There's nothing we love more than being introduced to a designer who isn't yet sold in the States. And when it's one who creates with bushels of polki diamonds, well, we're basically fully on board. [Ed. note for the uninitiated: polki diamonds are natural and uncut, so expect less sparkle but much more irregularity. Just how we like it.] So please meet the lovely Sally Agarwal, the London-based designer who created the necklace we never want to take off, below. It's pretty clear that she's very heavily influenced by traditional Indian designs, and it's no wonder, since she can trace back the roots of her family diamond business back four generations. But, because she didn't personally visit India until she was 22, her jewels also feel a little more spare and bohemian than their classical counterparts. Add in some rough and tumbled colored gems and a little enamel here and there and we are happy campers. FFR asked this up-and-comer 5 questions about her biz and more, below.
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Polki diamonds are close to your heart – or actually kind of in your blood. Tell us a little bit of the backstory of why you’re so enamored with these natural diamonds.
I first became acquainted with polki diamonds in traditional Indian bridal jewellery. Their soft, limpid glow enchanted me and, as someone who grew up in the UK, I found them really intriguing. They have an organic quality because they retain their natural shape and are somehow gentler than cut diamonds. As each polki is by definition unique, I like that no two polki pieces can ever be the same. I'm very lucky to have a family connection to the Indian diamond market which makes it possible to access really good stones and excellent craftsmen. The other big attraction of polki is that they are relatively affordable compared to cut stones.
The uniqueness of each Polki diamond lends itself to a sort of natural asymmetry and bohemian feel. What kind of look are you often trying to achieve with the designs in your collection? And how do you wear the pieces?
I'm interested in the transformative quality of polki – how the organic beauty of the stone amplifies the natural beauty of the wearer, so yes, bohemian in that sense. I aim for a look which is simple, almost graphic, that can at times be classic but is always slightly off kilter because of the variations in the stones. I wear the pieces literally all the time – they really do take you from the beach to black tie, work to weddings, garden party (but maybe not gardening…)!
You use a “closed-setting” technique in your jewelry. Tell us about that and why it’s so integral to your work.
The closed setting involves making a tiny silver cup whose rim is fitted exactly to the irregular shape of the polki. The polki sits on the rim and then the cup is encased in gold. The result is that each polki slice has a glowing, watery depth. It's integral to my work because it gives the pieces that quality of 'lighting up' the wearer. The added bonus is that necklaces are reversible – you can choose to have the polki or the gold side up.
It’s not all work and no play! Tell us about your favorite restaurants in both London and Mumbai.
In London, I like Corrigan's Mayfair behind the Royal Academy which pays proper attention to detail without any hint of fussiness. Mumbai has a truly burgeoning restaurant scene, but my personal favourites are the old street restaurants with numbers not names on the menu. Bustling with workers and families, serving good, nutritious food, they are a connection to the pulse of the city.
If you weren’t a jewelry designer, what else would you like to do?
Easy! Teacher at the school for orphaned chimpanzees in Indonesia where chimps learn the skills to survive in their natural jungle environment – from humans! Teaching is purely by demonstration - how to scoop termites out of a nest, suck seeds out of fruit – loads of fun! The chimps are delightful students, quick learners and so cuddly!