement earrings and you could see them from a mile away.”
“Of all the jewellery I own, the most precious will forever be the ring my husband proposed with. Not only does it bring back beautiful memories of our lovely holiday in the Maldives, but he also had it inscribed with the date he proposed and a message. I know that he worked closely with his jeweller ‘Mine Gold & Jewellery’ which makes it even more special. I love pieces of jewellery that have a little piece of history attached to it, it makes it all the more an heirloom when passed on to the next generation.”
“There have been many shining moments all through my journey. The one that really stood out for me in recent times is when we created Aarambh, one of our collections launched last year bang in the middle of the pandemic. The purpose of the launch was much larger than just launching new products. We believed that it is our responsibility to build a collective positive outlook, help our customers stay resilient amidst uncertainty and to embrace the present with grace & strength. The inspiration was nature which reinforced the fact that struggle isn’t a bad thing’. Every piece in the collection stood for resilience, grace, positivity and optimism and the diamonds in them sparkled and shone with the hope and confidence of a better tomorrow. This was indeed a proud moment and will remain etched in my memory for years to come.”
“My favourite diamond jewellery is a versatile diamond jewellery inspired by the Tree of Life.”
“My favourite diamond jewellery piece is the bracelet that we have made for my personal collection. It is crafted in 18k white gold with multiple rows of diamonds set in a unique way. It has got so much volume to it and yet it sits beautifully on the wrist. The fact that diamonds are taken from an older jewellery piece that was gifted to me by my mother, makes it so special.” quotes Mira Gulati, Founder and Principal Designer of Mirari International.
“I feel we are fortunate enough to be in a place and time when women can choose their own path for themselves. Though there is one thing that every career-oriented woman finds challenging, and that is to find a balance between our work and family commitments. But we are driven in such a way that we want to have it all, so we make it happen.”
“Everyone wearing a Diamond has a story to share about it. A memory, a moment, a celebration, an emotion. It doesn’t really matter how big or small the piece of natural diamond jewellery is, the sentiment behind it is what gets the consumer to come back. These stories and emotions are what drew me to this world and continue to keep me fascinated” quotes Richa.
“Our all-women team at NDC has been working to expand and strengthen the category of diamond jewellery by empowering the consumers with the right knowledge about diamonds & inspiring them with the emotional upshots of owning diamonds. We are all passionate believers of the Diamond Dream!” she adds taking pride in her team at Natural Diamond Council.
A Natural Random Cut Tourmaline is her personal favourite. Talking about this necklace with a hint of pride she says, “ This necklace received rave reactions from friends and all the colour-loving people. This necklace is a real show-stealer for me,”
She further adds, “Challenges are more to race against time to innovate in design. As a qualified jewellery designer (from GIA), I found it challenging to keep up with other designers at C.Krishniah Chetty! It has been a challenge for three decades in my career, to cater to evolving trends and taste in the jewellery of three generations.”
When asked to name a piece of jewellery she doesn’t leave the house without, she said “That’s a hard pick, If I have to choose it would be my Ballerina ring with the Heart shaped diamond surrounded by Baguettes.”
Dr Usha Balakrishnan
Dr Usha R. Balakrishnan is a Cultural Capital Consultant and a jewellery historian. She has single-handedly documented, studied, published and disseminated knowledge on India’s five thousand year jewellery tradition. About her love for diamonds she quotes, “As a jewellery historian, I love them all. Diamonds – gemstones like the Orlov, the Shah, the Hope, the Dresden, not to mention the Koh-i-Nur are all among the galaxy of Golconda diamonds that I absolutely love. I think what appeals to me most are the old cuts of Indian natural diamonds. Diamond slices, gently faceted around the edges releasing the hidden fire inside the stone are what fascinate me the most and never fail to captivate me.”
Speaking about her favourite jewellery, “I love to wear a new piece of jewellery every day – it gives me great pleasure since I am so passionate about my chosen area of study. But, my favourite piece is a V-shaped ring, known as Nelli in South India, which belonged to my mother. It is in the form of two parrots and set with diamonds, rubies and emeralds. The ring is everything that jewellery should be – great design, beautiful gems and exquisite workmanship.”
With a spark in her eyes, Dolly quotes about a memory etched for life “My visit to the diamond mines of Argyle in Perth, Australia” and holding some of the most exquisitely designed diamond jewellery crafted in India for the jewellers of the world.”
Her favourite piece of jewellery is a pair of chandelier earrings since they are timeless, eternal and magnificent!
“This particular solitaire ring from the Forevermark Setting Collection is my favourite. It is a classic design that highlights the real beauty of the natural diamond, in a way reminding me that any woman can shine just as bright without any embellishment.” with a twinkle in her eyes, highlights Toranj.
“Through my journey at De Beers, I’ve been lucky to have some fabulous experiences. I have interacted with & learned from some of the most creative minds in the luxury industry including but not limited to Bibhu Mohapatra, Tarun Tahiliani, and Sabyasachi. I feel privileged to have seen some of the most beautiful, precious & natural diamonds in the world and I am extremely proud to be a part of the De Beers Group, an organisation that puts social responsibility at the heart of whatever it does. For me, the shining highlight throughout my time in this industry has been the contribution to a larger goal in building forever and making the lives of people around me brilliant!”
“As a woman, I feel we all are faced with various challenges in our lives. Creating the right balance between work and family has to be of utmost importance. Being a mother is full-time work in itself, but my occupation is my baby too. And I have always treated my work with the same love, attention and care as I have done with my kids. Once the right cord was struck, every challenge I have faced has been overcome with ease.” quotes Niki. Sawansukha ensures she never leaves her house without her favourite diamond ring!
“Gender equality has always been a challenge in our industry. It has been a tough journey, which I have dealt with one day at a time and carved my own niche, especially being from a non-jewellery family industry. When I started jewellery influencing five years ago, the concept of jewellery blogging was alien in the Indian jewellery industry and charging commercials for a project sounded like asking for a free diamond. It has taken a lot to get to where I am today, which I have accomplished with my hard work.”
A recent memory etched for life is hosting the book signing of “The Cartiers”, authored by Francesca Cartier Brickell. I was overwhelmed to see many stalwarts from the jewellery & luxury industry present at the event which was put together in a week in Mumbai in January 2020.” quotes Prernaa.
Such are the rare diamonds of our industry, pushing through, stepping ahead and making way for themselves with their never-ending spirit. With relentless drive, they have shone through and are leading the way for a great change in the industry for more women to come! This International Women’s Day, we shine a light on their legacy and what they have achieved in this modern diamond industry. Their influence has been crucial to the expansion of the diamond industry, making room for diversity and leading the way for women in India.