A real gem in the world of design – interview with Reena Ahluwalia
Recognized as one of the Top Masters of Jewelry Design in Canada, Reena Ahluwalia is a multifaceted artist. She is an award-winning jewelry designer, diamond painter, professor, speaker and a community builder.
Reena was born in India and moved to Canada later on. She graduated from India’s top design and art institute, the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT). Winning numerous International and National awards for design excellence, earned her scholarships in UK and Italy. She has been featured in books and publications such as Forbes, The New York Times, Financial Times, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, Elle, The Miami Herald, Toronto Star, The Hindu, Indian Express and more.
Creating jewelry with deep meaning and symbolism under her own brand, Reena’s signature style is all about precision, geometry, fluidity and movement. Reena is one of handful of living jewelry artists whose work is featured on a nation’s (Belgium) postage stamp. She designed a historic diamond piece for the Legislature of Ontario with De Beers Canada. Reena created the inaugural collection for Rio Tinto Bunder Mine, diamonds found 100 years after the fabled Indian Golconda Mines depleted. As a tribute to the British Royal Wedding, Reena created a Diamond Tiara for HRH Kate Middleton with Royal Asscher Diamond Company, the company responsible for cutting world famous Cullinan Diamond and Excelsior Diamond.
You are a truly versatile designer and a powerful, accomplished woman. Where do you find your energy for all these activities, and which aspect of your work is the most important to you?
Reena: Thank you! My energy comes from my passion to create meaningful art. I like the sense of discovery…it keeps me moving forward. There is always so much to do. I am deeply motivated and like progression in all I do, it’s a way of life that fuels me to keep learning and keep creating. Be it any aspect of work, I strive to do my best.
Tell us, how did it all start, did you always know you wanted to pursue a career in design?
Reena: For as long as I can remember, I found it thrilling to create and transform something new out of ordinary. I was lucky to have childhood where I had the freedom to explore and experiment. I was always busy painting, sketching, sculpting and loving it all. Faced with a choice of Engineering versus Design school, I chose the field of design right after my high school. I graduated from India’s foremost design and art school, the ‘National Institute of Fashion Technology’. Immediately after graduation I landed my first job as a jewelry designer in one of India’s largest diamond companies.
What was your inspiration to start working with diamonds? Why did diamonds become your material of choice, and not pearls or other gemstones?
Reena: Great question! As much as I love the world of gemstones (I often use), diamond is my material of choice. For me diamonds are truly magical, poetic and steeped in symbolism. I can never get tired of looking into their eternal depths and exploring the endless meaning they carry.
In the modern culture, diamonds are perceived as the eternal symbol of love. A diamond is “forever”. They are mostly bought by men for women in the context of engagement, marriage and as a declaration of this eternal love. I fully support this context, but to me diamonds are more than that. They are multifaceted, strong and powerful. They can carry many different meanings, for example symbolize a woman’s persistence and achievements. Do you agree with this, and what do diamonds mean to you?
Reena: I couldn’t agree more. Yes, diamonds continue to symbolize love, promise and commitment. I see diamonds as carriers of personal stories and aspirations. I believe diamonds get their real story, romance and symbolism when people attach their personal meaning to them. My jewelry collections and diamond paintings highlight the attributes of diamonds, because I believe we are like diamonds – multifaceted, strong, brilliant, radiant, luminous, full of potential and much more!
Are there any particular pieces that you will always remember?
Reena: I have had quite a few challenges and challenging pieces in my career. Resolving challenges is what I thrive on. One piece that comes to mind is my 200-carat diamond body ornament, „Diamond Sensuous” that won the prestigious De Beers Diamond International Awards. The piece is a mathematical beauty, with diamond elements embracing the body and falling on body’s complex curves. To calculate the angles at which the piece should sit was a great challenge, and ultimately after many hundreds of hours into the piece it was satisfying to nail it!
Can you tell us a bit about your creative journey? Where does it start, how is it sparked, how do you get your ideas and how do you end up with all these spectacular jewelry pieces?
Reena: Creating ideas that are memorable and meaningful is what drives my creative journey. Inspirations can come from anywhere, from memories, of what I see, feel and experience. I have a tendency to keep playing these ideas in my mind, sometimes for years, till they manifest into something tangible. It’s when these diverse ideas collide, and interconnect; that’s what feels special for me to explore and expand into a piece of my work. My artistic life has always been about re-imagining, re-inventing, going beyond the obvious. In my jewelry designs and paintings, it’s always more than what meets the eye. I am not interested in stating the obvious, rather the meaning and mystery intrigues me. For example, my Coronet By Reena ‘Inner Brilliance’ collection is not merely about the beauty of diamonds and composition. The story runs deeper and connects personally to people who own them. Pieces spin and dazzle, while a ‘pointer’ design elements points to the true center of our being – our inner brilliance, a reminder to stay true to our personal values and goals. Same way, my diamond paintings are not copies of diamond specimens or photographs, they come from my imagination and are layered with meaning.
Your paintings of diamonds and the symbolism around them are recognized worldwide. They are even displayed in one of the most important venues in the diamond world – DIVA Diamond Museum shop (DIVA – The Antwerp Home of Diamonds), and I can confirm they shine like real diamonds there. Why did you start painting diamonds, and what are the stories you are telling through this aspect of your work?
Reena: I paint highly nuanced, hyper-realistic diamonds with ultra-magnified facets. In my paintings diamonds have stories and soul. They are spellbinding. My reason to paint is to celebrate our shining human spirit and beauty through diamonds. I believe each one of us is like diamonds. For me, diamonds are much more than just specimens, they are metaphoric and symbolic. I want to express this essence through my paintings. I paint to express, not impress.
Let’s talk about yet another aspect of your work. You are a generous donor to charitable organizations, and in one of the interviews you say: “Stay honest, respectful and committed to the overall good of society at large”. What does giving mean to you?
Reena: My deepest desire is to create art that can tangibly contribute, touch people’s lives positively and that spreads joy. I believe, the biggest impact one can make is to those around you. So being able to give back means the world to me and for me, is a measure of a truly successful life.
How do you imagine the universe of jewelry in, say, 30 years? What will we be wearing? How big will be the role of convenience, will the couture jewelry still be popular? What role will diamonds play in that future?
Reena: To answer that I would need to look inside a crystal ball! On a serious note, we do not know what the future holds, but we know we can create conditions for a positive future of jewelry. How? By our actions, choices, ethics, sustainable practices and treating our environment and people better. Adorning our bodies is similar to adorning our souls, it is rooted in primeval desire and has continued since the start of human history. My feeling is that jewelry and diamonds will continue to capture and ignite human imagination as a medium of expression – whether self, collective, regional or universal expression.
If you could tell us one or two facts about diamonds that are generally unknown, what would that be?
Reena: Oh, I love this question! I could talk about diamond facts endlessly. Two that come to mind immediately are:
– Diamond fact #1 : Did you know between what carat-weight-range do world’s largest top ten diamond discoveries fall under? Here is the carat-weight-range: 3106.75 carats (Largest diamond ever discovered, the famous Cullinan Diamond) to 770 carats (The Woyie River Diamond). Check out the ‘Top Ten Largest Diamonds in the World‘!
– Diamond fact # 2: The largest known red diamond in the world is the fancy red, 5.11 carats ‘Moussaieff Red Diamond’. Red diamonds are extremely rare. Basically they are very strongly and deeply colored pink diamonds, with the same cause of color, crystal distortion. You can see spectacular red diamonds here.
Thank you for this interview. I am truly inspired by your work and by your personality that shines through everything you do, as I am sure all our Magpies will be. You have so many accomplishments and awards in your portfolio, that it makes me curious – what is your biggest professional dream? Is there anything in particular you would like to achieve in the future?
Reena: Thank you so much! Two things – I want to keep pushing my creative boundaries even further and making a tangible contribution to lives I touch through my art.