Dutch sisters create jewelry inspired by Indian culture

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Van Gelder Indian Jewelry is one of those companies that, at first glance, defies logic. The Dutch family business specializes in museum-quality Indian heritage gems, painstakingly acquired through intricate networks within the subcontinent over many years.

The company was founded in 1980 by Dutchwoman Bernadette van Gelder, who through personal research became captivated by the history, art and regional cultures of India expressed in her jewelry as well as the materials and the techniques used to create the historical pieces. She and her late husband, Wim Brouwer, then traveled to the subcontinent. Seeing the historical gems in person turned his fascination into an obsession. In the years that followed, they traveled extensively, visiting jewelry workshops and talking to dealers and collectors, gradually gaining their trust and eventually amassing a collection of important historical jewelry. The company that followed became one of the largest collectors and traders of historic Indian jewelry in the world, attracting customers from all over the world. The company was one of the first exhibitors at TEFAF Maastricht, the prestigious international fair for fine art, antiques and design held annually in the south of the Netherlands.

Bernadette’s daughters, Noëlle and Fleur, grew up in the business learning Indian jewelry and accompanying their parents to the subcontinent on many occasions. In 2000 the sisters joined the business and in 2012 became owners, when their mother retired. For a time, the business operated as it always had. However, with a new generation, change is inevitable. In 2019 they created their own contemporary jewelry based on historical Indian jewelry. The following year, they opened a boutique by appointment in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, a town in central Holland.

Tall, slim and blonde and nearly identical in appearance, no one would ever mistake the two sisters for Indian lineage. But what they inherited from their Dutch parents is the same passion for historic Indian jewelry as well as a sense of pride in their unique business. “We’ve created a super niche market and we’ve never looked back,” Fleur said. “We are very well known in this niche.

So far they have created five contemporary jewelry collections. All of the limited edition pieces in the collections are designed by the sisters with Indian themes and all are made in a workshop in Jaipur, India. The sisters describe the jewelry as contemporary versions of colorful, small and refined Indian pieces. Each collection is influenced by a specific aspect of Indian history and culture. It reflects their passion for traditional Indian jewelry, combined with their personal point of view and modern interpretation of India’s rich visual and cultural language.

Baoli is the latest collection, influenced by the stepwells of India (which date back to 600 BC in Gujarat) and the concept of flowing, flowing water used in ceremonies and rituals. The sisters walked these stairs (known as Baoli in Hindi) and describe it as an almost spiritual experience.

“These architectural structures are erected around wells where water is scarce. These wells were often part of a temple and the community would gather around these water wells to pray,” Fleur said. “As you walk, the whole atmosphere changes as the mist increases and you lose light. This spirituality and the beautiful patterns of the steps was an appealing concept to us.

The collection includes rings and earrings in 18k gold, decorated with enamel, blue sapphire, labradorite, lapis lazuli, pink tourmaline and spinel. In most cases there is a replica of the steps with a gemstone in the center of the piece. In addition to the traditional Indian theme, they liken the pieces to the math-influenced optical illusions of modern Dutch graphic designer, MC Escher.

“The clarity of the gemstone in the center is an inexhaustible source of inspiration,” Noëlle said. “We hope to be able to invite the wearer to look within as an inexhaustible source of inspiration.”

Another collection, Jali, is the term for a perforated stone or lattice screen, according to the sisters, usually with an ornamental pattern constructed through the use of calligraphy and geometry. These floral designs and patterns cast long decorative shadows on walls and floors. They also serve a practical function, helping to lower the temperature by tempering sunlight and compressing the air through the holes.

“The designs also have strong and intriguing visual structures,” Noëlle said. “This protective screen has inspired us to create jewelry that is both strong and delicate.”

Another collection of note is Colors. “We tried to capture the colors of India in a series of clean, natural lines and with gemstones,” Fleur said. “We started with clean, strong lines in traditional Indian jewelry shapes.”

Organic shapes also play an important role in this collection as the pieces are graphic translations of typical Indian flowers and water jugs. Gold earrings, necklace and rings are accented with colored gemstones and enamels.

The Jodha Bai collection is named after a 16th century Rajput princess who was the wife of Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great. It is widely seen as illustrating Akbar’s and the Mughals’ tolerance of religious differences and their inclusive policies within an expanding multi-ethnic and multi-faith empire. She is also said to be equal to men in love, life and battle. The designs of these expressive pieces reflect these traits with strong, distinct lines, using enamel and gold. For example, a pair of long earrings has a spherical end adorned with a filigree floral design and protruding points, rising up a weapon.

The Navaratna collection represents the nine planets of the Indian astrological system with ruby, pearl, coral, emerald, topaz, diamond, sapphire, zircon and cat’s eye.

“The nine stones as a group are said to possess exceptional magical powers by providing a sympathetic medium for the transmission of the stored energy of the planets, which then exerts its influence upon the wearer,” Fleur said.

These contemporary collections represent a radical change in the nature of the family business. It also meant that the company would leave TEFAF Maastricht since their contemporary pieces are not aligned with the rules and regulations of the annual fair, known for its rigorous control. But the sisters have expressed confidence in their vision and they have their mother’s approval.

“When we decided to launch a contemporary collection, there was no more room for us at TEFAF, so we parted ways,” Fleur said. “Business-wise, it was a very good decision. It was the right decision.”

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