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Published on: Sept. 22, 2023, 2:24 p.m.
Icons of time
  • The watches have meticulous reconstructions of some of Varma’s most iconic art

By Suman Tarafdar

Jaipur Watch Co. (JWC). Over the past decade, Indian watch collectors have followed the trajectory of JWC with great fascination – especially as the indie watch company offered unique time pieces each time they came up with new collections. Starting with the remarkable coin watches, JWC has over the years presented a fascinating collection of dials – from engraved ones and jumping hour ones. Painted dials have struck a chord amongst collectors too, from hand painted ones to beautiful Pichwai motif dials.

To coincide with its tenth anniversary then, it was no surprise then that Gaurav Mehta, CEO, JWC, went even bolder with his choice of theme – the art of Raja Ravi Varma. Incidentally, this year marks the 175th birth anniversary of the artist, who passed away in 1906, but not before he had initiated many changes in the way Indians relate to art. 

“Divinity or the use of divine iconography has been a popular subject for the Jaipur Watch Company,” says Mehta. “Sometime back, I was discussing art and artists with a group of friends. I brought up a reference to Raja Ravi Varma’s art and to my surprise I found almost 70 per cent of them were clueless, which made me think that as Indians, we have heard of Monalisa but not about Damayanti. We don’t know who created the iconic image of Saraswati Mata, but we worship her. This led us to the idea of creating the Raja Ravi Varma collection.”

The Jaipur Watch Co’s Raja Ravi Varma Collection comprises 14 of his artworks and oleographs with seven units per design, making it a total of 98 watches. They are priced at Rs65,000 each. The watches include Radha in the Moonlight Automatic Watch, Saraswati Automatic Watch, Vishnu Automatic Watch and so on. JWC collaborated with the artist’s estate in Kerala to select and reproduce the rather large original paintings to a watch dial.

  • Mehta showcases the Raja Ravi Varma Collection

    Mehta showcases the Raja Ravi Varma Collection

And it proved to be quite a task, Mehta reveals. “It was always going to be a challenge to reproduce his work, digitally or via hand painting. We realised repainting them won’t do justice to the great artist as no one can match the precision and perfection. We have recreated these artworks and lithographs on watches via a digital medium.”

Rama Varma Thampuran of Kilimanoor Palace, the artist’s descendant, who heads the Kilimanoor Palace Art Trust, says the family is keeping the influential artist’s legacy alive. On this collaboration, he calls it a ‘beautiful idea’ and says: “Both of us are promoting art and culture through the watch company”. According to him, Ravi Varma’s influence is still being felt in fashion and advertising. “A lot of people are still studying his paintings. Legacy keeping is serious. We have to do justice to the great artist. This is also another way of keeping his legacy alive” – one that will proudly adorn Indian wrists.

  • The recreations on the watches have been done digitally

    The recreations on the watches have been done digitally

DIVINITY REINVENTED

Raja Ravi Varma had an outsized influence on late 19th and early 20th century Indian art, being the first to successfully combine Indian iconography and portraiture with Western realism and techniques. When most Indians imagine the faces of Indian deities – think Saraswati in white with her sitar or Lakshmi on a pink lotus, while holding another two in her hands (with or without her ‘endorsement’ of Sunlight Soap!) or even some historic figures – it is his art that people at large have relied on.

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