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The Jewel of India

Jul 05, 2014

Jewelry designer to the stars Farah Khan Ali dishes on her eccentric designs.

“I don’t love to design, I live to design,” Mumbai-based jewelry designer and gemologist Farah Khan Ali is often heard saying. I may have disregarded it as an exaggeration had I not connected with her for an interview. The soft-spoken and stylish designer is level-headed, creative and intelligent, and works hard to achieve her goals. And it’s Ali’s diligence that has made Farah Khan Fine Jewelry a much talked about Indian brand globally. It’s her high standards and uncompromising attitude that have made her jewelry so popular. At her sprawling design workshop with 80 craftsmen and skilled designers, she works all day and keeps a stringent check on quality.

The first child of Bollywood actor Sanjay Khan and interior designer Zarine Khan, the creative process has been the most prominent feature in Ali’s life. As a young girl, she involved herself in drawing and painting. As an adult, she always carries her sketchbook with her. “For me, creating something all the time is very important. Sometimes I feel I may be suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder.”

On whether her Bollywood lineage gave her an advantage in building a clientele, Ali is earnest: “[It was] only to the extent that people were curious to know what I’m up to.” But she notes that a cross-section of buyers are scared away because of it. “Most of the world thinks I cater only to the rich and famous and [that] my jewelry is unaffordable.” On the contrary, most of Ali’s customers are regular people. “My jewelry is a widespread selection from pretty little prets to limited editions, which can suit every taste and budget. Women who love themselves and aspire to adorn a piece of art wear FKFJ.”

Ali’s tryst with jewelry design happened purely by chance. She enrolled at the Gemological Institute of America in Santa Monica, California, in 1992. At a time when jewelry designers were unheard of in India, Ali began designing for her friends, letting a close friend who was into jewelry manufacturing give shape to her pieces. With time, her jewelry garnered buyers and she launched her label in 2004. Ali now works on the entire process, crafting every piece herself.

So what inspires a unique, colourful FKFJ piece? “For me, inspiration can come from anything and anywhere, be it the beautiful natural flora or the awe-aspiring fauna,” she says. Observation and evolution form her design philosophy. “It is of utmost importance to observe things around us and absorb the essence which can help evolve a piece of art,” she says. Gemstones, which she frequently uses in her pieces, are of supreme importance to her because “[they have their] own nature and science, which inspires me to craft it into beautiful accessories.” She also loves playing with colour in her pieces. “Colourful jewelry can make a person look bright and happy,” she says.

Clean lines are prominent in Ali’s jewelry. “Form stands out and gemstones speak in all my pieces,” she says. Her creations include molded insects, tigers and snakes, floral motifs, and Egyptian heads, all duly encrusted with the finest diamonds and gemstones. Most importantly, Ali likes to create jewelry that stands out. “Today’s woman wants to make heads turn with her style. I keep that in mind when I design,” she says.

Almost every Bollywood actress has donned FKFJ jewelry, and many international celebrities are fans of her designs. Michael O’Connor, Hollywood jewelry and style expert and television commentator, has spoken highly of Ali’s designs, many of which were seen at this year’s Golden Globe Awards and Academy Awards. But Ali’s most coveted international achievement was when tennis star Serena Williams wore her ring to the Essence Luncheon in L.A. in March 2011 and when pop star Beyoncé Knowles released her new album, 4, wearing a crown designed by Farah Khan Ali in the album’s artwork.

Ali’s latest collection, The Spring Sparklers, is an assortment of delightful gemstone jewelry. Gemstones like chrysoprase, morganite, amethyst and carnelian with diamond accents have been incorporated in the collection. “In this collection we have looked at jewelry in a more playful way.” Ali retails out of her flagship store in Mumbai and also has an online shop (www.farahkhanfinejewellery.com) that reaches out to customers across 35 countries including Canada, the U.S. and the U.K.

Ali’s 20-year career has been well recognized in the jewelry world. In January 2014, she won the Designer Jewellery Award at the Gem and Jewellery Trade Council of India in Ahmedabad and in August 2013, at the Retail India Jeweller Awards, she was crowned the Jewelry Designer of the Year. Ali tries to challenge and outdo herself constantly. As she says, “I am my only competition and I am very difficult to please.”

BY PRITI SALIAN
All images courtesy Farah Khan Ali

PUBLISHED IN THE HEALTH & WELLNESS ISSUE/SUMMER 2014

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