Giving Portrait Cuts A New Lease of Life

Vishal Anil Kothari, jeweller extraordinaire, lets us into his world of indigenous dexterity and artistic use of natural diamonds at VAK Jewels, one conversation-starting jewel at a time.

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Vishal Anil Kothari on artistic use of natural diamonds at VAK Jewels

There’s the kind of natural diamond jewellery we’re acquainted with—sparkling, like stars itself caught and woven into a trinket; rock-solid, like it’s made forever. For some people, natural diamonds are ornaments. For others, they are investments. For Vishal Anil Kothari, third-generation jeweler and creative director at VAK Jewels, the hardest substance on earth illustrates tenderness and timelessness at once, opening up a whole new set of possibilities and perspectives. “To me, diamonds signify not just the bling or a commodity, but the art that we create around it,” he says. 

The Iconoclast

A graduate gemologist and an autodidact designer, Vishal is a third-generation jeweler. His first brush with natural diamonds was during his formative years. “My dad was always into big diamonds, especially 10 carats plus pear-shaped stones. My initial encounter with natural diamonds was during a Diwali puja in my dad’s office when I was about 5 years old. I was too young to fall in love with diamonds then, but they instantly caught my eye,” he recalls. From early on he was something of a maverick. He spent 25 years of his career in the family’s wholesale business. While it was a very successful venture, Vishal’s artisanal and strong architectural bent led him to incept his namesake label, VAK Jewels in 2015.

 Much like musicians Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan and Jim Morrison who hugely influenced his path, Vishal is “a rebel.” With the 100-120 pieces the nonconformist jeweler creates every year, he is constantly disrupting norms. The only thing unequivocal is his unwavering work with gemstones, albeit in diverse and avant-garde ways. The gifted jeweler handpicks unique diamonds and rare untreated coloured stones for his collections, sourced from across the world. Invariably, the natural diamonds are fashioned in out-of-the-box cuts.

 Signature Stamp

Whether it’s VAK Jewels’ heirloom-worthy creations for the new-era bride or red carpet-ready shoulder-dusters encrusted with the finest natural diamonds, Vishal takes pride in creating pieces that marry languishing craftsmanship skills with contemporary sensibilities and state-of-the-art technology. “Our signature is the use of minimal metal to craft slim and super lightweight pieces. In our designs, you won’t see any metal from anywhere. Every area is covered with natural diamonds and coloured stones,” Vishal explains. Technically speaking, the creations by VAK Jewels are bereft of any tracery outlining it. The result is “a seamless canvas of floating gemstones.”

The design credo since the inception of the eponymous label, Vishal says, is to express jewellery as a piece of art—not as a display of wealth, but one that’s priceless. Today, the label is a luxury legend and still holds fast to its humble proclamation of purpose. It has also helped build a formidable following, counting among its clients, celebrities and discerning collectors from around the world. His atelier in the heritage district of Mumbai continues to be a go-to destination for purveyors of timeless luxury.

The Artist and His Muse

In Mumbai, the city where Vishal grew up, he found a worthy muse, and his now signature aesthetic—one that draws from modern minimalism and marvelous architecture—was born. He shares, “For me, inspiration comes from ancient architectural buildings in old Mumbai and ornamental motifs that adorn them. It could be a mammoth monument or something minuscule I spot on heritage buildings. I love old historical buildings and the way they were constructed. I borrow from the architectural motifs on the edifice, on the walls, and even on the flooring. But it’s always my interpretation, it’s never literal,” he elaborates.

A technical innovator with a mastery of metallurgy and artisanal craftsmanship, Vishal keeps getting enthused by “Gothic Revival architecture of Mumbai or what’s known as Bombay Gothic. Think Afghan Church (1858), the High Court (1878), and the old university buildings (1868-1880). I also gravitate towards Renaissance architecture, Art Deco. Indo-Saracenic and Baroque architecture. My work is an amalgam of these periods interpreted in a modern way,” he discloses. One of VAK Jewels’ statement rings is a glittering tipping of the hat to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus. What is it about the trinket that puts it in a league of its own? For starters, quatrefoil is the leitmotif of this pièce de résistance, which is mirrored from the iconic railway terminus and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Vishal inverts the void by beautifully filling it with a two-carat cushion rose cut diamond in the center flanked by four smoky topazes.

No Stone Unturned

Not limited to exquisite designs, unique cut natural diamonds also play protagonist in the earrings, necklaces, bracelets and rings crafted by VAK Jewels. “We use a lot of portrait diamonds and rose cut diamonds in our work,” Vishal says, reinstating his affinity for natural diamonds. The portrait cut diamond, also known as lasque, is among the oldest forms of diamond cutting, which traces its origins to India.

Unlike conventional natural diamonds that boast brilliance, portrait cut diamonds are precision-cut and polished to a flat plane much like glass. “It is a personal favorite, and dates back to the 14th-15th century. Since we use portrait cut diamonds that are super shallow, we are able to use it with minimal metal,” Vishal says of his work. Be it VAK Jewels’ multi-layered Portrait necklace with portrait cut natural diamonds in multiple shapes and sizes or the bracelet, inspiration, imagination and innovation has kept the jewellery designer creatively fulfilled, and the brand relevant and resurgent.

While Vishal’s statement pieces are handcrafted in-house by master craftsmen using the ancient know-how of India’s jewelry-making traditions, his raison d’être, so to speak, is creating jewellery that lasts forever and forms the perfect bridge between the past and the future.