Today, I bring to you exquisite, handcrafted jewelry from the house of "Varnam". The collection is boldly Indian in style and takes its form from the temple jewelry of India. To give you a jest of temple jewelry, it is traditionally worn by Bharatanatyam dancers and south Indian brides. Originally these enviable pieces are studded with rubies, emeralds and diamonds. Varnam has managed to effortlessly capture the essence of it all in their affordable designs that are created out of polymer clay and similarly studded with semi-precious stones! Based out of Atlanta, GA, Rukmini (a software engineer by profession and a busy mother of two adorable boys) is also the artist at Varnam. She has elevated her jewelry making hobby to what I would term as an art form. Inspired by her South Indian roots and having lived amidst a very festive culture, Rukimi is naturally drawn to traditional designs. She claims to be more of an observer than a talker and you can see this aspect in the meticulous craftsmanship that she brings to her exquisite designs. When the days seem to fall too much into a routine, she likes to challenge herself with the quote, “When was the last time you did something for the first time” and then rolls with that thought in mind. When she is not making jewelry, you can be rest assured that she is improvising on desserts to satiate her family's sweet tooth.
TECD: Hello and welcome to TECD Rukmini. Let’s start by asking you, how did you coin the name “Varnam” for your brand?
Rukmini : Thank you Sruthi for showcasing Varnam on TECD! Varnam means “colors” in Sanskrit. Colors to me is synonymous with my childhood days that I spent in Kanchi, drawing free hand colorful rangolis (festive designs) on the front porch of our home. The possibilities of playing with colors continues to excite me and hence the name Varnam.”
TECD: A software engineer by profession, how did you transition into being a jewelry designer?
Rukmini : “Jhumkis have always been my favorite kinda jewelry. When I was looking to buy some here in the US, I was disappointed to see that there was not a lot that I liked that was available out there. That’s when I stumbled upon Polymer clay. I fell in love with the versatility of the material and challenged myself to make my first rustic temple jewelry. To my delight, it turned out great! What stirred me further was when my family and friends wore my jewelry on various occasions and came back with positive feedback and encouraging words of appreciation. Infact one of my most memorable experiences was when I gave my sister one of my creations made of polymer clay and she refused to believe that they were faux coral made by me! That’s when I decided to take this passion seriously and Varnam was born.”
TECD: What according to you, makes Varnam different from the many other jewelry brands out there?
Rukmini: “Unlike most polymer clay jewelry that stress on intricate techniques and color blending, Varnam aims at emulating traditional precious metal jewelry. For example, I use custom gold color to get the real gold finish. I strive for a modern twist to a classic style by carefully selecting the colors and using semi-precious stones, crystals and pearls into my jewelry. I keep a balance on the detailing for the jewelry enough that it stands out. More focus is on how it suits the overall outfit so wearing it should not look like an effort. Mostly I trust my sense of fashion on jewelry and go by the flow. Rarely do I create blueprints and much rarely do I follow them. When I create jewelry, I ask myself if I were to spot this jewelry does my heart race to buy this?"
TECD: What is it about polymer clay that you enjoy and what is it that you find challenging?
Rukmini: “I love the workability of Polymer Clay and the unlimited potential for the medium. It allows one to play with endless techniques and styles. Unlike terracotta which needs to be painted upon, polymer clay comes in various natural color and supports custom blending. I particularly love to work with metallic shades like Silver, Gold, bronze to keep my jewelry look more natural. Polymer clay jewelry are lightweight and do not break easily. One of the challenges working with Polymer clay is that unbaked clay tends to catch dirt easily. It is important to keep the whole process clean while working for the best result.”
TECD: That sounds fascinating! Do share more about the creative process that goes into bringing a Varnam creation to life?
Rukmini : “Designs remain fluid in my mind until the final product takes shape and i feel satisfied. Picking colors or mixing them to get the right one is an iterative process. Once you land the color, the clay is softened using the pasta machine and the desired shape is achieved using molds or by hand. To get the intricate designs, a variety of tools are used many of these are just household utilities like toothpick, straw, pen cap etc. For some designs, I use mixed media like gemstones, Swarovski pearls and metal findings. Since its all handmade, care has to be taken to avoid any fingerprints while working with clay. Final step is to bake the clay and polish it for a matte or glaze finish.”
TECD: How would you describe the ideal Varnam woman for whom you design?
Rukmini : “Varnam is for the woman who believes in traditions being timeless and gains confidence from it. While she is rooted to it, she is not bound by it and is willing to experiment. She has an appreciation for the uniqueness of handmade jewelry and its inherent style. In short she desires to look traditional yet elegant, confident yet stylish.”
TECD: Do give us the inside scoop on your up-coming collection?
Rukmini: “My next collection throws spotlight on antique/temple jewelry style neck pieces using faux Turquoise and Coral made of polymer clay. As an addition, I’m also working on complementing Jhumkis and Bangles for this collection.”
TECD: What would you say is the success mantra for a small business owner?
Rukmini: “I started this as a hobby and did not get to pay enough attention on marketing and publicity. While you focus on new designs and techniques, make sure your work is getting the right visibility on social and other media. Another important aspect is the overall packaging and presentation of your jewelry.”
TECD: What are your future plans for Varnam?
Rukimini : “In the near term, Varnam collections will be available in India. Am excited to add kids collections into the Varnam house of jewelry including bangles, armlets, Mang tika etc. For better access to Varnam collections, am looking to launch it on various e-tailers and online channels.”
With the festivities just around the corner, get your hands on Varnam’s incredible collection via their Facebook page or write to Rukmini at email@example.com. These beauties style well with Indian outfits but you could also take the fusion route and make them work with western wear too.
Thank you Rukmini for sharing your wonderful work with us. We wish you nothing but the best !
(Image Copyright/Credit : Varnam)