The first time I met Eina Ahluwalia was in 2004. I walked into her home-studio in Calcutta; as a customer, not as a journalist; but left feeling like I’ve made a friend. This year marks 14 years of our friendship, and 15 years of her life as a jewelry designer. Her label used to be called Breathing Space and I remember thinking what a meaningful brand name. But what I didn’t know back then was that ‘meaningful’ is perhaps the best one-word description for the Eina Ahluwalia ethos.
One of my proudest Eina moments was when she sent out Wedding Wows at Lakme Fashion Week in August 2011. It was a full house. An alternate image of the Indian bride was unveiled and the runway bride was sending this message to her husband: ‘Love, Respect & Protect Me, Or else I will.’ Goosebumps, till today.
Eina went on to become India’s first conceptual designer. The market was flooded with ‘statement jewelry’ but Eina stood her ground, only designing pieces that had something to say. (Something other than ‘look at me, I am wearing big earrings’.)
She now has a dedicated studio in Calcutta. Typical studio scenes involve a coffee. A sketchbook is calling for attention, but the laptop ends up grabbing it. Karigars are bringing in pieces, Wilson & Arnab packing and shipping. And her sister/brand head Atikaa is trying to get her to take a video and she is refusing with bad excuses. Excerpts from a chat…
DoB: May 9, 1975
Education: Jewelry training with Ruudt Peters and Alchimia Contemporary Jewellery School. MBA from Janki Devi Bajaj Institute of Management Studies
First conceptual piece designed: The Containment Pendant featuring a buffalo horn container and silver fretwork
Most validating career moment: The New York Times article & the inclusion of the Kirpan Necklace in the book Showcase 500 Art Necklaces
Currently reading: Silence by Thich Nhat Hanh
Via Eina’s Instagram
What is the soul of an Eina Ahluwalia piece?
The core of an EA piece is strong, spiritual and feminist. Each piece is opinionated and unapologetic. It speaks its mind, gently but firmly.
How has the market evolved since you started out?
A lot has changed since 2003. The customer has become more discerning and is now willing to pay a much higher price per piece for design and quality, irrespective of the material. The primary jewellery buyer used to be the man (father or husband) but now it’s mostly women buying jewellery for themselves, without waiting for an occasion, purely for their own joy and satisfaction. The biggest factor is that more and more women are earning their own money and spending it on themselves instead of just saving it or contributing towards the family, and that self-gratification no longer carries the guilt it did even just a generation ago.
And what is your favorite part of the process?
The moment when the first sample is finally ready after all the edits, and it’s perfect! That’s the moment of birth, and sometimes the piece actually turns out more beautiful than you imagined it and that is quite magical!
Does Bollywood matter?
Yes, of course. It is the patronage of actors that helps brands like us to get a wider visibility and audience.
What’s your advice for a young brand to stand out in the social media noise?
Be authentic, speak your truth. In the clutter of messages, the only thing that stands out and sticks in the minds of people is something that touched them emotionally.
What are five of your fave pieces of jewelry that are not designed by you?
Article 22 bangle from the Peacebomb collection that says “I ‘heart’ peace” and “dropped + made in Laos”. These are made using materials from unexploded bombs that were dropped in Laos to support traditional Laotian artisan livelihoods, village development, community endeavors and further de-mining efforts.
A necklace with a silver boxing glove titled “The Greatest” inspired by Mohammad Ali by Austrian jewellery artist Katharina Schmid.
A beautiful scarab pendant by Portugese jewellery artist Andreia Quelhas Lima.
A pearl and silver necklace by Greek jewellery artist Ariadni Kypri.
Be Bangle that says F*cking Fierce which I wear every single day.
What else do you wear every day?
My Waheguru necklace or my Labradorite Synchronicity necklace, sometimes both, layered. My monogram earrings, the Unconditional Love ring band in 18k rose gold, Labradorite Synchronicity ring and a ruby ring I’ve been wearing for 10 years now. A kada and a thin gold bangle with a tiny Khanda hanging off it.
Finally, what’s a good starting point for a woman who wants to explore pieces purely for her own enjoyment, to celebrate herself?
First, there are no rules. Pieces that mean something to her, remind her of someone or something, a perfect holiday maybe. Symbols of protection, gifts of love. Reminders of strength, totems of hope. Pieces she wears everyday and that become a part of her, or special occasion pieces for when she wants to pull out all the stops.
Check out Eina’s pieces here.