Inheritance of Style: Rhea Kuruvilla

She knows what she likes, and leaves no stone unturned while going after it. Meet the art enthusiast and tastemaker who is driven to put Indian art on the global map, and looks fantastic in her natural diamonds while she’s at it.

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Rhea Kuruvilla effortlessly straddles the old and the new. She considers herself an old soul, but is deeply rooted in the realities of now. 

As an art marketing professional at Saffron Art, an international auction house based in Mumbai, she is well-versed in all that catches the eye and stirs the soul. Her growing up years were as colourful as the art she surrounds herself with: she was born in Dubai, raised in Mumbai and ended up in Milan for her alma mater. 

One thing that stands out about Kuruvilla, both from her Instagram feed and our conversation, is her bond with her family. They share many common interests, with art and natural diamond jewellery coming out at the top. Arm in arm with her father, she makes her way across fashion capitals of the world, mingling with the crème de la crème while dressed in finery from superstar Indian designers such as Gaurav Gupta. It is clear that from day one, she was raised to curate the good life on her own terms, and she is deeply influenced by her family’s impeccable taste. 

“I’ve always been a lifelong aesthete. In young adulthood, I made it my mission to be surrounded by beauty. My love for jewellery came about when I started making my own money. After receiving my first salary at the age of 21, I started thinking about big purchases that would be special because I bought them and they meant something to me. It was really amazing when the worlds of vintage and jewellery met, and now I’m building a mini collection of diamond jewellery,” she shares.

The love of adorning oneself with precious metals and gems is very central to India’s culture. Kuruvilla sees this reflected in the works of one of the earliest Indian modern artists, Raja Ravi Verma. “He paid so much attention to detail and that included women’s jewellery. If you look at some of his paintings, you’ll notice how each and every one of his women were adorned with fine necklaces, earrings, and baju bandhs,” she points out.

Feminine Splendour

The long line of exacting women that Kuruvilla comes from has had a lot of impact on her sensibilities. Growing up, she always admired her nani (maternal grandmother) and her dressing rituals. “My nani has always been this incredibly chic Lucknowite. What I admire the most about her is that every day, she wakes up, does her hair neatly, drapes a crisp saree, and puts on her go-to earrings, which I adore,” she shares. The earrings in question are a pair of “retro–looking” diamond solitaires with a silver circular pattern around them. “I love them because they just remind me of her so much – they are just classic her and I don’t think I’ve seen that style on anyone else. They’re reminiscent of a time which doesn’t exist anymore”.

As much as her nani has influenced her sense of style, she believes that it is the 85–year–old’s sense of self that has really stuck with her. Kuruvilla’s real inheritance from her nani lies in the lessons she passed on.

“She taught me a lot about value because even though she was incredibly chic, she was also smart and sensible in that way. She didn’t splurge, and she wasn’t someone who lived beyond her means. That has been very helpful when buying diamond jewellery pieces because you don’t wanna get out of hand – you want to build a sensible collection that is tailored to your needs,” Kuruvilla says.

Her first introduction to buying jewellery was through the shopping trips in Lucknow that she took along with her mum, maasi and naani. Even now, every time Kuruvilla visits her family, they make a girls’ ritual out of shopping for diamond jewellery from trusted old-school jewellers set amidst quaint lanes tucked away in the heart of the city. The fondness in Kuruvilla’s voice is palpable as she shares, “I’ve bought a lot of my natural diamonds at these places, where I’ve found some of the most stunning pieces. Even if these pieces are small and delicate, the thing is that there’s a story attached to them. It’s about me having that experience with my family – it’s 3 generations shopping together, with everyone giving their input. My nani has this traditional style while my mum is very funky, and I’m kind of in between. So it’s very interesting to shop together. And it’s also incredibly special because I get to go to these places that my mum and grandmum have been visiting for years. A lot of the times it’s the same old family jewellers, and it’s just a very intimate experience –  something you only get in a place like Lucknow.”

From My Heart To Yours

When I bring up the fact that natural diamonds are the ultimate symbol of love, Kuruvilla’s thoughts immediately turn to her parents’ swoon-worthy romance. And it’s a love story for the ages: her father, Mr Alex Kuruvilla spontaneously got down on one knee on a cold night in a garden in Delhi, and used a blade of grass to propose to her mother, the now Mrs Namita Kuruvilla. 

The solitaire ring on junior Kuruvilla’s finger is something she holds very close to her heart – her father gifted it to her mother on their 25th anniversary. Mr Kuruvilla worked closely with an old friend and Manhattan-based fine jeweller, Zameer Kassam, to craft this customised ring in honour of his lifelong partnership with his wife. He chimes in, saying, “Zameer put everything I shared with him together and it was simply magical – the ring had references to our favourite hotel in Positano, Le Sirenuse, as well as the impression of the blade of grass I’d used to propose. Even lyrics from our favourite music artist, Leonard Cohen, were inscribed on the inside of the ring’s band.” Talk about best anniversary gifts for wife.

As much as she enjoys the diamond heirlooms passed on to her, Kuruvilla is set on curating her own heirlooms. Her family’s mindset of independence rubbed off on her early on. For her, carefully researching, saving up for and investing in diamond jewellery of her own is supremely rewarding. “For my children or my grandchildren, I want them to be able to look back and say, ‘oh you know what, my grandmother bought these earrings for herself on her birthday’,” she says with a chuckle.

Preserving Memories

“Natural diamonds are a natural fit for Kuruvilla’s jewellery box, as she loves everything old and vintage: “I like natural diamonds so much because they are literally a billion years old. When it comes to collecting diamond jewellery, I live by ‘older the better’. Having a vintage diamond ring or necklace is a moment captured in time that is staying with you on your neck or your hand forever. I seek out pieces with a story, pieces that were created with intent and with purpose.”

This pursuit of conscious luxury manifested beautifully in a set of minimalist polki diamond earrings gifted to Kuruvilla by her friend, Suhair Khan. The Pakistani-Indian designer helms the jewellery label Land Of Giants. “I love the earrings not just because they look really sweet but because they were handmade by artisans in Karachi and Rawalpindi. Moreover, all the proceeds from sales go back into wildlife conservation in this mountainous area in Pakistan. It’s pieces like this, with some sort of deeper meaning, that inform my approach to collecting diamond jewellery,” says Kuruvilla.