For just over ten years Hanut Singh has been quietly and meticulously designing jewelry that at once reveals his modern sensibility, appreciation of history and obsession with craftsmanship. The personal touch he applies to his creations extends to the way he has presented them exclusively at private trunk shows and by-appointment-only boutiques. From these viewings word-of-mouth buzz has grown into a significant cult following. Diane von Furstenberg, Mary-Kate Olsen, Wendi Deng Murdoch, Beyoncé, Madonna and Christian Louboutin are just a handful of his discriminating clients.
Although he was never formally trained, Hanut’s jewellery education truly began from the time he was a child. The designer is a descendant of the Kapurthala royal family of India who astonished the world with their style in the first half of the twentieth century. The family’s legendary treasures and discriminating taste inspired the greatest jewelry houses in the world to new heights. It also ignited Hanut’s passion to become a designer.
Hanut’s great-grandfather, the Maharaja Jagatjit Singh was a friend of American President Theodore Roosevelt and French statesmen Georges Clemenceau. He toured Europe annually and commissioned any number of exceptional jewels from esteemed French houses. Two of the most well known are the spectacular pagoda style Kapurthala tiara made by Cartier and a Boucheron aigrette. Both pieces were set with eye-popping emeralds from the family’s gem collection. Hanut’s grandparents the Maharaja Kumar Karamjit Singh and Maharani Sita Devi of Kapurthala — also known as the Princess Karam — continued the relationships with the best French jewelers during their frequent visits to Paris in the 1930s. Cartier’s artistic director Jeanne Toussaint created an Indian inspired necklace for the princess with motifs the Maison repeated on designs for decades. The Princess Karam’s beauty and style — the way she paired her jewels with her sensational saris and custom-made gowns from Chanel, Lanvin and Elsa Schiaparelli — led Vogue to proclaim she was a “secular goddess” in 1932. Five-years later, Harper’s Bazaar put her on a short list of the most beautiful women in the world.
Hanut’s stunning penthouse apartment in New Delhi is filled with inherited items from his grandparents Café Society days — gifts from their friends including Coco Chanel, dreamy traveling trunks from Louis Vuitton, a glorious Golconda diamond ring his grandfather commissioned for his grandmother from Louis Cartier. Perhaps Hanut’s most prized possession, however, is his grandmother’s scrapbook filled with memorabilia of the era. An inscribed photograph from Cecil Beaton, a glorious Man Ray image of the Princess Karam and countless other pictures of her wearing her beautiful jewelry in fashion magazines are among the dreamy pages. This very personal assemblage of images and tear sheets acts as an eternal inspiration board for Hanut.
Elements of Jazz Age jewelry dance through his sensational work. While the designer does create the occasional necklace or ring, pendant earrings reminiscent of Art Deco styles form the foundation of the collection. They feature masterful techniques from the period such as specially hand-cut and carved stones. Touches of colorful enamel accent many of his earrings.
Hanut pulls the historical elements together with unique design details resulting in a totally original collection. For example he sources antique pearls because he prefers the patina of the vintage gems. To add texture to the overall appearance of some pieces Hanut conceived a signature setting combining white gold on the front and yellow gold on the reverse. The blend of elements and immaculate proportions of the jewels give them a totally modern look. One of Hanut’s muses Aziza Azim has shown how easily the earrings can be worn pairing them casually with leather moto jackets as well as formally with little black dresses. There is no doubt Hanut Singh’s creations are everything he wants them to be—totally intoxicating for the senses.
Marion Fasel is a renowned author and industry expert on jewellery