Sunday, 31 July 2016


Puja Bhargava Kamath, Lai

In conversation with Hina Nitesh

'Story telling via Jewelry '

'This is our tagline', says Puja, an accessory designer from NIFT and the brain child behind Lai, her jewelry design studio. A small conversation with her tells us how meaningful this tagline is. Lets get to know more about Puja and Lai on OTDB today...

Rangoli inspired enamel pendant

On choosing to be a Jewelry designer

For someone whose passion is everything design and craft related, I did not wish to get tied down to a particular design field. After graduation in accessory design from NIFT, I took the freelance/Consultant route and picked up projects across different sectors including jewelry, crafts, interiors and leather products. During this time, I also took courses in Gemology from IGI, New Delhi and Art appreciations from the National Museum, New Delhi. 

Stylized paisley statement pendant

After providing design services to a number of leading national and international jewelry houses and working with craft clusters across India, the next obvious step was to venture out on my own. I felt silver jewelry was where my three passions - working with crafts and traditional skills, jewelry and history, converged. Thus in 2011, Lai, meaning beloved in Sanskrit and lyrical in French was born though I had started retailing with Fab India in 2009.

Modular earrings with lapis and granulation work that can be worn 2 ways

On the love for jewelry

I love jewelry- especially silver. I felt unexcited by the same-old designs that were in the market at that time and wanted to create pieces that were contemporary- not in a stark, clinical way but ones that celebrated an Indian minimalism. My jewelry also had to be wearable, something the wearer could relate with and most importantly, affordable. In short, it was to be the kind of jewelry that I would personally want to wear.

Mehndi inspired long ovalish pendant with black rhodium plated detailing

Amber color glass earrings with silver & turquoise accent

On influences and inspirations

My designs continue to be very personal and come from a place of my preference and influence at any given point. Travel and experiencing new things is a big source of inspiration for me. and so is history - about India and the ancient cultures around the globe. Cultural heritage is something that I turn to time and again, to seek inspiration from. In my work ethnicity, architecture, colors, textiles and motifs are also a source of inspiration.

Kutch inspired square top, round sunburst hanging earrings

Of late, I am also extremely drawn to and inspired by the Bauhaus and Mid Century Modern design idioms as well as the restraint, proportions and finesse in Japanese art and architecture.

Silver and Bidri dori necklace

Greek inspired open oval gold plated pendant

On the design process

A collection starts with a theme/ an inspiration/ a story. My collections could be based on a place that I'm fascinated with at that point or have traveled to such as Samarkand, Alhambra, Kinner Kailash or Kutch  or culture and aesthetics like the Greek, Nilaj (a), Kashmir and Mughal collections or iconic motifs and their history eg paisley, mehendi and rangoli collections or crafts skills like Bidri and Nathdwara collections.

Hoops with arabesque cut work

I spend a considerable time soaking in all kinds of information about the theme. I immerse myself in the research and learn something about say the weaves of a region and then interpret them as jewelry I use these bits of images and information to design a collection.

Multan inspired enamel finger ring

Cut-work earrings with lapis, turquoise and pearls cluster

At the core of every collection are definite characteristics, forms, motifs and craftsmanship that encompass the spirit of its inspiration. And that is why we use 'Story telling via jewelry' as our tag line.

Mughal inspired long rectangular enamel pendant

On making of the jewelry

I divide my time between San Francisco and New Delhi. After finalizing the sketches, I send them to a workshop in Jaipur. Here the initial samples are made and pictures are sent to me. I make whatever changes have to be done and then the final set of samples is sent to me. I go through these samples including wearing them to check on the comfort level etc. They are sent back if there are any more changes. Once the final product is sent to me, I shoot them and open the collection for pre-sales or put a small batch in production for ready to ship collection.

7 tiered jhumkas with intricate arabesque pattern ear top

On the future of designer jewelry in India

Gold and diamond jewelry is preferred for weddings and such occasions but when it comes to daily wear or other events that do not call for traditional dressing, a lot of women prefer costume or silver jewelry.  

Looking at the explosion of jewelry brands both on and off line there is something in the market for every taste and sensibility. These pieces of jewelry also tend to be easier on the pocket as compared to restricting  oneself to buy just gold.

Bidri modernist pendant

Pre-independence Indian coin pendant with silver work and an onyx flower

As far as silver jewelry is concerned, historically, we have been fond of silver. As an essentially silver jewelry brand, my customers often say that they buy a lot of what they do knowing that they will be able to pass their collection to the next generation. So as far as silver is concerned there is a definite emotional link involved. People are now willing to pay for the design, the concept, the craftsmanship and how wearing a piece of jewelry makes them feel versus its weight ans resale value as the deciding factors. In my experience, the future is not bad at all especially, among the urban 25-50 years old.
Apart from designing, I love...

Marrakesh inspired kite earrings in satin finish with garnet and gold plated detailing

When not designing or buried under the admin tasks of running a small business, you'll probably find me planning my next trip, reading or hiking! I am always happy to travel, I thrive on new experiences, sights, smells and taste. History, food, textiles and architecture are my other big passions.

Hand painted black enamel work and a turquoise drop

Himachali long pendant necklace with enamel work detailing and fringe  

Text & creative layout copyrights: On the Design Boat   
Images copyright: Puja, Lai

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