Surekha Sreejith's Kathakali pendant was featured in TLC's ‘Oh My Gold'

It comes as something of a surprise when Surekha Sreejith, design head VNM Jewel Crafts Ltd, says that she has absolutely no formal training in jewellery designing.

Of all the jewellery designers in the million jewellery shops in Kerala why Surekha Sreejith you ask? H. Venkatesha Naik (the flagship store of VNM Jewel Crafts) was chosen to represent the jewellery of Kerala in TLC's series on gold, ‘Oh My Gold!'. A pendant designed by her was the ‘showstopper'.

One of the reasons that they were chosen was that they have a manufacturing facility and retail stores. The series showcased five distinct styles of jewellery in India. And since gold is an integral part of our culture and we have a distinct style of (and attitude towards) gold jewellery Kerala was chosen. The episode on Kerala was aired on July 15.

The episode, besides introducing viewers to the jewellery of different areas, also showed the crafting of a piece of jewellery. The producers wanted to show a piece that would be representative of Kerala, and they wanted it fast.

Surekha smiles at the memory and the extremely short notice that she was given. Ravinath Mohandas, managing director VNM Jewel Crafts, says, “The Kathakali face gave us the option of showcasing the various elements of design of typical Kerala jewellery. People are familiar with the Jadau of Jaipur or the pearls of Hyderabad but not much is known of typical Kerala jewellery. We wanted the world to know what we have besides tourism.”

“Ravi sir told me in the morning that they wanted the design in the evening. That was pressure!” Surekha says. It took her, after consultations with Ravi, just a day to put the design down on paper.

She had been toying with the idea of a collection inspired by Kathakali. And so when she got her chance, she seized the day with both hands or rather with her drawing pencil. What translated on paper and finally in gold was more than a mere representative piece of Kerala.

The design was an elaborate interpretation of Kathakali, the Kathakali face actually. Remember those Plaster of Paris wall pieces of the Kathakali face, only this is in gold. “The producers fell in love with it the moment they saw it. They, however, specified that the pendant would have to be replicated exactly in gold.” The producer's brief asked for a story to go with the design. Once she had the design, Surekha and Ravi connected the design to the story.

Just as Kathakali has navarasas, this design incorporates elements of the nine typical/traditional jewellery designs of Kerala. The final design however it is a melding of the modern and the traditional. The kireedom (crown/headgear) incorporates elements of the traditional designs. The face and some parts of the headgear have Bengali filigree and granulation work and red stones to break the monotony (also brightness) of solid gold.

Weighs a kilogram

“Completing it took a month-and-half and four to five craftsmen. A wax mould was made on which each element was manually placed and soldered. It was meticulous hard work but it is worth every bit of effort,” Rekha says. The pendant weighs almost a kilogram but doesn't look bulky because of the design.

Thalaserry-based Surekha learnt drawing and painting and has a keen eye for design. She now looks forward to elaborating the line; in fact, she already has collection of ‘Kathakali' designs ready.

When the masterpiece was showcased, a wide-eyed Lisa commented , “If there ever was a masterpiece this is it!” Indeed!