Kundan Stone-Setting Revisited

“I’ve been passionate about jewelry all my life,” says jewelry designer Kiran Nirankari, Ellicott City, Md. Nirankari comes from a family of jewelry collectors “with beautiful old pieces,” she says. These family jewels have inspired her to incorporate the style of the past into her designs. “The style is very similar to the old original pieces,” she explains, referring to Mughal jewels. But Nirankari wants her new pieces to be wearable as well as traditional. “The old pieces were very ornate, and very beautiful,” she says, “but not appropriate for today, to wear often.”

Nirankari is not the only one falling in love with the Mughal style. Both the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City have displayed “Treasury of the World: Jeweled Arts of India in the Age of the Mughals.” Part of the al-Sabah Collection, on loan from the Kuwait National Museum, the jewels feature polished, carved, and engraved (rarely faceted) rubies, emeralds, diamonds, and enamels. Gemstones are bezel-set in 24k gold using a technique called “Kundan.”

Gold has a unique ability to become sticky when worked, at which point it can weld itself to more 24k gold, all at room temperature. Kundan, unique to India, is a stone-setting process in which gold is hammered into narrow sticky strips, then built up into a wedge that fits the girdle area of the unpolished gem. Each bezel is shaped and burnished. Multitudes of these bezel-set gems are joined together, creating a backless carpet of gold and gems, which is then applied onto any firm surface. A small number of Indian jewelry designers and manufacturers are creating new Kundan, says Nirankari, “and they’re keeping the original weight.” She’s going only for the look, however, not the poundage.

Nirankari uses traditional table-cut diamonds, polished emeralds, rubies, and enamels in her jewelry pieces, which are handcrafted in India using the methods of the old masters. “The artisans who handcraft my designs find them quite challenging,” says Nirankari, who is breaking new ground by Kundan-setting iolite, moonstone, and rock crystal. “You can mix and match anything,” she says. “That’s the beauty of contemporary designing.”

For information on Nirankari’s work, visit www.anikins.com. The exhibit, “Treasury of the World: Jeweled Arts of India in the Age of the Mughals,” is on display at the St. Louis Art Museum through April 20. For information visit www.SLAM.org.