A Conversation With: Ken Downing and Coomi President Sahil Bhasin
December 19, 2016
What’s it like working with your mom? A treat, when she’s as gifted as jewelry designer Coomi Bhasin. Ken Downing gets the details from her son and company president, SAHIL.
KEN DOWNING: I feel like I always see you at your home in Miami, so it’s nice to be with you in New York seeing the new collection. I love what you and your mother do. Tell me how she got started.
SAHIL BHASIN: My mom has been a collector of antiquities as long as I can remember and actually designed her first piece of jewelry when she was 6. Her brother was a famous Bollywood star and let her design something for a movie he was shooting.
Now you have a young son who’ll likely be the next generation of Coomi.
We’re a family business and plan on keeping it that way. We’re already letting him play with little antiques and gems.
I’m jealous. Most children get a little plush toy! When did you realize you were passionate about jewelry, too? Please don’t tell me you were 6.
I’d just gotten out of business grad school. My mom had been designing jewelry for friends when she was approached by a museum to do a special collection. I saw how much people appreciated it and wanted to help and promote her talent. I’m fortunate to work with her because we love each other so much.
And you both love the arts. You’re an art collector and that definitely translates into what you create. Beyond jewelry, they’re works of art.
Each piece is one of a kind, so they’re truly individual masterpieces.
When I think about Coomi, my mind first goes to the amazing antiques you incorporate.
It’s the antiquities that make the pieces. We don’t start with a sketch and find something to fit it. We find an object and allow it to take on a life of its own.
Where do you find them all?
Different collectors around the world. Many come with a provenance, so we know the particular history and how it was acquired. We’re especially attracted to pieces with long histories, like old Roman coins and keys from the first century. In those days it was so prestigious to have something to lock, they actually wore the keys around their necks.
It’s fantastic—the way you and your mother incorporate these beautiful antiques with gemstones to make them even more interesting and glamorous. You created this idea of mixing; I don’t think anyone was doing it before.
Even the stones are a mix of new and old cuts. If you look closely, a lot are rose cuts, which is the old way of cutting stones. And those are mixed in with modern-cut diamonds, emeralds, and rubies.
You and your mom must travel the world looking for all these amazing stones—I’m sure that inspires what you create.
Coomi’s gone nearly eight months of the year, working in the factory and finding new materials. We recently went to Prague, and now we’re doing an entire collection with precious stones cut like the cobblestones on the streets there.
And the quality is always superlative. How many artisans work on a given piece?
It’s a whole team of skilled artisans. Many of these techniques are done by hand—family businesses passed from generation to generation. It’s actually a dying art form because the younger generation isn’t doing it as much.
How long does it take to create these pieces?
The physical process alone can take from six to seven months.
A lot of people who buy fine jewelry think they’re paying for the gemstone. They don’t always consider all the different craftspeople and the time that goes into each piece.
Absolutely. Each piece, like I said before, is a work of art. Coomi’s an artist in so many different mediums. She’s been a painter, a textile designer, a sculptor; she’s worked in architecture…
Your mother sees things with such a sensitive eye. There’s a real magic to her—a centered, peaceful way about her.
She’s very spiritual, and I think a lot of that comes through in her work, especially with these old objects. Mom’s inspired by everything she sees and everywhere she goes, especially the ocean. You’ll see more marine motifs in every collection, like carved fishes and dragons from her time in Asia.
It’s the haute couture of jewelry. When you turn it around, it’s as beautiful on the back as on the front. Behind, you’ll find your trademark paisley lined with diamonds. The dimension is unreal.
Paisley is our insignia. In the East, we have a great love for paisleys. In Indian mythology, the shape represents the embryo of the universe and the beginning of everything.
Is the intention of putting the diamonds in the paisley to be a hidden treasure for the wearer?
Though they’re beautiful, the diamonds are there because, astrologically speaking, you don’t get anything from a stone unless it has contact with your skin. So the diamonds on the back are harnessing energy for the wearer.
Since it’s the holidays, I should ask: What’s a great gift for a woman to feel the spirit and joy of Coomi jewelry?
We’ve actually done one-of-a-kind butterfly necklaces and earrings to commemorate our ten-year anniversary with Neiman Marcus. They’re exclusively for you in rose-cut and brilliant diamonds.
The way the diamonds are cut makes it look like the little butterfly wings are moving. That’s something only your mother could do!