Cultural eclecticism – a wise man might once have said – is a fierce wind in the sails of creativity. That’s certainly proved the case with Vayshalee Naran, a Zimbabwe-based jewellery designer of Indian descent who has she studied in Milan and worked for houses including Van Cleef & Arpels. Nature, human anatomy and mindfulness are just three of the major influences which contribute to the wonderfully off-kilter collections of a creative force who collected skeletons as a young adult… Here Naran puts some flesh on the bare bones of her creative yen.
Do you recall a catalyst moment, when you knew that jewellery would become your calling?
My mother was the reason I chose the path of jewellery creation. As a child I always accompanied her to buy jewellery. From a young age I associated colour with gemstones and I was enthralled by the depth of colours created by light and reflections. When I was about nine years old I decided I was going to dig for my own gemstones and created a small excavation pit in our backyard, I found a superb piece of crystal quartz that I took to our family jeweller and had it set and polished in 22 carat yellow gold. This was the first piece of real jewellery I designed.
Did your surroundings growing up affect your aesthetic sensibilities?
As humans we are all the consequence of our circumstances, and I make what I see and experience. Living in African nature is an integral part of my lifestyle and drives my creativity. Anatomy holds a particular fascination for me as a jeweller. My close proximity and first-hand interactions with African wildlife has fed my fascination for skeletons and bones over the years. This led to the creation of my signature piece, The Bone Bangle: it is an homage to the greatest gift – our human body and its capabilities.
What other places influence you?
In addition to my Zimbabwean home, I’ve studied and lived in Johannesburg, Switzerland, London, the USA, Paris and Milan and visited over 40 different countries. I’ve been exposed to a variety of gems and different styles of adornment. This has allowed me to blend my strong African aesthetic with that of the rest of the world, making my work more universally palatable.
What about your Indian heritage? How does this affect your work?
It influences my work when it comes to the use of colourful gemstones and the way in which I arrange my stones and the placement of some of my designs on the body. My gemstone collection, Paradiso Sauvage, is an evolution of my anatomical obsession into an exuberant collection of earrings, knuckle dusters and Mang Tikas (head pieces) set with locally and ethically mined Zimbabwean precious and semi-precious stones that are set in intricate and ornate Indian inspired designs.
How would you describe your emotional connection with your work?
I perceive and relate jewellery to that of a prosthetic, an extension of the body that becomes part of our identity, evoking memories of association just as perfume and sound does. It is a very personal and emotionally charged object that is worn on the body. The Bone collection was first created in my Junior Year at RISD, inspired by a single rib bone, the armour and cage of our hearts. It’s my symbol of love and protection. When you give someone a bone bangle it’s a representation of a rib and a token of protecting their heart.
What are the major myths when it comes to mixing different jewellery together?
That different coloured metals should not be worn together and secondly that precious and semi-precious gemstones should not be mixed. The most interesting aspect of jewellery is the sentimental value the wearer associates with each individual piece, such as an old piece of leather evoking memories of a childhood friendship tied next to a diamond bracelet given as a token of forgiveness which carries a bitter memory. There is usually a story behind each piece and this is what should motivate one to wear them. With regards to gemstones, I aim to question the perceived value of gemstones by combining both precious and semi-precious stones in a single piece. This equalises their value based on aesthetics and how much their intrinsic beauty and colour can complement each other as opposed to their monetary value.
Are consumer demands changing?
Most definitely. In the past jewellery was worn and displayed as an external show of wealth for others to appreciate. This is no longer the case. Perception of luxury has shifted whereby self-gratification and personal appreciation is at the forefront of any purchase. Consumers have reverted back to spirituality, mindfulness and accepting the connection of mind body and soul to the universe and the choices we make regarding what we wear on our bodies – and, most importantly, jewellery – has come full circle. I’m grateful to have a sophisticated clientele for whom social responsibility plays a pivotal role in their perception of luxury. They have an appreciation for the craft and workmanship as well as the social impact made in the production process of a piece.
Where, and in what circumstances, do you get your best creative ideas?
Solitude and introspection for me are the most fertile grounds for my creative process. When coming up with a new collection I don’t do any research. I rely solely on the memories evoked from my personal experiences and my imagination and my perception of what the piece I am designing should mean or represent visually. My interest and appreciation of nature, architecture and unusual spaces along my travels impact my final designs.