With her big-and-bold idiom Bharathi Raviprakash has captured the attention of fashionistas for a decade. A chat with the jewellery designer about the different aspects of her work
From the chunky faux jewellery piece that adorns the display window outside Studio Tara to the little brown cutensil in which she serves a handful of spicy sundal, design permeates Bharathi Raviprakash's world. No cream and black velour trays or headache-inducing spotlights to display her collections. To her, style is soaked in detail. So while an ornate “Mystique” basks in the warm glow of a recessed LED, a whimsical “Blue Nile” sparkles from a discreetly-lit niche. Clusters of finger rings turn a barren bonsai sculpture into a delightful clutter and a sprinkling of lose varicolored stones in a glass showcase looks longingly at the designer.
“They are waiting for me,” beams Bharathi. For someone to whom big is beautiful and bold, second-glance grabbing, you'd expect to see her in a huge statement piece. But all she wears is a fuss-free pair of solitaire studs that melds with her overall look of simplicity. “The aim is to get my clients to wear them,” she says, taking me through her eclectic lines.
Jewellery has been Bharathi's ‘obsession' since childhood. “I loved creating my own pieces. It was flattering to see jewellers replicate my designs when I placed orders with them. Also, appreciation and encouragement from family and friends pushed me to take up design as a career.”
Having studied Economics, Bharathi became a moneychanger. “I was probably the only woman in the field several years ago. I had to do something to get out of the monotony of handling money!”
Economics, to her, was “boring.” And she certainly doesn't believe in economy when it comes to design. Bharathi's idiom ever since she launched Studio Tara a decade ago has been about magnificence. Big stones, rich tones and notice-me detailing. “It was not a time when people were used to the idea of shopping in a relaxed ambience in a studio that showcased just a few pieces. Thanks to my designs, which were different, my initial years weren't difficult.”
Price tags have never been a concern with Bharathi. “I used to do huge stones only — not less than 10 carats. Solitaires and big gem stones fascinated me. There's always a market for quality, unmindful of the price. Earlier, you could get a decent set of earrings-necklace for Rs.5 lakh. Not anymore. With costs going up, it's time to switch to statement pieces — just one at a time. A necklace that stands out or a pair of earrings that demand attention. We have to move away from the idea of looking complete from head to toe. Stylish outfit, fabulous footwear and just one fantastic piece of jewellery! Wow!”
Having studied at the Gemmological Institute of America (in London), the designer constantly enrols herself for courses to update herself on the evolving techniques in her field. “Today, jewellery design is about technology. You must have the knowledge and skill of a technician and the soul and sensibility of an artist.”
Creating four to six lines a year, showing at many places in India and abroad and running a standalone store in Chennai (Studio Tara on Kasturi Ranga Road) demand a fine balance of craft and commerce. “I consider myself a designer with business acumen. Initially, I used to focus on the creative side and hated the business part of my work. Gradually, I understood there was no question of divorcing one from the other.”
With a clientele that runs like a wish list (she's not the Kollywood-Bollywood type. Her women are mostly A-listers in the corporate world), Bharathi steps up the style quotient with every line. “Design has to be ahead of the market. It has to enhance the wearer and also be versatile (think formal-informal, Western-Indian crossover intricately-crafted annam pendant on a velvet band for the neck). Her new line in azure and powder blue tones is called Blue Nile. “Travel inspires me. When I return, there's a burst of creativity.” When Bharathi returned from Turkey, she designed an entire line inspired by chillies. “I'm a chilli person. I love it in excess in my food too.” (Hah, the fiery sundal!) Pendants and earrings with a single or a cluster of red chillies were a hit with youngsters. With a touch of whimsy, she created another line, ‘Critters' that featured spiders and scorpions on pendants.
A recurring phrase during the interview is “give back to society.” Having carved a niche for herself in her field, Bharathi insists on “Paying karigars well, encouraging them to invest in professional tools, experiment with new finishes and getting them to be quality-conscious.”
Whether working with delicate pearls or adamantine diamonds, Bharathi keeps her designs simple. “The stone plays a stellar role in my creations. Big, bold stones spur my work. I'm not into sketches. Jewellery is like sculpture.”
Talk about sustainable jewellery and ethical issues revolving around sourcing gem stones, and the designer says, “The diamonds I use are ‘conflict-free'. The gold I use is recycled 24 carat. My coloured gemstones are sourced from reputed trading houses. Jewellery is not only about trends, but also about timelessness and memories. So I'm sensitive to the ethical issues.”
Tips on maintenance
I recommend tissue paper and plastic boxes instead of the traditional jewellery boxes.
Don't spray perfume on the jewellery.
A simple shampoo scrub for most pieces will do.
For pearls, just wipe them.
Get the setting checked for solitaires every few years.
In today's context, a pair of South Sea pearl drops that you can wear for any occasion, a solitaire ring and studs, and a couple of pieces that are bold and reflect your personality.
Big one-off single pieces with coloured stones.
Remember all must go solo — a single statement piece paired with a lovely dress or sari!