hen attorney-turned-jewelry designer Rosena Sammi attends black-tie events with her husband, also an attorney in New York City, she’s fond of donning the classic little black dress. But she doesn’t accessorize it with a boring strand of pearls. Instead, she’ll wear a dazzling Mughal-inspired choker or a 22-karat chain from her enormous collection of traditional Indian jewelry. Admirers are always asking Sammi where they can get their own version of Sammi’s seemingly exotic gems.
The comments from those admirers are what inspired Sammi, who is Sri Lankan Tamil, to launch her own line of jewelry that brings traditional Indian style to a Western market. Sammi says she has always “had a personal love affair with jewelry” and wanted to create wearable jewelry that incorporated the ancient arts of India but is “designed for the modern woman and with a Western aesthetic.”
Of course, abandoning the legal profession to become an entrepreneur certainly doesn’t ensure stability, but then again, Sammi is not averse to risk. (She left her native New Zealand the week after September 11, 2001, to commence her law career in New York City.) Having a supportive husband does help, but Sammi is basically a one-woman show: She designs, markets and manages everything that has to do with her business, which is aptly named Rosena Sammi. But it seems to come easy—perhaps because she’s done her homework. Night classes at Parsons The New School for Design helped her learn the ins and outs of fashion and business, while numerous trips to jewelry trade shows taught Sammi the details of her craft.
World of Inspiration
With names like “Maharani” and “Kajal Karma,” Sammi’s jewelry clearly borrows from the design traditions of old India while maintaining a modern sensibility. “A lot of my pieces are Mughal-inspired,” she says. Before she started her business, Sammi spent hours at The New York Public Library looking at catalogs that detailed Mughal art.
One of her favorite pieces, called “Parul’s Necklace” (named after her sister-in-law for whom the original design was created), incorporates Indian numerology. The 22-karat gold necklace is comprised of 11 cubes strung on a chain—the number 11 represents “impractical idealism,” which the necklace is said to inspire.
“[My jewelry] reflects who I am—a traditional South Asian girl culturally who is brought up in the Western world,” she says. “My aesthetics are what I’m like—a blend.”
From Start to Finish
Of course, anything worth having (and Sammi’s jewelry certainly is) takes time to create, this jewelry being no exception. Though she lives in New York, Sammi makes regular visits to India—primarily Jaipur and Delhi—to look for materials and cultivate relationships with the artisans who transform her designs into works of art using traditional techniques.
But the care and craftsmanship that goes into all of her pieces does not come cheap. Sammi’s line of fine jewelry starts at $2,000, while her fashion line offers pieces that are $500 and under. The designs for both, however, come from Sammi herself. “I try to design pieces that are elegant but eye-catching,” she explains.
Once her pieces are complete, Sammi doesn’t keep them to herself. She tests responses to her work by lending the jewelry to her girlfriends to wear to weddings and black-tie events. “They tell me what they like and what they don’t like,” says Sammi. She incorporates their feedback into future designs.
Style for the Stars
It seems that Sammi’s hard work is paying off. Several celebrities have been spied wearing Sammi’s jewels: actress Sarita Choudhury, MTV VJs Vanessa Minnillo and Susie Castillo and the co-hosts of The View are among the glitterati sporting Sammi’s glittery goods. Shopping magazine Lucky has featured her jewelry, and it can also be found at stylish emporiums such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Kaviar and Kind.
Share the Shanti
For those lucky enough to be in New York City in December, be sure to stop by Share the Shanti, the Rosena Sammi trunk show at the Chopra Center & Spa on December 2 and 3 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. The show is free and open to the public.