While growing up, Reena Ahluwalia was unaware that the Golconda mines, where some of the world’s most brilliant gems came from, were actually near her home in the Madhya Pradesh state of India. Decades after the Golconda mines were depleted, mining giant Rio Tinto discovered the Bunder mine in the same state, and from its first diamonds a jewellery collection was created, based on Ahluwalia’s designs.
Rio Tinto isn’t the only big name the India-born, Canada-based jewellery designer and painter has worked with. She has also designed a diamond setting to mount the first diamonds from Ontario in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario’s ceremonial mace, and partnered with Royal Asscher to create the stunning 85ct Royal Asscher Diamond Tiara, which pays homage to the royal wedding of Prince William and HRH Katherine Middleton. Her works have even appeared on a Belgian postage stamp, making her one of few living jewellery designers with this honour.
Shine Like a Diamond
Ahluwalia was in town in September 2018 for Diamond Dreams, her exhibition at the Visual Arts Centre – her first in Singapore – which showcased her jewellery and diamond paintings. She shared that her fascination with jewellery started from young, when she chanced upon women making roads in India. Even when doing back-breaking labour, these women wore gleaming jewellery from head to toe, which shone through a cloud of tar, asphalt and dust.
“I was intrigued that their identity was so intricately woven with their jewellery,” she recalled. “From their jewellery, you could tell which region they came from and whether they were married, so that taught me how jewellery can communicate multiple layers of meaning.”
At home, her creativity was stimulated when her mother, who’s a poet and Sanskrit scholar, suggested that Ahluwalia doodled her answers for school essays instead of writing them. Her teachers were surprisingly accommodating when she presented her work, which taught her that an idea can be expressed in a multitude of ways – a lesson she still draws from even today.
But why does Ahluwalia love working with diamonds so much? It’s because they are metaphorical representations of people. Like diamonds, we start off a little rough and get more polished by bettering ourselves. “A diamond without a story is stone-cold,” she says. And it’s because diamonds derive their significance from people when they attach their memories to these stones. That’s why her collections are always guided by her own beliefs and experiences.
Symbolisms of Life
Her most recent, the Alyssum, comprises a necklace, earrings and a ring in rose gold, yellow gold or white gold, with diamonds. It is inspired by the sweet fragrant flower that is also Ahluwalia’s personal logo – a quatrefoil with a star inside. She shared that the shape’s symmetry and balance represent her journey in finding her strength and helping others, while the four petals symbolise love, passion, dreams and hope – some of her core values in life.
Part of her design philosophy is to only make meaningful and memorable jewellery. “If not, why make it? There are millions of pieces out there, why add more to the noise?” she questions. To illustrate her point, Ahluwalia teases with the design of an upcoming piece: A tiny alyssum drop dangling from a larger alyssum pendant hung on a choker-like chain.
Elegant, understated designs such as this, which can be easily integrated into one’s style, are something she has been wanting to make for a long time.
Ahluwalia brought her Soul Carousel collection to Singapore in the hopes of complementing the country’s colourful visuals and lively energy. “I’m crazy about colour,” she says. “It’s such a reflection of your mood and the place you’re at.” This vibrant collection showcases the technical work that Ahluwalia is known for. Powered by a patented ball bearing mechanism, the multiple layers on the pendants and rings whirl to life by the wearer’s touch or natural body movements. Resembling a carousel when viewed top down, the spinning pieces carry with them the reminder to live in full colour and make the most out of every moment. The displayed rings are cast in sterling silver and embellished with rainbow- coloured Swarovski stones, but there’s also a version set with diamonds.
Painting with Purpose
Beyond being just a jewellery designer, Ahluwalia is also a much sought-after painter. Her hyper-realistic paintings of diamonds, magnified thousands of times on canvas, are not simply recreations but interpretations from imagination. No two paintings are exactly the same, and all feature painstaking details that take hundreds of hours to paint.
That’s why Ahluwalia calls herself persistent, even obsessive. “You need to have a little bit of an obsessive streak to keep doing this,” she says.
Standing a distance in front of these paintings, you feel the full glory of a diamond; upon close examination, it becomes abstract art, with modern and clean lines exploring beauty and geometry.
Like everything she does, Ahluwalia paints with purpose. She believes that her art should serve a broader purpose, and now that she’s in a position to help, she wants to give back. To that end, the sales of her paintings benefit the Jewelers For Children charity.
The busy multi-hyphenate – she’s a technical drawing professor and a speaker as well – is spirited and full of life in person, and it shows in more than just her various works. Her positivity shines through in the way she frames challenges as opportunities, and she constantly pushes her boundaries, not just in her art but also in her thinking. What keeps her going, she shared, is “passion – no half measures – persistence and having an unbounded mind.”