A piece of jewellery is more than just an accessory; it is a record of a time, a mood, of lives and loves. And heirloom jewellery, handed lovingly down, is a veritable archive of a family’s history. ELLE asked four women belonging to Mumbai’s Parsi community—characterised as it is by a sense of nostalgia and antiquity—to let us into their personal stories by way of their most precious jewels (some of them nearly 200 years old). To complement these precious pieces, the ladies wore traditional, hand-embroidered Parsi saris, called garas—also inherited, also loved.
Aliya Chichgar’s great-grandmother made this 22K gold and pearl neckpiece with matching earrings for her daughter on the occasion of her navjote (the Parsi equivalent of a thread ceremony). “They lived in Myanmar (then Burma), but had to leave because of the war [World War II],” says Chichgar. “They gave up most of their belongings, but this necklace was one of the few pieces my grandmother managed to carry with her.” After graduating from Warwick University, UK, armed with a degree in business and strategy management, Chichgar worked at a digital marketing agency in London with clients such as The Huffington Post, before deciding to move back to her home city of Mumbai. She currently leads the marketing team at Saffronart, a leading Indian auction house that deals in art, jewellery and antiques.
“My great-grandmother gave it to my grandmother on her first birthday. It then found its way down to my mother, who has now passed it on to me,” says Shanaya Boyce of her 104-year-old gold, diamond and emerald necklace with matching earrings and a ring. A recent psychology graduate from Mumbai’s Jai Hind College, Boyce divides her time between teaching speech and drama to children, and volunteering with SheSays, an organisation dedicated to women’s empowerment and ending gender discrimination. She’s also actively involved in theatre.
Freishia Bomanbehram’s gold, ruby and pearl necklace and earring set was made in Maputo, Mozambique (her family is from South Africa), and originally belonged to her grand-uncle’s mother, who left it to him when she died. He in turn gave it to his wife, who then gave it to Bomanbehram’s mother; eventually it found its way to her. “It’s a fourth-generation piece and is easily 175 years old,” she says. An actor since her childhood, Bomanbehram did her first professional play when she was five, and has been involved with the arts ever since. Having worked at a radio station and in television, she now hosts a travel show on NDTV Good Times. She also has her own YouTube channel, Whack, which has over 80,000 subscribers.
The large clear aquamarine in her necklace was purchased by Alyssa Chesson’s grandfather in Sri Lanka during his travels. “He brought it back for my mum as a birthday present,” says Chesson, “and she ultimately had it set in the art deco style, along with a matching ring.” The necklace’s stone is surrounded by diamonds and strung on grey-blue South Sea pearls, interspersed with glittering diamond rings. An English literature graduate, Chesson found her true calling in the culinary world, eventually bagging a coveted spot at Le Cordon Bleu in London. Upon her return to Mumbai with a Diplôme de Pâtisserie, she opened her own boutique ice cream brand, Bono, which specialises in the classics (hazelnut, salted caramel) as well as the curious (blue cheese and honey; milk chocolate and bacon).