A Conversation with Manpriya Bath at Manpriya B Fine Jewellery

by Reema Farooqui
fine jewellery

A London-based Jewellery Designer Whose Jewellery Pieces have a Global Appeal

Jewellery designer Manpriya Bath, founder at her eponymous fine jewellery brand, Manpriya B, weaves magic with her one-of-a-kind jewels. A fusion of contemporary Western jewellery design and traditional Indian jewellery craftsmanship, Manpriya B fine jewellery pieces are unique, eye catching and often centre around a beautiful, organically shaped gem. 

Although she was born and raised in India, London has been her home for the past two decades. Therefore it is easy to see why Manpriya Bath’s jewels bridge the divide between Western jewellery design and Indian artisanal jewellery crafting with such breathtaking ease.

Even her choice of gem materials has a delicious duality to it.  Slice diamonds or the Indian Polki diamonds, are a very traditional Indian jewellery material. However, in Manpriya’s hands, they assume a completely different avatar. Set seamlessly in pieces that are unarguably Western in their design aesthetic, one tends to forget the Indian roots of these precious gems.

Another remarkable aspect of Manpriya’s jewellery pieces is their wholehearted embrace colour, shape and texture. Smooth gems within a frame of glittering, reverse set diamonds and coloured gemstones, cabochon rubies in vivid crimson encircling flat, shimmering slice diamonds, the jewellery pieces at Manpriya B fine jewellery are a saga of unexpected yet very beguiling contrasts in shapes and patterns. As wearable as they are elegant, these fine jewellery pieces are hard to ignore.

When I caught up with Manpriya, we chatted about how her Indian upbringing has influenced her as a jeweller, what inspires her jewellery design, her love for unusual and striking gems and what we can find her doing on a lazy Sunday morning.

On Instagram you say that you design fine jewellery and the techniques learned at my mother’s knee. Can you elaborate on that?

My mother does not come from a jewellery-making background, but she adores fine jewellery and has educated herself entirely through her passion for gems and the pursuit of excellence.  When I was growing up her passion was infectious  and I fell in love with precious stones.  My mother has a very sharp eye, and she is a perfectionist. She has an instinct for good jewellery which goes back several generations because she learned it from her mother – my grandmother.  I was shown how to pick and choose gemstones, what to look for in terms of quality and colour, and I was taught to understand and appreciate proportions and abstract concepts such as ‘Pani’ which is a Hindi word for ‘water’ referring to clarity and translucency.    After graduating, I studied Gemology in India and at the GIA, but from my mother I received detailed, hands-on knowledge about gold jewellery, Indian “jadau” jewellery and the stages of production in crafting jewellery.  She also exposed me to the production process. One of the garages at home was turned into a little workshop and she’d make me supervise the “karigar” or the craftsmen. She taught me to appreciate the process of handmade fine jewellery and its role in achieving excellence in the final product.   In those days everything was made by hand, so I guess I got my training from her. She was my guru! But I also learned a lot from the craftsmen and goldsmiths. As they worked, they would tell me about all the stages of production in traditional handmade fine jewellery. 

Loulou Slice Diamond Flower Earrings, Manpriya B Fine Jewellery

When I look at your jewellery designs, I see there is a fusion of a Western aesthetic coming together with Indian craftsmanship. How challenging has it been to bring these two different but equally beautiful design inspirations together?

It has not been difficult to create fusion pieces, but you have to keep reminding yourself where the pieces are going to be worn and who is going to wear it. When I first started my business in India, I produced more western-style designs because I didn’t want to be pigeon-holed as a wedding jewellery designer. I wanted to craft jewellery that was wearable and stylish enough for everyday lunches and dinners. My exposure to big brands, however, was always more towards collections from Cartier or Bulgari, so in my design aesthetic I was influenced by a western style.  When I was very young my family often visited Antwerp and I grew to appreciate designs from the big jewellery houses and the very high quality gemstones that they used. As far as craftsmanship is concerned, I began to design using sliced diamonds in the ‘Polki’ style which features in Indian Jadau jewellery. Jadau is a highly skilled traditional technique of setting precious stones in layers of gold so that jewellery is ‘studded’ with uncut diamonds, rubies or emeralds.  

It’s only in the last ten years or so that lots of designers have started using Polki in an open setting.  Polki diamonds have uniquely organic shapes and they require other gemstones to bring out their lustre. Full cut brilliant diamonds are the best for that.  I also like to use rose-cut diamonds with my Polki which I guess are quite Indian as well.  I’m immensely proud of my heritage and the quality of traditional Indian craftsmanship, but I also want to make jewellery that does not intimidate my clientele in the UK.  So I use settings and stones that are from my Indian background but in designs that are slightly less intricate, using white gold, and focusing on single statements and wearability.  Although my work in slice diamonds is very much informed by my background, my Indian heritage is perhaps more visible in my  Fleur de L’Inde collection.  I have designed beautiful flower motifs by embedding rubies, emeralds and diamonds in layers of gold foil – a technique used in the Kundan Jewellery of India. 

You have used sliced diamonds in your Diva Collection, including coloured slices.  Some of the diamonds even have inclusions which really bring out the individuality of the piece. What drew you to these sliced diamonds which you have used in very Western jewellery designs?

My main collection is my sliced diamond jewellery and I want to say that photographs cannot do justice to them.  You have to see them in real life moving and catching the light to truly understand their beauty.  First quality rough diamonds are used for full cut stones so sliced diamonds are usually cut from second quality rough. In those stones, you will most often have some inclusions, so while I do try to source sliced diamonds with fewer or no inclusions, I also  feel that the imperfections add to the beauty and uniqueness of each piece. Nobody is perfect and life is not perfect so we have to find reasons to celebrate what we have.  Imperfections in a sliced diamond tell a story about how it  was formed; they are the unique fingerprint of that diamond. Trying to find clean slices can be a challenge so I also use slices that come in different colours and set them off against coloured gemstones like sapphires and chalcedony.  The wonderful thing about sliced diamonds is that each is so unique that my clients can wear them in a variety of different pieces. Their flat surfaces enable them to reflect more light than other stones – you could be wearing a pair of two-carat sliced diamond earrings and nobody will know – they will just look at them and wonder at what they are. Their uniqueness makes them very special to the person wearing them.  

In your Glam Rocks Collection, you have chosen tumbled and polished stones. They look gorgeous. What attracted you to those stones since they are so unusual and look so beautiful? 

Again, like sliced diamonds, I respect how they look. Tumbled stones are rough stones that have been highly polished. When I saw them with one of my stone dealers, my first thought was that they looked like candy and I just grabbed them. I started by buying three each of three different gemstones – three amethysts, three citrines. three tanzanites. I loved them immediately and they almost spoke to me, inviting me to create a design for them.  The reason I choose to work with tumbled stones and sliced diamonds is because I am never worried about following trends or fashions.  I just want to listen to my inner voice and use what I know makes me stand out from other jewellery designers.  I am confident in who I am, and I know my jewellery is equally confident. I want to respect the natural shape of these tactile, colourful, undulating stones and celebrate them in a collection. In fact I have recently added some new pieces to the Glam Rocks collection which I have posted on Instagram. 

What has been your design inspiration? All your fine jewellery collections are so different. 

I do not choose to stick to one look. That is probably because I come from India where there is such variety and difference of taste.  In fact, in India you find people dressed differently  from each other, and even the attire we wear changes from day to day. One day we could be wearing a saree from Gujarat and the other day we could be wearing something completely different. So, I personally don’t have one look, I like it to be varied depending on my mood.  And so the jewellery I wear varies also depending on my mood. The one thing, however, that links all my collections together is the craftsmanship and the quality of the materials I use. I draw my inspiration from so many things; I love going to museums, art galleries, cinema and I’m very influenced by textiles. But in the end, it is the gemstones that are my inspiration. When I design a piece of jewellery, I start with buying the gemstones and the stones lead me to the design that suits them the best. I never buy multiple gemstones for one collection – I use them across my brand where I think they will work perfectly. We live in interesting times where we interact with different people from all over the world. There is a constant ebb and flow of cultures and ideas and I try to find ideas within the overlaps. I’m a sponge, basically.

Is there any piece of jewellery that you have designed that is special or meaningful to you? If so, why?

When I started my business in 1993 in India and as a young jewellery designer, I had a set budget to work with. I had to be so creative with that budget when buying gemstones and gold. So, within all the budget constraints, I designed a pair of bangles which were and still are amongst my best selling items. They were big chunky bangles which had silver at the back and gold terminals which were studded with gemstones. I am proud of them not only because this was the first piece of jewellery I designed, but also because it is a design that has continued to evolve. So, first we put in a vintage watch spring for the bangle to open and close easily and then I began using calibrated gemstones, pairing subtly matching or vibrantly clashing colours.  I’m very proud of that bangle but unfortunately a lot of people have copied it. The problem is that trademarking jewellery is a long process and even then, people can get around the trademark just by changing a few things here or there. 

What is your personal style?

I like to be comfortable in whatever I wear, whether it’s jewellery or clothes. I like to dress up when I go out but I have a collection of day to day jewellery that has to be beautiful and comfortable. I like comfort – that’s really important. I adore vintage jewellery which I mix and match with pieces from my slice diamond collection.  Vintage jewellery is a true weakness of mine and I am fascinated by the quality, intricacy and design of Victorian jewellery.  My personal choices also depend on the time of year. In summer, I love to wear colour – especially Indian Kurtis  (loose collarless shirts), and Italian fashion because they get their cuts right.

Favourite colour to wear all year round?

White.  I could wear white all year round – even in winter. I love white!

In your opinion a statement piece is a pair of earrings or a bangle?

Have a look at my collections.  Definitely earrings!

Your one can’t do without accessory? 

My entire jewellery collection!  But if I have to choose, I never go anywhere without wearing a pair of earrings.  Even if it is a quick trip to the corner store. 

How would you describe yourself, evening elegant or daytime chic?

Again, just like my jewellery – I love to be both!

What would we find you doing on a lazy Sunday morning? 

Slowly getting out of bed with herbal tea, speaking to my parents and family in India, having my disgusting green health drink and going to the gym.  Sundays are often family days and  I look forward to spending the time with my husband and my son and daughter – taking everything at a much slower pace. If it’s a Saturday then you will find me at the Portobello Antiques Market at the crack of dawn.  That’s one of my favourite things to do on a Saturday morning. 

What does your creative space look like? 

When I work, I like to spread things everywhere, but I know exactly where things are, and that’s how I like to work. Even when I am starting my jewellery designs, I put everything everywhere. As soon as I have finished, everything goes back into its place and you’d never know that my work mess was spread around just a little while ago.

How many languages do you speak? 

English, Hindi, Punjabi and a little French. I would like to learn Italian because I love to visit Italy.  

Thank you so much Manpriya for taking time out of your busy day to answer my questions! Wishing you all the best for the future and waiting to see all the new and stunning jewellery pieces in your evolving collections!

You can follow Manpriya B Fine Jewellery on Instagram @manpriya.b

Manpriya B Fine Jewellery stockists include Paul Smith in London and Los Angeles and Karry Berreby Jewelry in Paris

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