Mapping jewels with Saffronart’s two-day conference

It has always confounded Dr Usha R Balakrishnan why we don’t talk about our jewellery traditions, trade and treasures, save perhaps for the recurring demand to ‘bring back’ the Kohinoor from London. “We have a huge trove lying here in India [from the maharajas’ jewels to the gold discovered at the Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram, worth an estimated ₹90,000 crore], which hasn’t gone out of the country. Yet people are scared to show it, to publish it,” says the jewellery historian. “This is wealth that needs to be showcased, not only to our public [through museums], but to the world, through travelling exhibitions.” So, she is doing something about it.

Next week, the second edition of her biennial jewellery conference, curated for Saffronart — as part of the auction house’s ‘Dialogues in Art’ series — will kick off in Mumbai. The goal of Mapping a Legacy of Indian Jewels: to unpack India’s 5,000-year history of gemstones, craftsmanship and aesthetics. The immersive two-day event, with its illustrious list of speakers from India and around the world, she says, will tap knowledge and expertise that is not easily accessible to the public.

Mapping jewels with Saffronart’s two-day conference

The conference will open with international jewellery specialist Lisa Hubbard (former Jewellery Chairman of the Americas for Sotheby’s, and current senior advisor to Christie’s jewellery department) breaking down the anatomy of an auction. Most recently, Hubbard was involved in the sale of the Al Thani (Qatar’s ruling family) jewels for Christie’s, called ‘Maharajas and Mughal Magnificence’.

“I have tried to introduce two complementary speakers in each session,” says Balakrishnan. “For example, the opening session on day two will have [art historian and author] Hugo Miguel Crespo speaking about the Indo-Portuguese connection. He will focus on the period of the viceroyalty of Francisco Da Gama, when gem trade was very lucrative. And we will also have designer Wendell Rodricks, who has researched and documented costumes and adornment in Goa.”

Mapping jewels with Saffronart’s two-day conference

But how does she hope a discussion of the past will connect with the future? “Jewellery is in the Indian DNA, but most people know very little about the history of this tradition, how the designs evolved, etc. Our agenda is much larger than just a talk; it is to drum up interest in the subject. The more we talk about it, the more the authorities will hear about it. Then, perhaps, the government will digitise our archives, or help get the Nizam’s jewels on permanent exhibition, or [give scholars like me permission] to go into temples and document the collections there. These are the substratas of this conference,” she says, adding that, going forward, she will bring in other forms of jewellery that we have a great tradition of, such as silver, folk and tribal jewellery.

The two-day event is priced at ₹15,000 (plus taxes). At the Four Seasons Hotel, Worli, Mumbai, on October 11-12. Details:

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Printable version | Jun 10, 2021 10:21:58 PM |

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