Farah Khan is a Mumbai-based jewellery designer and gemologist. Her luxury lifestyle brand, Farah Khan Fine Jewellery, recently celebrated its 15th anniversary with the publication of a lavishly illustrated and slip-cased book, A Bejewelled Life. Khan speaks to Guardian 20 about the book, her design inspirations and accomplishments.
Q. Your book, A Bejewelled Life, is a luxurious travelogue as well as a jewellery book. What is your expectation from the general reader? Does the book cater to experts in the field or will it also find resonance with non-experts?
A. This book is an intellectual, artistic conversation between creative people. It is meant to inspire those who seek artistic inspiration. The process of design is a collaboration between creative individuals who come together to create magic. I hope the readers of my book understand the process of design and realise that to truly create something, one needs to explore the world, step out of their comfort zone and do things they normally don’t do. Constantly reinventing yourself is important. I also hope that they see me as an artistically inclined person whose design sensibilities spread across the board and are not limited to just jewellery; as someone who has so much more to offer in my aesthetic vision. I think the book resonates with both creative and non-creative people because it is so much more than just a jewellery book. It is my life story, the vision, the building of a brand, a travelogue, it’s my thoughts, ideas, inspirations. Above all, it connects the past to the present and leads you to the future.
Q. The book comprises an image bank of your handcrafted 18-karat gold jewels and gouache renderings of your designs, along with photos of landscapes, some of them shot by you. Was it challenging to transfer the aesthetics of these landscapes into your designs?
A. If I weren’t a jewellery designer, I would have been a photographer. When I take pictures, I am always trying to perceive imagery like the camera lens would see it. So when I shoot landscape pictures I am already looking at transforming that in my mind into a beautiful product of art. I think design, so I perceive design. Thankfully, being aesthetically inclined, I don’t find it challenging.
Q. You are highly inspired by the timeless geometry of Mughal architecture as well. Does it get difficult to depict those designs on precious stones?
A. I first found inspiration in Mughal architecture back when I spent time in the deserts of Rajasthan, where I spent many years growing up, with my father while he was shooting his opulent films and costume drama historicals that involved great forts and grand royal palaces. My father’s scripts took us to the most beautiful palaces and forts, and the longer we stayed there, I felt some of them becoming our home away from home. I lived for years in the stunning Samode Palace in Jaipur, where we shot extensively. Every time I walk through the majestic, scalloped doorways and nested arches of the Samode, I step into both my own and India’s past. Intricate Mughal motifs clamber all over its walls and ceilings, punctuated by the jewel-like glow of the Rajasthani miniatures that light up its charming niches. I’m inexorably drawn to this harmonious mingling of cultures. The Mughal penchant for elegance and naturalism, combined with the Rajput affinity for colour and grandeur, paved the way for a golden era of art and architecture that flourished in the 16th and 17th centuries and now into my design world. When I look at the magnificently rich royal culture of India, I am inspired every time to translate those royal motifs and emblems into my jewellery. And thus, I am invariably drawn to carved gemstones and tumbled rocks and pearls that set the tone for my precious designs.
Q. How and to what extent do your travels inspire your designs?
A. My travels form the foundation of most of my collections. I am inspired by the process of my life and my experiences. I see myself as an alchemist that captures the moments in my life and transforms them into beautiful objects of art. When I look at things that inspire me, I take that visual imagery and translate that inanimate thought into a three-dimensional object of beauty, one that is alive and one that draws you to it. My greatest source of inspiration has been my life and the journey that it entails. From the magnificent architectural monuments in history to the breathtaking landscapes in nature, from the spectacular animal life to the flora and fauna that form our world, I seek inspiration in my travels and in all that touches me, for my life has been the unfolding journey of my existence.
Q. In your book, A Bejewelled Life, you talk about your famous Swarovski crown, The Goddess, created in 2008 and later worn by Beyonce on the cover of her album, 4. How did that accomplishment feel?
A. I designed this ornate bejewelled headgear for Swarovski for Runway Rocks in the year 2008. When Beyonce picked this up to wear it on the cover of her album 4, it felt amazing because she is a style influencer and someone who is a very successful role model. In that sense, it felt like an accomplishment.
Q. What do you mean when you say that your designs are “reimagining history” for the new generation?
A. I take inspiration from the past and use that imagery to create something new. I play with royal motifs, yet use contemporary colours in my gemstones to reinvent and reinterpret the past. Somewhere in that work of art, you have the past, and somewhere you have me from the present. So in that sense, I am creating something new, taking inspiration from the past and crafting that into metal that will outlive its wearer and go down generations becoming more precious in time, thus creating new heirlooms that will reimagine history for new and coming generations. In that sense, I connect the past and the present.
Q. You seem to seek inspiration from adventures and we say this in the context of your deep dive in the Amazon. Do you generally like to push your boundaries as far as coming up with novel and innovative designs is concerned?
A. I am adventurous by nature and love anything that is out of the ordinary and challenging—be it personal or professional. When I swam in the river Negro in the Amazon in Brazil, I was not afraid of the anacondas, piranhas or caimans that inhabited the waters because when I am in nature I feel one with nature. Just to be there in the middle of this gigantic endless river with no sense of fear was a blessing, to swim in black waters that did not allow you to see one inch below water level felt thrilling, and to know that we are a part of this great universe was an unbelievable experience and one I would highly recommend. I think I always push my boundaries when I am creating because doing the ordinary is dull and boring. I need to excite my senses so I look for things that are difficult to do and that require innovation, skill and creative thought process. I guess that’s my nature, to do everything I do with excellence or to not attempt it at all.