Omnia Vincit Amor. Waris Ahluwalia chose this Latin phrase, which means “love conquers all”, for his latest jewellery collection. And it’s fitting, especially when you consider the inspiration behind the 34-year-old part-time jeweller, part-time movie star’s branded moniker (first name only).
“My dad cursed me,” he says, a symmetrical grin piercing through his slightly wild black beard. “He had a PhD in linguistics and he loved language. So he named me after a poet. There’s an epic love story from my region in India where Waris is in the title. It’s the Romeo and Juliet of Punjab.”
The word cursed, mind you, hardly seems apt when assessing the career of this Indian-born, Brooklyn-raised hipster. A familiar face to Manhattan socialites and nightclub bouncers, this veritable man-about-town—in his Sikh-is-chic turban and trademark two-piece suit—strengthens the adage, It’s not what you know, it’s whom you know.
Consider his film portfolio. Says Waris demurely, “One day Wes [Anderson, a friend and film producer] asked me to put aside a few months for his next movie [The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou].” Cut to Italy, where Waris is filming alongside Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, and Angelica Huston. “Wes knows me and if he asked me to do this without auditioning, who am I to question? I did that first film accidentally. But then offers kept coming.” Other roles followed, in Spike Lee’s Inside Man, Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead, and most recently Io sono l’amore (I Am Love) with Oscar winner Tilda Swinton. There is also an unnamed director looking at Waris to be his lead actor. “I can’t do it though,” he says. “I can’t take a month off of my work to shoot.”
His work—rather, his other work—revolves around House of Waris and the celebrity-approved necklaces, earrings, and rings, of which he is designer, creative director, and manager.
If choice connections explain the success of Waris’s big-screen vocation, happenstance opened the door to his entrepreneurial ventures. In 2003, while perusing Maxfield, a tony L.A. shop, a curious onlooker noticed Waris’s unusual knuckle rings, which he had had custom-made in New York’s Diamond District. That chance admirer was the boutique’s accessories buyer—and just like that, Waris had his first order.
“What I am in love with is creating and that in turn made the process,” says Waris. “I went and I asked everybody I knew that knew jewellery: What do you think about this? How can I improve this? Where should I go? What should I do?”
Fashion critics have applauded his newest wares, a step away from his more Goth-like debut. Delicately enamelled using a technique typically found in Moghul jewellery, the entire Omnia Vincit Amor line is crafted in a fashion that’s “luxury with a soul”, as Waris calls it.
“I’m not making spiritual jewellery,” he says. “It’s just a fact that metal carries energy. So I want to know who’s touched it every step of the way. To say that these are works of art is not a stretch by any means when every piece is hand-done. Each piece takes two days and four people to make, and I am right there sitting on the floor with them, from the goldsmith, to his apprentice, to the craftsman who grinds the glass with a little pestle.”
Inspiration for Omnia Vincit Amor, also known as the Bird Collection, came from the bathroom of the Hotel Raphael in Paris. The wallpaper features beautiful prints of birds; Waris took a picture of one and named it Raphael. Other feathered friends eventually joined the flock, including Liberté (the Guatemalan bird of freedom), Virgil (named after the Roman poet who wrote the line “Omnia vincit amor”), Spero (after an artist featured in Waris’ friend Chiara Clemente’s documentary film Our City Dreams), and Roma.
The etymology of Roma? “Well, first of all, it’s an incredible city,” says Waris. “I fell in love with Rome. Caravaggio lived there, and I’m a huge fan of his. After I did the collection I found out that he did a painting also called Omnia Vincit Amor, which was amazing to discover.”
“And,” he adds, “if you flip Roma around, it spells amor.” Like father, like son.