“Faced with a choice of Engineering or Design school, I chose the field of design right after high school,” Reena Ahluwalia told Daily News Egypt.
Born in India, and later moved to Canada, Ahluwalia is recognised as one of the top Master of Design and art in Canada. Not only is she just a jewellery designer, but she is also a painter and a professor. She is one of a handful of living jewellery artists whose work is featured on a Belgian postage stamp.
One of her most prominent achievements was the creation of a Diamond Tiara for HRH Kate Middleton, as a tribute to the British Royal Wedding.
Daily News Egypt interviewed Ahluwalia to know her sources of inspiration, her love for diamonds, and her views on jewellery designs.
Tell us about yourself, what first led you to the direction of making jewellery?
I was lucky to have a childhood where I had the freedom to explore and experiment. I was always busy painting, sketching, sculpting, and loving it all. Faced with a choice of Engineering versus Design school, I chose the field of design right after high school. I graduated from India’s design and art school, the ‘National Institute of Fashion Technology’. Immediately after graduation, I landed my first job as a jewellery designer in one of India’s largest diamond companies.
India has more than one billion people, there were 10,000 applicants for art school and seven sets of exams. Only 12 students were selected. I was too young to know this was such a privilege, as I thought I was so good. In hindsight, I look back and think about how fortunate I was.
Immediately after graduation, I landed a job as one of 50 designers at one of India’s largest diamond jewellery manufacturers, Suraj Diamonds. When I was asked what I needed for work, I demanded not to sharpen pencils or a quiet spot, but a camera and funding for a trip around India. Miraculously, my bosses agreed, and I started on what would be a rich journey of inspiration.
Why do you love working with diamonds?
I love diamonds! Diamonds have been my material of choice since I started designing jewellery. They have been my material of choice throughout my life! They have become a medium for me to express stories that I want to share. For me, they are truly poetic, majestic, and symbolic. Diamonds are geological masterpieces, forged by nature, billions of years ago. Within our planet’s history, diamonds are earth’s oldest preserved minerals and have captured the human imagination, unlike any other mineral.
Why did you start painting diamonds, and what are the stories you are telling through this aspect of your work?
I paint highly nuanced, hyper-realistic diamonds with ultra-magnified facets. In my paintings, diamonds have stories and soul. They are spellbinding. My reason to paint is to celebrate our shining human spirit and beauty through diamonds. I believe each one of us is like a diamond. For me, diamonds are much more than just specimens, they are metaphoric and symbolic. I want to express this essence through my paintings. I paint to express, not to impress.
Which one of your jewellery designs do you admire the most?
One of my current favourite pieces is a spinning diamond ring from my ‘Coronet by Reena Ahluwalia’ collection called ‘Inner Brilliance.’ I have used a patented coronet setting where seven stones come together to create a dazzling solitaire effect. My signature design element is a ‘pointer’ that points to the true centre of our being – our inner brilliance. A constant reminder to stay connected to what’s most valuable to us, including pillars of our values – our family, friendship, love, passion, health, and dreams.
I love step cuts.
What is the strangest request for a custom design piece of jewellery you have ever received?
An elaborate body ornament from head to toe for royalty in the Middle East. It was fabulous.
What is your view on the jewellery industry in the Arab world? What needs to be improved?
The significance of jewellery in our human history is undoubted. There are many challenges today, including change in our consumer values, shaped by factors such as technology, automation, artificial intelligence, climate change, shared economy, etc. We in the jewellery industry need to reflect on how to stay relevant. At the same time, I want to stress that until there is humanity, there will always be a desire to adorn oneself.
What works for the jewellery industry is the diversity of design, the strength of craftsmanship, knowledge of materials, and well-established supply chains. Ultimately, it’s the strength of its people, many of whom have invested generations in this industry.
We need to refocus on the metaphoric qualities of diamonds. Support people and communities to be co-creators and collaborators. With that learning, can we shape the diamond conversations of tomorrow? I believe today we need outside-in thinking. By curating end-user collective intelligence across different disciplines and mediums, we may generate conversations around jewellery to make people gain a new vision of how we want to tell stories of the future through jewellery.
You have donated an original piece of artwork titled ‘Hope.’ It was sold at an auction at the event for children affected by illness, abuse, or neglect. What does giving mean to you?
My deepest desire is to create art that can tangibly contribute, touch people’s lives positively, and spread joy. I believe the biggest impact one can make is to those around you. So being able to give back means the world to me and for me, is a measure of a truly successful life. Each year, I donate my paintings and prints to generate funds. The sales rose to about $50,000 for the charity Jewellers for Children.
It’s an honour to be commissioned by Co-Guardian Fred Mouawad. He allowed my artistic vision to shine, by trusting my storytelling ability and imagination, that is what I am known for. To paint a series of historic diamonds for legendary diamantaire Mouwad is an experience I treasure.
Have you seen the jewellery of Tutankhamun? Or did you read the book “The Pharaohs Jewellery” by Cyril Eldred?
I have seen some artefacts from the Tutankhamun tomb, but not the entire collection. I am deeply interested in jewellery symbolism and history and have spent a large amount of time studying Egypt and its influence in the world of goldsmithing and jewellery making.
Tell us about your design style. What makes your collections unique in the industry?
My signature style is all about precision, geometry, fluidity, and movement. Creating jewellery with deep meaning, symbolism, and technical innovation is a key part in making my collections unique.
You are the go-to designer for some the biggest names, as Rio Tinto diamond, Forevermark, De Beers Canada, Aaron Shum. How did you get to where you are now?
I have the ability to put the soul into stories and stones through my design. I feel it’s also because the industry has seen my growth as a designer, set by many examples of success, my passion to push my creative boundaries and innovate. I am very focused, constantly filling my reservoir of knowledge that benefits the collaborations, and desire to enrich my collaborations by delivering much more than was asked. I am very cautious of who I collaborate and partner with for the same reason, as I want our visions to better the outcome.
Can you tell us more about the story behind The Mudan Diamond Watch which was awarded a Guinness World Record?
The Mudan Watch earned the Guinness World Record for Most Diamonds Set on A Watch. It’s an incredible art-piece featuring 15,858 diamonds, totalling 50.01 carats. The watch is set in 18K gold with my diamond painting on the dial. It is a co-creation between Aaron Shum and I. Peonies flowers served as inspiration, as they symbolise nobility, honour, and wealth. My hyper-realistic diamond painting on the dial represents the shining nobility that we carry within.
What are the upcoming trends in the jewellery design industry?
Jewellery trends pretty much reflect the culture shifts and changes. Daintier diamond necklaces that are single strand are trending. Colours in gemstones, materials (feathers, woods etc), or metals (eg. Titanium). Movement in jewellery is big. I am noticing a re-emergence and a surge in spinning jewellery in worldwide trends after I introduced my line ‘Coronet by Reena.’
Style always reflects culture. Our present culture reveals our need for self-expression and individuality, our digital identity, shedding excess in a world full of information overload, making deep emotional connections, making an impact through our actions. As a result, we are seeing light-weight minimal, modern, and geometric shapes with classically-styled undertones. Today, the winning jewellery is the one that has a deep emotional connection to our aspirations, and identity and lets us wear our story and message on ourselves, literally.
Both Aaron Shum and I are known in the jewellery industry for our technical innovations, so it was great to form a partnership to combine our ideas and come up with collections together. We both are at a stage in our careers where we like to work with folks who can push our thinking and creative boundaries. We currently have three collections: Coronet by Reena – a mesmerising spinning diamond and gemstones set jewellery collection with a worldwide patented setting. My signature design element in the collection is a ‘pointer’ that points to the true centre of our being – our inner brilliance.
What’re your views on the current global jewellery sector? Demand-wise, what currently sells in major consuming market, white or coloured diamonds? Is it value appreciation that’s giving an edge to coloured diamonds to win over whites as an investment vehicle?
Percentage and demand-wise, white diamond jewellery sell more than coloured diamond jewellery. It’s a matter of availability and rarity. As far as coloured diamonds go, rarity, colour, size, and provenance are important factors, making them investment favourites. But they represent a very tiny percentage in the overall global diamond supply. Let’s also not forget that white diamonds of exceptional size, rarity, and provenance still and will continue to succeed in keeping their value.
‘Canoe’ Canadian Diamond Necklace: This magnificent 28.96 carat necklace was the International winner of the Canadian Diamonds Master Craftsman Award. Rio Tinto Diamonds Global Design Competition 2011-2012.
Forevermark ‘Eternal’ Diamond Necklace: 85-carat ‘Eternal’ necklace, crafted for Forevermark select jeweler Vummidi Bangaru Jewellers (Est.1900) Reena: “The necklace is inspired by the promise of eternal love.
‘Mudan’ watch has 15,858 diamonds and Reena Ahluwalia’s diamond painting on the dial. A co-creation between Aaron Shum & Reena Ahluwalia.
The ROYAL DIAMOND TIARA I designed for the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton! This tiara was among the few that Kate Middleton, now Duchess of Cambridge, considered wearing for her royal wedding to Prince William. Together, Royal Asscher & Reen worked on this extra special tiara.
a spinning diamonds ring from my ‘Coronet by Reena Ahluwalia’ collection – called ‘Inner Brilliance’. I have used a patented Coronet setting where seven stones come together to create a dazzling solitaire effect.