Poonam Soni (1971? – ) In assessments of her life and career, Indian designer and artist Poonam Soni is almost invariably referred to as a pioneer and visionary who revolutionized India’s jewelry market. India is a country with a formidable jewelry tradition but for many years was a closed market.
Poonam began her career in 1989 soon after the country’s economy opened to make way for new talent. She changed the mindset of the Indian buyer from purchasing jewelry as an investment to buying it as works of art. She introduced revolutionary designs and metals like shell, leather, malachite, and burnt and crushed gold from the start.
Her life’s work truly began when she married at age 18 and moved from a sheltered and pampered life in New Delhi to her husband’s home in Bombay. While she never lacked for anything — material or otherwise — Soni wasn’t content to simply being a housewife. Soni wanted to do something on her own and gradually began to work toward that goal.
In a February 2015 interview with Deepali Dhingra, she said, “In those days, women from business families did not work. So, I started giving tuition classes to the kids in my neighborhood.”
Her love for artifacts and beautiful items drew her to the Chor Bazaar where she befriended the shopkeepers and began curating their wares at exhibitions. Though she enjoyed it, she had yet to find her true calling.
She studied Sociology at New Delhi University and took an informal course in Gemology before starting her career. She attributes her life-long interest in jewelry and aesthetics to her mother. She would often design jewelry for herself and give them to a friend in the business to produce.
“But every time I would approach him with a design,” she recalls, “he would say that my designs are beyond what his team can visualize. Finally, he got me a kaarigar (mason), so I could get it done directly,” she says.
Soon, Soni started getting orders from her relatives and friends in Delhi who admired her bold and unconventional pieces. “I did it for free for some time, but then I got tired of doing favors.”
One evening, while walking with a friend, she revealed that she was toying with the idea of venturing into the jewelry business. “My friend took out her three solitaire rings and asked me to make one ring out of them for her. I went home and told my husband, “She trusted me with her three solitaire rings. I’m going to make it big.”
In 1989, Soni registered her brand name which was the beginning of a new chapter in her life. Another defining moment in her life came when Poonam was looking for some pieces of jewelry for a special occasion but nothing caught her fancy. Finally, she put pen to paper and sketched the kind of designs she wanted.
When the pieces were made, the jeweler was so bewitched that he asked her to become his official designer. Soon she was designing for close friends and relatives. As word spread about her creativity, she knew that it wouldn’t be long before her passion turned to her profession. Today she is among the best in the country and her daughter Kirti, who is also a jewelry designer, won the International De Beers 2000 award.
With the informal training in gems and diamond sorting she received, she started a business from her home in 1995 but her unique selling points came when she started customizing jewelry for individual clients and never repeated the designs.
Poonam’s first assignment was to design pieces to highlight the history of India. Keeping with the style she perfected –unconventional but elegant—she created a tantalizing line based on the two best known monuments of India, the Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri. For these she used mother of pearl, tanzanite, and diamonds with an ivory base to highlight the beauty of the Taj during a full moon night.
She has given memorable names to her various designs which have now become synonymous with stylish jewelry. Her Tissue Look is a unique mix of golden threads woven much the same way as wool is combined to make a garment. Other names that have come to be associated with Poonam are soft gold, paper crushed gold, amalgamated gold, and shaded gold.
Soni embellishes her pieces with a variety of semi-precious stones like lapis, onyx, corals and amethysts. At first, she was one of the few Indian designers to use a variety of textures and materials like leather and sponge with 18 carat and 22 carat jewelry. Her personal favorites are compressed gems and diamonds that enhance the beauty of jewelry and give it a striking look.
In the last few years Soni has unveiled Greek, Egyptian and Mogul collections and also a Temple line that has received an enthusiastic response. Her Greek collection was inspired by a 16th century chapel, which she once visited. Similarly her Mogul line is also inspired by medieval architecture and has a distinct Muslim touch to it.
Another popular collection is the Scriptures line which she created to counter criticism that her designs were too westernized. This collection is inspired by the letters in scriptures. Though very challenging, she says it was a labor of love because the scriptures fascinated her from a young age.
For weddings and other important and joyful events, she offers the Temple line that uses non-traditional colors and materials and has a slight western touch to the pieces more wearable. Her wedding designs are opulent and extravagant but can be worn repeatedly.
Soni’s early designs were offered in two ranges—the Designer Line and the Signature Line. The former had a few common designs but the latter was completely exclusive and only one piece of a kind was designed for a client, then never repeated.
In addition to her existing lines, she introduced a unique fusion of colors and indo-western styles that focused on elegance and class. The Festival Collection 2001 that she exhibited in Delhi included a new line of stones like tourmalines, garnets, and rubies in eye-catching arrangement with hand-mounted diamonds.
Poonam Soni’s jewelry has received global acclaim and some of her collections are found in international collector’s books alongside designers like Jar, Van Cleef & Arpels, Cartier, Boucheron and other world-renowned brands. Poonam’s fashion jewelry has also been part of the New York Fashion Week and is retailed through prime stores in the USA.
By 2014, Poonam had revolutionized the concept of platinum jewelry with an extension of her Gaudi Revived collection that she employed for wedding bands. Her platinum designs are clean, neat and flow with a delicate sense. As a very durable metal, it exudes strength and longevity which is one reason why couples want their wedding bands made in platinum.
Lately, she has extended her platinum imaging. When the Platinum Guild approached her for a new collection, she wanted to include her aura in the pieces. She said, “My style is more red carpet, and less minimalist.
“I enjoy creating statement pieces. So I decided to create platinum mint coins which can be gifted at weddings. I worked on several variations and an extension of my ‘Gaudi Revived’ collection. I also came up with more wearable coin pendants and earrings in platinum. Then I went a step ahead and made neckpieces with coins and colored stones that oozed luxury.”
Over the years, Soni’s brand has grown significantly. In 2006, the LVMH Moet Hennessy Group invited her to showcase her work at the opening of the Incredible India show in Paris. In 2010, she was part of the Eco Art Parade that were auctioned by Sotheby’s at Abu Dhabi under the patronage of Sheikh Nahayan Al-Nahayan and Prince Albert II of Monaco.
Today Poonam is a prominent social figure who continues to contribute to the field of jewelry design through various articles, seminars and panel discussions. She has been prominently featured in the media as one of India’s leading designers and has judged various international and national competitions. She has received many acknowledgements, awards and honors.
She is also a prominent media personality and has appeared on the covers of Indes (French), Millionaire (London), Ahlan Masala (Dubai) in addition to luxury magazines and newspapers in India, Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo and many more.
The Basel trade magazine listed her as one of Asia’s leading designers. She has been cited by educational institutions as an example of entrepreneurial success and received ‘the women achiever’ title by Ambani and Proctor & Gamble.
The Poonam Soni brand sells through its own boutiques, offices and private shows that reach a worldwide clientele. The brand has two stores in Mumbai (India). The flagship store is in Bandra and a jewelry gallery is located in the upscale Altamount Road area. The brand has a history of regularly holding private shows for its up market customers in various countries worldwide.
The brand has its own production units in Mumbai and one in Milan where the jewelry is handcrafted under strong quality controls. The diamonds are sourced from an Antwerp based company and precious stones come from all over the world. Some unique stones are especially cut to give Poonam’s designs an edge.
The Poonam Soni high-end collection of jewelry is manufactured by an expert team of artists and sculptors whose expertise create one of kind pieces that sell with certificates and have patent rights, design registrations, and trademarks.
In May 2016, Poonam introduced her Monochromes Collection—a one of a kind art collection in jewelry by maestros like Laxman Shreshtha. Also on display was Poonam Soni’s 2016 jewelry collection, Heritage, comprised of rare diamonds and precious stones and crafted in 18-carat and 22-carat gold.