Saturday, November 17, 2001

Perfection in platinum

Vimla Patil

PLATINUM? Some cognoscenti of jewellery will associate this word with a kind of jubilee or a rarely-used precious metal. Others may never have used the metal though they may be aware that it is priced even higher than gold in the precious metals market. Platinum is rarely used to make traditional Indian jewellery, which is almost always made with 22-carat gold. Platinum is not well-known as a base for jewellery, particularly in the peninsular states of India. "This was not always so," says Kazuo Ogawa, one of Japan’s most famous jewellery designers, who has recently worked with the Platinum Guild International and its Indian counterpart, Platinum Guild of India Pvt. Ltd., to create a fabulous collection of platinum jewellery for India. Indeed, Kazuo is acclaimed as the designer who has given platinum jewellery a whole new dimension with his creative genius. It is said that he makes jewellery speak the true language of a nation. He combines the ethos of a nation with contemporary ideas to create masterpieces which are cherished by proud owners.


Platinum jewellery by Kazuo Ogawa

"India has never been a big market for platinum," Ogawa says, "In bygone ages, before India obtained Independence, the maharajas and their ranis, the nawabs and their begums — all had their spectacular jewellery made by Cartier, Harry Winston, Van Cleef and Arpels and other famous international design houses. They usually followed European trends in their jewellery and created some priceless pieces in platinum which are Indian, yet western in spirit and perfection. Many of these platinum heirlooms still exist in the treasuries and personal collections of royal families of India. Their courtiers and rich families, who were in the social circle of the royals, followed this trend set by royal families in the early years of the 20th century and made platinum jewellery for their use too. Platinum, thus, became relatively popular in the northern states of India. But it declined in consumption in the last five decades when royalty and the glamour and pageantry associated with it began to diminish considerably. However, since its discovery in the 16th century BC, platinum has captivated royalty as well as modern-day celebrities. Today, Julia Roberts, Jennifer Lopez, Madonna and other stars are known to make a style statement with platinum accessories.

"Japan, on the other hand has always been the largest consumer of platinum in the world. Almost 80 per cent of the precious metal, which is mostly mined in South Africa, is sold in Japan. However, Japanese women follow western trends in design and the jewellery of modern Japan, has forgotten its traditional past. Modern Japanese jewellery is gorgeous, perfectly made in platinum and diamonds or other stones, but it has little to do with tradition or culture. It is just an embellishment or a symbol of a family’s status. It is not linked with tradition, custom or any milestone in a woman’s life, as it is in India. Therefore, Japanese jewellery is more designer-oriented rather than tradition-based. It is trendy and fashionable."

Kazuo Ogawa knows a great deal about Indian jewellery and is well-informed about market trends in this country. His interest in India and its fabulous treasure-house of jewellery came about in a strange manner. While he was a design maestro in Japanese jewellery, theatre, art, masks and style, he met Atul Parekh, an Indian diamond merchant living in Japan from the 70s. They both became friends and partners in business. Around that time, Kazuo made his first visit to India to participate in a wedding in the Parekh family and saw first hand, the merriment, the various functions, the grandeur and most importantly, the jewellery worn by Indian women. Kazuo says, "I saw Indian women’s passion for jewellery. I understood the long and artistic tradition which gives birth to jewellery concepts and inspires its creation and design in India. I saw in the wedding that Indian women changed their jewellery almost every day and each piece of jewellery had some significance and relation to the function. Then I travelled to see the Taj Mahal in Agra. I was stunned by its beauty and its detailed embellishments. The motifs and the designs carved into the marble were priceless. The perfect proportions of the monument were awesome.

"When we returned to Japan, we set up Taj Enterprise, our joint company for making jewellery in international styles. Under this brand, I brought many eastern jewellery traditions back to life. Many collections followed. They were shown in many capital cities of the world. Some of the collections were: Eastern Dreams, Noh Jewellery, Koh-i-noor Collection, Karuta, Rhapsody, Dianoor, Empress, Timeless Traditions, Artistic Australia, Heart of Africa, Queens of Egypt and many more. We did a project for the 50th anniversary of UNICEF. We had done jewellery shows in several countries for prestigious organisations. In India, we created a show for TBZ (Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri) in the 80s".

Now, in 2001, Kazuo and Atul have ventured into India on a major scale. Taj Enterprise has brought to India — Mumbai and Bangalore to begin with — a show which beats all spectacular presentations seen before. A combination of style, perfect planning, superb pizzazz, design, ambience and glamour, the show features Indian, African, Japanese and European models and dancers who are grace incarnate. Kazuo, who not only made the fantastic platinum jewellery, the make-up, the masks and some of the clothes (the Indian clothes were by Azim Khan Couture), also choreographed the show.

"I found Indian models a bit slow to learn the intricate dance steps but since many of them have worked with me earlier in my Japanese shows, this was not a great problem," says Ogawa, "All of them knew the way I function. My dancers and models from all countries work for me as well as for other designers. The jewellery I have brought to India will be on show for a day each in Mumbai and Bangalore, which, surprisingly is cosmopolitan enough to understand my concepts. My designs will be later executed by select Indian houses and will be on sale here.

"I love India and its vast, incredible diversity of life. I love the people here for their passion and hospitality. I love India’s historical heritage and tradition and the way people live by their own culture even in the modern techno age. Tradition and culture are living entities here and for artists, they are a great source of inspiration. I love colourful costumes, jewellery, theatre, masks, dances — indeed everything concerned with design and I find India infinitely rich in these treasures."

Kazuo is convinced that many Asian and African countries are connected with the gossamer-fine threads of common roots and traditions. One day, he believes sincerely, there will be an Asia-Africa business and trade club which will work on these shared traditions. Many countries and their art have inspired his own work and made him rediscover the past traditions of his own country. "Japan and India have always shared religion, culture, art and tradition," he says, "And they will continue to inspire each other in the future. Designers and artists will visit each other and forge a bond which will generate new ideas and inspire the redesigning of old concepts."