Rediscovering India’s Tradition of Bespoke Luxury

Trujetter Team

, Culture

‘The first time the word ‘bespoke’ or ‘bespeak’ was used, was way back in 1607 in medieval Britain. For years since then, it was used for tailor-made suits and now for watches.’

Somewhere in the 1800s, the term came to be associated with customised shoes in Italy. By early 1900, bespoke was used for everything customised and made-to-order. Bespoke is an extension of our personality. It reflects our choices – from the way we dress and the togs we dress in, to the jewellery, watches and bags that we flaunt, to even the customised furniture in our homes.

India has a lush history of bespoke. And we aren’t talking about the elite or royalty here. Ancient Indians knew only bespoke; nothing was mass-produced. Their unstitched garments were handwoven; their jewellery was made not just to ‘order’, but even in keeping with a client’s budget.

Royalty & Bespoke Trend

Indian royalty perfected the art of bespoke luxury; they were the biggest patrons of bespoke. The Patiala Necklace, created by the House of Cartier in 1928 for Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala, was studded with Burmese rubies and 2,930 pieces of diamonds, including what was then the world’s seventh-largest diamond, the ‘De Beers’ diamond, which weighs 428-carat pre-cut. The way it caught the light and gleamed was said to be mesmerising.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh Gaekwad, the Maharajah of Baroda, was known for his love for custom-made Bentleys and Rolls Royce. He followed the footsteps of his father Maharaja Pratapsinghrao Gaekwad, who brought the young Maharaja Ranjit Singh a toy train with a steam engine, which was a made-to-scale model of the Flying Scotsman.

The stories of bespoke opulence in India are unmatched. Mahbub Ali Khan, Nizam VI of Hyderabad, said to be the wealthiest man in the world, ordered a bright yellow colour Rolls Royce Silver Ghosh Dome Roof, in 1911, which is still in the possession of his descendants. Maharani Suniti Devi of Cooch Behar had a gorgeous white satin gown, made by a French dressmaker, at the coronation of King Edward II in 1902.

In Rajasthan, the royalty was fabled for their love for luxury and flamboyant lifestyle. Maharaja of Jodhpur’s love for bespoke vintage cars – a series of magnificent Rolls-Royce, 1939 Cadillac open convertibles, rare Mercedes models, 1936 Vauxhall and 1937 Opel models were part of his collection; Jaeger-LeCoultre’s legendary watch model — the Reverso, created to celebrate Jodhpur’s heritage of polo; Maharani Gayatri Devi’s natural pearl and diamond necklace, crafted to perfection by Cartier to the Udaipur Maharanas’ penchant for bespoke crystal from Baccarat and Christofle. Many aristocratic families also owned bespoke weaves. One of the most fascinating stories ever heard is of Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh Ji, the Maharaja of Jaipur, who got silversmiths to craft enormous silver urns in which he carried 8000 litres of water from the Ganga on his trip to London!

Bespoke Watches

The world of watches and bespoke are intensely intertwined. The royal families of Jaipur, Udaipur and Jodhpur had, and continue to possess, a legendary collection of beautiful bespoke watches from marquee watch brands such as JLC, Rolex and Patek Philippe. Bespoke watches have been a mainstay of the Indian horology industry for over a century. Among some of the famous bespoke watches created is a Patek Philippe watch for the Maharaja of Jodhpur, who wore it while playing polo; it was auctioned by Christie’s for a staggering $2,204, 714, a few years ago. There is the striking Rolex Submariner created for Robert Redford.

The demand for customisation now extends to several niche products, from signature
perfumes to statement bags, personalised dials in watches to bespoke weaves.

Most watchmakers customise watches for their discerning client. Rolex, for instance, offers a host of customisation – from the simple to the complex. The simple practice of swapping a metal bracelet for a leather or rubber strap has a massive effect on the overall aesthetic of a watch. At the other end of the scale, there are entities who ask Rolex to brand a whole new model and reshape it to look like a sought-after vintage grail piece.

With Jaipur Watch Company, there is immense potential for bespoke. From something as simple as customised straps to an accessory as complex as bespoke dials, the brand does quite a bit of customisation.

Indians are very close to their spiritual and religious beliefs and bespoke allows us to cater to their emotional connect with their beliefs. For instance, the brand made watches with Lord Hanuman and Lord Ganesh engravings. I remember working on a watch for a client who wanted an inscription in the Kufic script on a dial. The Kufic script is the oldest calligraphic form of the various Arabic scripts and was developed in 7th century Kufa, Iraq; it was believed that the Quran was written in the Kufic script. The script is now extinct and very few people know it. I had to put in the research to understand the script and get the work done.

There aren’t many Indian brands who will not just offer the kind of craftsmanship in watchmaking that international brands offer, but also offer Indians to explore their emotional connect with God and religion. India’s only bespoke watchmaker, Jaipur Watch Company has launched India’s first 3D printed watch in stainless steel. Covered by a sapphire crystal, the watch is perfect and can be used as a unique gift. The dial of the watch is 3D printed with motifs and numbers along with a high polished surface. The watch is powered by a premium Japanese Miyota mechanical movement of 9015.

The demand for customisation now extends to several niche products, from signature perfumes to statement bags, personalised dials in watches to bespoke weaves. It is an industry that will find more connoisseurs as the world moves towards slow consumption and conscious luxury. What can be more conscious or slow than a bespoke product that takes sometimes months to complete?

Words: Gaurav Mehta

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