Although she is a trained gemologist, the New Delhi-based fine jeweler Neha Dani might best be described as a cross between an alchemist and a painter. Rather than relying on traditional Indian materials such as 22-karat gold and enamel, she uses rhodium-plated 18-karat gold in custom colors to create flamboyant jewels with a seductive metallic sheen. In her new collection, Blume, she turned to featherweight titanium enhanced by ombré rhodium finishing, which lends an unexpectedly psychedelic vibe. “People don’t realize the effort that goes into experimenting,” she said. (This interview has been condensed and edited.)
You didn’t grow up in the business.
I grew up in a small town, Coimbatore, in the south. My family had a transport company with about 500 branches all over the country. My parents encouraged us to do things that had not been done before. We traveled a lot — more than 30 countries between the ages of 11 and 18. Every time we went to a new country, we spent a good amount of time in museums, so I developed that eye for detail, that eye for something beautiful.
Why did you pursue gemology?
I graduated with a degree in commerce, but I wanted to take up something more creative. There’s so much mystery among the gemstones. I studied at the Gemological Institute of America in California, and earned the GG [Graduate Gemologist] degree in designing and wax carving. I was enamored of the crystal formation process, so I earned another degree by becoming a Fellow of the Gemological Association of Great Britain through a home learning program. While I was doing that, I was selected as a gemologist by the International Gemological Institute; they were setting up their first lab in India, around 1999, in Mumbai. After that, I started working independently as a consultant to buyers of diamonds. I was dealing with larger gemstones and would spend a long time at the workshop in Mumbai. There, I started experimenting with designs and doing smaller pieces of jewelry.
Since your debut in 2016, you’ve embraced a different style.
I never did anything that was traditional. Doing something original has always been a driving factor. That my work should have its own identity, and shouldn’t resemble something already out there. Titanium is the only metal that gives you the possibility to experiment. It gives you that painted look. It’s worth the effort because it’s so lightweight, it lets you make something larger but still very comfortable for the wearer.
Tell us about your creative process.
I tend to observe things very closely. If I go to the park, I look at parts of the trees, the flowers. For the Tidal collection, I looked to Mumbai, which is a seaside city. You see the Tidal earrings, and they’re like the splash of a wave. I have a small team under my guidance. I’m often sitting next to them at the bench, telling them we need to make it look more attractive. The idea is to be very feminine. If I do something that’s not very detailed, then I feel I’ve not done anything. To motivate my craftsmen, I tell them it should be mesmerizing when you look at it.
What’s your favorite piece?
The Dancing Girl earrings are one of my favorites. They have so many layers, and they all have to move and balance with each other. They’re inspired by a lady dancing. Her skirt is twirling, and she’s got joy inside her. And I love the Parisa earrings, which are part of the Cadence collection, inspired by the formation of corals and underwater plants. Every piece is, in a sense, a statement piece: You wear it, and everyone definitely looks.