Indian Designer Renu Oberoi Modernises Traditional Jewellery Codes by Making Pieces Lighter, More Wearable and Versatile

She is among a new crop of talents from the subcontinent who are reintroducing Indian style on their own terms.
by Yanni Tan

Photo: Renu Oberoi

There is probably no greater jewellery culture than India, in which gold and gemstones are deeply woven into the fabric of daily life. Historical trade between the country and Europe, especially since the birth of the 16th-century Mughal Empire, had led to a vibrant exchange of influences.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the fascination with Indian art and craftsmanship reached a fever pitch. Prominent jewellers from Louis Comfort Tiffany to Jacques Cartier and Frederic Boucheron heavily referred to Indian techniques, styles, and motifs — a practice that has lasted until today. Cartier’s legendary Tutti Frutti design, introduced in the 1920s, is one example.

While the world has embraced this aspect of Indian ingenuity through Western fine jewellers, it is only now that a new generation of young talents from the subcontinent is making an impact by reintroducing their homeland’s aesthetics and know-how on their own terms.

Local retailer Melange recently held a Gaurav Gupta x Renu Oberoi showcase. (Photo: Melange)

A recent Singapore showcase, organised by local retailer Melange, revealed what made celebrities such as Hollywood star Priyanka Chopra, Bollywood actress Sonam Kapoor, and Sri Lankan model Jacqueline Fernandez choose the eponymous Renu Oberoi brand.

While the pieces were brightly coloured, intricate, and eye-catching, with some bearing clear Indian aesthetic codes, they were also streamlined, light, supple, and a cinch to wear.

At the event, which presented fashion designer Gaurav Gupta’s couture gowns on models adorned with Renu Oberoi’s jewels, we sat down with the latter to talk about her brand’s identity and inspirations.

Renu Oberoi grew up fascinated with jewels, thanks to her mother. (Photo: Melange)

Tell us more about your journey into jewellery design.

It began after I graduated from the London College of Fashion. Influenced by my mother’s passion for collecting, I have always been drawn to jewellery design. Growing up, I watched her navigate the world of traditional jewellery and engage in the customisation process, which I found myself deeply involved in.

This early exposure shaped my aesthetic sensibilities. Initially, as a hobby, I started by making a few pairs of earrings and remodelling some of my own pieces. This personal project gained appreciation from friends and family, leading to requests for custom pieces, and eventually grew into a full-fledged business.

Your flagship boutique in Mumbai was just opened recently in 2022. 

After establishing the brand in 2008, I collaborated with a renowned jewellery retailer in India on a store-in-store format for many years. Originally planned for 2015, my boutique opening was delayed due to personal hardships, including my mother and brother’s battles with cancer, followed by the challenges of COVID-19. In 2022, it finally felt right to do it.

This bib necklace features a cascade of diamonds and emeralds set on a lightweight and supple structure. (Photo: Renu Oberoi)

What are some traditional techniques that originated in India and are adopted worldwide?

The techniques include the Kundan (setting of stones into a soft gold structure that boasts enamelling on the reverse), Meenakari (intricate enamelling onto metal surfaces), and the Jadau setting (the embedding of flat slices of uncut gems, especially diamonds, into gold).

These date back to the Mughals and even to the 1800s. In my latest collection, there is also an all-gold range that features traditional hammering techniques used on household vessels.

In Indian culture, jewellery is more than an accessory; it is an emotion.

How does your design philosophy modernise and, in a way, elevate traditional codes?

It centres on creating pieces that can be dressed up and down, emphasising layering and versatility. To ensure that each piece is handmade and unique, I use traditional gem-setting techniques. My designs blend Indian stylistic and craftsmanship heritage with bold moves towards modern aesthetics and simpler silhouettes to maximise wearability across various outfits, from casual to formal.

Some also feature hinges that make putting on and taking off easy. As tastes evolve, it is important to create jewellery that holds its value and appeal over time. Since I hand-pick specific gemstones for individual pieces, I never repeat a design — you’ll never find an identical item that’s ever been sold to two different people from my brand.

Bold and bright, yet modern and streamlined. (Photo: Renu Oberoi)

How have you evolved in your craft?

Back in the day, I focused on wearable jewellery. Sometimes, I’d make elaborate pieces that I’ve completely stopped doing. Now, my Gen Z and millennial customers tend to want a high-value creation that costs something like US$150,000 ($204,150) due to the prices of the gems but is extremely small-looking. Some come back after I’ve serviced their mums, requesting to remodel the designs.

Why are jewels so important to Indian culture?

Jewellery is more than an accessory; it’s an emotion. Whether a simple piece for everyday wear or a statement piece for special occasions, jewellery can make the wearer feel confident. A 77-year-old lady came in two years ago to purchase a really expensive necklace for her 80th birthday. In fact, when any woman dons that last piece of jewellery after she’s dressed up and fully ready, the act makes her feel complete.

Do you have any advice for women hesitant to wear large or colourful designs?

Social norms play an important part, especially in India, where we grow up seeing so much jewellery. Ultimately, the kind of jewellery one chooses is very personal. For luxury jewellery, craftsmanship and the quality of gemstones are key. I believe one can be bold to take the first step, pick up a head-turner they like, and try it on. It needs to feel comfortable, and until you wear it, you won’t know how much you appreciate it, right?

This story originally published on The Peak Singapore.

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