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Cult jewellery brand Alighieri receives Queen Elizabeth II award for British design

Inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy, founder Mahtani's ethical antique-style jewellery is deliberately imperfect, with a touch of melancholy.

Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy is a famous narrative poem tracing Dante’s journey through the afterlife of Hell, Purgatory and Paradise –  which has inspired renowned writers such as T.S. Eliot, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. Who would have guessed that a piece of literature would one day also inspire a jewellery label, much less that the designer would receive the Queen Elizabeth II award for British design for it.

Alighieri is the name of the jewellery collection, which has been recognised as a cult accessory brand since its launch in 2014. On Feb 18, founder Rosh Mahtani will get the honour conferred by royalty during London Design Week, and she will be the third creative to win this recognition, since the inaugural award went to designer Richard Quinn in 2018, with Bethany Williams getting the honour last year.

  • Alighieri-accessory

Mahtani studied French and Italian literature at Oxford University, and was inspired – upon her graduation in 2012 – to create what she calls modern heirlooms, based on the subjects in Dante’s Divine Comedy, featuring both the terrifying and the wondrous. According to her website, every piece tells a story, and “each piece of jewellery is battered, imperfect, and a little bit melancholy”. Without formal training, she spent two years working with stylists, soldiering on every night to make her dreams a reality, determined to create jewellery that was rooted in literature and travel.

The draw of her biannual jewellery collections is that the accessories are antique-style pieces plated in gold – featuring medallion necklaces, baroque pearl drop earrings and bangles. Mahtani has also attracted a following for her responsibly-sourced works, which are handcrafted in London’s jewellery quarter of Hatton Garden using lost-wax casting techniques.

(Related: How ethical is your gold jewellery?)

Said Caroline Rush CBE, CEO, British Fashion Council (BFC), in a statement: “Her ethical approach and commitment to local manufacturing, combined with her ability to make beautiful, timeless, made-by-hand jewellery, make her an inspiration for many young British designers. We are incredibly proud to recognise Mahtani and look forward to seeing her business grow.”

(Related: 5 high jewellery designs to elevate your collection)

Indeed, according to a Financial Times report in 2019, Alighieri’s fifth financial year had a turnover of £3.2 million (S$5.8 million) and saw 500 per cent annual growth. In the same report, the London-born, Zambia-raised designer was quoted as saying: “I like taking classical shapes and bringing texture to them. That idea that something can be imperfect or a bit scraggy or look antique but that’s what makes it special. I want my pieces to feel like they’ve been dug up from the ground.”

(Related: Noble beauty of old jade helps artist Mark Chan rediscover heritage)