The sacred architecture and patterns of the Silk Route are the inspiration for Alice Cicolini’s jewellery. It is handmade in India in the studio of Kamal Kumar Meenakar, one of the last Jaipuri meenakari mastercraftsmen trained in the enamel traditions of Persia, passed down through family generations over 250 years. A family whose work is owned by the Maharajas of Patiala and Jaipur, and exhibited the world over, this craftsmanship remains of the highest quality. Miniature painters on gold, India’s meenakari masters are both artists and artisans. Unlike many traditional mastercraftsmen in India, meenakari could document their work by creating paper rubbings of the engravings they had created, preserving the level of skill into the twenty-first century through the availability of direct references to the work of their forefathers.
Known in Europe as champlevé, the meenakari enameling tradition involves engraving pattern in to the metal; in India, craftsmen prefer to work on 23.5 carat gold, the softness of the metal allowing for more detailed and expressive work, brought to life using rare enamels that have been passed down within families as heirlooms in their own right. Enamel is a combination of ground, pigmented glass and metal, heat fired into the recesses created by the engraving and then polished with agate stone to create these extraordinarily vibrant and rich colours. More commonly applied to the reverse of jewels, where the precious stones such as diamonds, sapphires, rubies and emeralds are privileged at the forefront, meenakari is also known as “the secret”, an intimate dialogue with the gem’s wearer.
Kamal Kumar Meenakar has now been working in the enamelling tradition for generations and his father, Munna Lal, was a celebrated mastercraftsman whose work was regularly selected to represent Indian craftsmanship internationally. Meenakar can claim some of the pieces in books such as Jaipur Enamel and Dance of the Peacock as having been made within his family. The tradition of fine meenakari work is, however, almost at an end; previously commissioned on a large scale, plates, bowls and cups were all finely decorated in rich colour, vines and birds traced around their edges. Work on this scale is now a thing of the past.