Storytelling school

My favorite pieces: Charu Gandhi’s Indian roots are reflected in his precious objects

Growing up in India, interior designer Charu Gandhi learned to appreciate jewelry as something meaningful through family stories. His grandparents left what is now Pakistan during the partition in 1947 with only a few trunks of possessions. “I come from a family that had a lot of land, these beautiful houses. . . but all that really remains of that legacy is the jewelry,” says Gandhi, founder of London design studio Elicyon.

Most of her collection is inherited from traditional Indian pieces, but she also bought contemporary jewelery during visits to the annual goldsmiths’ fair in London, with her goldsmith mother, Manju.

Gandhi was part of the jury that selected the 136 jewelers and silversmiths exhibiting at this year’s fair, which runs from September 27 to October 9, and says the experience taught him a lot about provenance that will inform his future collection.

“There were pieces that I might not have assigned much value to, but other jurors talked about the details of the making,” she says. “While there were pieces that were very striking, but the panel talked about . . . how there was a technique that had been used that was actually not so much associated with craftsmanship.

Barbara Christie Brooch (c2008)

This silver brooch with gold engraving was one of his first purchases at the silversmith’s fair with his mother. Christie taught jewelry design to Gandhi’s mother at Central Saint Martins, an art school in London.

“[The brooch] was the start of a shift for me – from buying jewelry that was still gemstone based, quite elaborate and high value, to buying something very architectural, quite simple, but made by someone one we would call a master goldsmith and valued for his workmanship, simplicity and purity of form,” says Gandhi.

The brooches weren’t something she wore growing up in Asia – she lived in Delhi and went to boarding school in Singapore – so she sees them as a symbol of the “anglicized side” of her life.

Kinetic piece by Manju Gandhi (2003-04)

four superimposed circles forming a pendant

Gandhi moved to the UK to study at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London, in 1997. This silver brooch with tourmalines, made by his mother, reminds Gandhi of the drawings she made during the writing software — inspired by nature and cell multiplication — as part of his course.

Gandhi wore the piece, which has moving parts and can be worn on a string around his neck, to his graduation in 2004.

Her mother, who began studying jewelry design when Gandhi was a child, does not sell her work.

“I enjoyed seeing her progress, knowing the effort and care she puts into making these pieces and how much they mean to her,” she says. “Beyond me and my brother are his babies.”

Grima earrings (2018)

two irregular shaped earrings

Gandhi describes his own jewelry and that of his mother as a “shared pot”. She found it “very empowering” to be able to purchase these yellow gold and diamond earrings at the Masterpiece London art fair.

Jewelry made by Grima, the brand founded by modernist designer Andrew Grima, long held an “unattainable quality” for Gandhi. “It was something that you saw, that you looked at, but that you’re never going to own,” she says.

However, after her business had a very good year, she was able to afford to buy the earrings, to wear to her brother’s wedding in Sri Lanka in 2019.

Turkish Victorian Necklace (19th Century)

a gold, diamond and emerald necklace

For his own wedding in 2016, Gandhi wore this gold, diamond and emerald necklace given to him by his friend, the potter Diana Peyton.

She had helped Gandhi get his first job and taught him about British and London life. “There is family and then there are people who come into your life and make you their family,” says Gandhi.

She says Peyton received the necklace from her American husband, in Beirut, when she flew out to meet him on a whim before their wedding.

Vintage emerald ring (date unknown)

a round emerald ring

The proposal that led to Gandhi’s marriage follows a first attempt that went a little wrong during a stay in Megève in 2015.

Gandhi told her boyfriend, Jarek, that one of his colleagues had been offered a temporary engagement ring, so that the actual ring could be a design of his colleague’s choice. When later that same day Gandhi spotted a vintage emerald ring in a store, her boyfriend asked her if she would like it as a temporary engagement ring.

But then he said he wanted to buy it as a birthday present instead.

“He realized that I had said that I would really like him to ask my father before proposing to me,” says Gandhi. “He basically freaked out and realized he didn’t do that, and that’s why it’s like he changed his mind!”

At the time, Gandhi was so annoyed that she bought the ring herself and her boyfriend transferred the money to her. A week later, he asked his dad’s permission and proposed a few weeks later — along with another temporary ring.

Gandhi likes to share this tale. And in doing so, she continues the tale around jewelry that she grew up with.