Exclusive: Diamond Milestones with Neelam

In this first person account, the actor and jewellery designer shares her precious memories and the special stories around natural diamonds

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Jewellery and Image Credits: Neelam Jewels and Neelam Kothari Soni

Diamonds. Colorstones. Design. Cut. Clarity. Ever since I was a little girl, these were the words I often heard around the house. I come from a family of four generations of jewellers.

I have a vivid memory of receiving my first diamond pendant around my 10th birthday. The pendant featured the letter ‘N’, made of small diamonds embedded in acrylic, all enclosed in a gold heart. Although it was no large solitaire diamond, the pendant’s design was distinct and remains close to my heart to this day.

Everything I know about diamonds, I’ve learnt from my father. From assorting and grading to pricing and quality checking, he has been my constant counsel. He believed that there was no better training than hands-on training. This is where my passion was sparked.

Neelam, Beyond The Neelam Show

Acting was one opportunity that almost fell into my lap. Being a timid and very shy young girl, I wasn’t sure if I could even get past my first audition. But a great stint in the industry, and 40 films later, it was a gamble worth every penny.

Like everything has a shelf life, and with quality work diminishing, I knew it was time to say goodbye and start a new chapter of my life. And luckily, I had a backup plan.

The journey. From actor to jeweller

This transition, however, from the silver screen to jewellery designer has been one of the most difficult. People’s inability to take me seriously was the most challenging. Jewellery in India is all about trust. It took me more than 10 years to earn the trust of a customer.

My father was predominantly into the diamond business and his main focus was in the diamond trade while I built the design aspect of the business in India from the ground up. When I was handed my first pile of diamonds to grade and assort, I knew this was what I was meant to do.

I started with dainty, daily-wear. I lacked confidence initially, in fact, my dad too was sceptical about handing me larger designs. Clients wouldn’t be spending 50 lakhs on my design just because I was an actor. Only when my dad and I both developed confidence in my work, did I move on to bigger pieces. Now I can proudly say that my clients have complete faith and trust in me and my jewellery which only comes with hard work, passion and dedication.

A natural diamond lasts forever

Ever wonder why the most memorable of occasions are commemorated with diamonds? Proposal rings or wedding jewellery? They’re eternal. They’ll last forever. Which is what we want our relationships to be.

This takes me back to the start of my own love story, which unfolded quite differently from what we see in movies. When Samir proposed to me on the day of his eviction from the Bigg Boss house, he didn’t have a ring on him. With just 15 days to plan the wedding, he suggested I choose my own ring! I would have loved to design my own diamond engagement ring but because of the time constraint I ended up purchasing one that I adored – an emerald cut, which has always been a personal favourite.

One of the most significant moments that I chose to commemorate with natural diamonds was the birth of my daughter, Ahana. I designed little diamond studs for her. I made sure none of the prongs hurt her and fit her perfectly. The thought of giving her a timeless piece that represents eternity was truly special.

From the everyday to the extravagant

I was determined to purchase my first diamond solitaire with my first paycheck. Interestingly, I discovered that a 0.99-carat diamond was priced lower than a 1-carat diamond. So, I set out to buy my very first 0.98-carat diamond. The purchase marked a significant milestone for me.

I’m the kind of person who loves to flaunt my jewellery whenever I go someplace fancy or significant. To an extent where my friends are poking fun at me saying, ah, we know you’re a jeweller, but hold it! But, not me. I love wearing lots of jewellery, statement necklaces, and dangling earrings — I go all out! Speaking of personal favourites, mine have to be emerald and Asscher cut natural diamonds. My diamond solitaire ring and studs are pretty much my go-to daily wear.

I specialise in coloured stones. I love mixing diamonds with colour stones, I believe it makes them a lot more vibrant. When designing bridal sets, I like to mix full cut diamonds with rose cut diamonds as these different cuts look very interesting instead of keeping them all as solitaires.

A bridal necklace I designed for the royal family in Bahrain is one I’m immensely proud of. I made use of rose-cut diamonds, golconda diamonds, and full cut diamonds – this has to be my most special bride and set since it was a five line set 

Surrogate diamonds and the price of imitation

As a jewellery enthusiast and a professional, I strongly discourage the use of CVDs or surrogate diamonds. While they may be acceptable for use in costume jewellery, I do not recommend them in any other context.

Another concern is that CVDs are often priced at nearly half the cost of natural diamonds, which can make them a tempting option for some. However, surrogate diamonds cannot compare to the beauty and value of a natural diamond, a gemstone that will retain its value and beauty for generations to come.

Precious gems need precious care

The frequency with which you wear your ornaments determines how often they need maintenance. For instance, a ring worn daily requires cleaning and getting the prongs checked every 2 – 3 months. It makes a world of difference to get it polished and cleaned to bring back its lustre.

When applying perfume, avoid direct contact with the stones. It’s advisable to store pieces in their boxes or wrapped in muslin cloth. It’s so disheartening to see people come in with all their jewellery stuffed in a pouch. I think the same goes for antique jewellery – that has been in existence for 50+ years – get it checked, store it safely, preferably in a muslin cloth.

Diamonds are more than just a profession. To me, designing bespoke and timeless pieces is about creating memories that last a lifetime, and my way of leaving behind a legacy.