|Jewelry designer Hanut Singh, at home in New Delhi, India.
One’s heritage can often be one’s destiny. Soldiers beget soldiers, lawyers follow in parents' footsteps, and actors, artists, and writers often have similarly creative offspring. In the case of Hanut Singh, however, taking up the family trade was not an option.
His paternal great-grandfather, Major General Sir Jagatjit Singh, Maharajah of Kapurthala—he lived in a circa-1900 replica of Versailles—lost his princely powers in 1947, along with his fellow subcontinental sovereigns, following the implementation of the Indian Independence Act. As a result the New Delhi-based Singh has no crown, but that doesn’t mean he can’t design one. Inspired by the Aluwalia dynasty’s famous collection of antique and modern jewels, which includes fascinating adornments commissioned from Cartier in the 1920s and ‘30s by one of Singh’s grandmothers, the ebullient entrepreneur spends his days creating gem-studded rings, bracelets, and other personal ornaments donned by women such as Padma Lakshmi and Beyoncé.
Singh, who is 38, decided eight years ago that jewelry was his calling and walked away from a career as a well-known fashion writer and magazine editor. “I write quickly and I write well, but it never fueled my creative passions,” the alumnus of New York City's Hunter College explains. “It was just a job-job.” Recently, in a telephone interview from his home, Singh talked to me about his heritage, his designs, and why he considers "bling" to be a dirty word.
|Necklace with a ruby and diamond scimitar pendant. The prices for the jewels shown in this post are available upon request. To see more of Singh's designs, go to the designer's website, hanutsingh.com.
Q: Among India’s princely families, the royal family of Kapurthala seems to have been especially passionate about jewels and commissioned hundreds of amazing pieces. One of your great-grandfather's wives, a Spanish dancer, owned an incredible Art Deco emerald necklace studded with diamonds once worn by one of her husband's elephants; it sold at Christie's London in 2007. And one of the that maharajah's turban clips made by Cartier had more than 3,000 diamonds and pearls.
|Maharajkumari Sita Devi of Kapurthala, Singh's maternal grandmother, in a silken gown and masses of diamonds, in the 1930s. Image courtesy of Hanut Singh.
Q: Your grandmother Princess Karam of Kapurthala was an international sensation in the ‘20s and ‘30s—photographed by Cecil Beaton, dressed by Mainbocher, and bejeweled by Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels. Dubbed a “secular goddess” by Vogue and one of the world’s best-dressed women by Look, she must have been an enormous influence on your career.
A: I wasn’t trained in jewelry design at all. For some years I was an editor of a fashion magazine, running the offices, writing articles. But it never fueled my creative passions. So about eight years ago I borrowed money from my family and decided to create a collection of jewels, made from abalone and pearls. God was good to me, because it sold out entirely, and I was able to repay the loan. That first show opened up lots of avenues.
|Earrings of mother of pearl, rubies, and diamonds.
|Ruby ring with pavé diamonds.
|Earrings of quartz, prehnite, and diamonds.
|A ring of rock crystal with rubies and diamonds, from Singh's latest collection.
|Rubies carved with images of the god Ganesh highlight a pair of earrings accented with diamonds and black enamel.
|Goth-style earrings with carved black-onyx skulls, diamonds, pearls, and quartz.
To see more of Hanut Singh's work and for contact information, go the designer's website, hanutsingh.com.