Anuj Shah, Founder and Creative Head of the House of Umrao, is an emerging star known for his fresh approach in creating modern jewels that stand the test of time.
Anuj lives in two worlds – old and new. He is pulled by the allure of past – be it the Art Deco era, old English classic movies and music, or the architecture of yore. And the modern world which he belongs to is completely in alignment with the aesthetics of today’s new-age woman. His creative flourishes are always fleshed out with an array of gemstones and diamonds that are sometimes cursive and, at times, grandly structured.
The unmissable quality about his collections is that they produce a sensorial high! Carrying forward the illustrious legacy of his forbearers, Anuj Shah is a perfect fit to take on the role.
Tell us about yourself and your family, especially your grandfather, Mr. Umraomalji Shah, a famous gemstone trader. You were associated with the parent company until 2017. What made you set up a separate design house?
My grandfather Umraomalji Shah was considered an icon in the gemstone segment during his time. He spent his time between Calcutta, Mumbai and Jaipur and became one of the greatest “joharis” of India. His reputation was so great that people would persuade him to become part stakeholders. I was highly impressed by his way of functioning and idolised him.
I started a separate design house and named it after him. The reason was that I wanted to do something different, and use these gemstones and create pieces of art for my customers.
How long were you with Umrao as the creative head? Like all artists, your design language must have evolved over the years… your comments.
I was in Umrao till 2004, post which I started jewellery … jewellery completes the transition of a journey from rough gemstones to finished jewels which are adorned by women. The past 16 years, I have evolved not only as a designer but a manufacturer who understands how jewellery should be made.
Your creations are contemporary and have an understated glamour. Tell us more about the way you design – from conception to creation.
I reference the past – from fashion books to accessories and old designers books of Cartier, Suzanne Belperron, Boucheron, Chanel, Christie’s and Sotheby’s.
That’s the inspiration part – however, I conceptualise and create modern jewels for today’s women. Once the concept is ready, I work on the design and decide on the use of techniques such as micro pave, modern linking for movements with the aim to create contemporary jewellery.
Your collections are also heavily inspired by the Art Deco era, and also by music, films and dance. We’re curious to know how do you translate these performance arts into jewellery?
Yes, my collections are heavily inspired by Art Deco. I have grown up listening to old English music, referring to black-and-white pictures of my grandfather and visiting old homes, monuments and buildings. I have spent a lot of time in the famous Chor Bazaar, Mumbai flea market, and studied old artefacts and furniture and found this treasure of design inputs fascinating.
I love old English films and am inspired by their costumes and fashion sense; the background props and furniture show in these movies; from James Dean to Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin to Elvis Presley, they wore the trendiest clothes with an understated simplicity … yet were the most glamorous actors of all times. I guess all these visual and auditory cues have inspired to make Art Deco, Victorian, Retro & Revival designs in jewellery.
How many collections do you bring out in a year? Are all your collections handcrafted, or do you use tech as well? Share some details about the finishes that you employ in your collections.
I bring out four collections for the four seasons each year. I use turquoise and other pastel-shaded gemstones in summer; dark coloured gemstones like amethyst and sapphires in winter; emeralds and citrines in spring; and tourmalines and rubies in autumn. All my creations are handcrafted and made in our factory in Mumbai. We use CAD/CAM and then the pieces are assembled to bring into the final finished product. Our strength lies in gem setting. We have some highly qualified setters who set the stones under microscopes. We call this technique micro pave. We also have an in-house lapidary where we cut rock crystals, turquoise, black onyx, etc.
Do you have any favourite gemstone? Any gem cuts that you are partial to?
My favourite gemstone is diamond – its sparkle and brilliance is just breathtaking. Step cuts, old cuts, and fancy shapes like kite, half moon, trapeze, briolette, and diamond beads.
What about the must-have pieces every woman should possess?
Every woman should own a mix of casual and dressy jewellery for various occasions. Jewellery needs to be worn and enjoyed.
Who are your favourite designers?
My favourite designer is Cartier – they used the best lapidary and their Art Deco pieces are outstanding. Even their synthesis of old and new is unusual – especially when they use ancient Islamic motifs that remind us of the Moghul period but are ultra modern and have European aesthetics.
Which are your main export destinations? Are there any plans for expansion?
We, at House of Umrao, are essentially an export house, and 80% of jewellery is sold in the US, Europe, Singapore and the Middle East. Our main market, though, is America where we sell to high-end stores; and we work with a celebrity stylist, who has worked with Julia Roberts, Sharon Stone, Jennifer Lopez, and Michelle Obama to name a few.
What’s your design philosophy?
I draw heavily from nature and the different art eras. I also study human behaviour and use intelligence to create something exceptional.
If not a designer, what would you be?
I would be an interior designer styling homes and doing up interiors.
Jewellery designing is done on a small scale and restricts you to a large extent, whereas a house is huge in comparison and gives you more opportunities to explore the space.