With designer jewellery brands becoming a signature of contemporary elegance and several jewellery lines being launched every season, one wonders what happens to the traditional thattan or aachari who sat in our grandmother’s verandah for weeks on end to produce intricately fashioned addigais and chandra haars, bangles and malais?

In tiny shop interiors, bent over a stove or working with sheets of gold and precious stones, the traditional artisan carried with him an aura of magic and mystery as well techniques that sometimes date back to 4,000 years. Yet his tools comprised iron rods or salais of different thickness, pincers, hammers and 'sowaris' and three-pronged earthen diyas.

At the Traditional Jewellery Expo being held in the city at Jugal Kishore’s, some members of the vanishing breed of traditional jewellery makers, can be seen going about their business. Watching them, one gets the sense of history, handiwork and quiet passion that goes into every traditional piece.

Sitting behind work tables, surrounded by their instruments are Vadivel Achary, Rajesh Soni, Nagaraj, Rajesh and Samanth, who are in the process of jointly creating an addigai pendant mala.

Detailing matters

Twenty five-year old Vadivel Achary works on his pattrai or flat topped cylindrical iron instrument, over which he painstakingly flattens a gram of gold. This forms the base for the pendant over which he carefully places tiny hand-made circular gold whorls, arranged in the design of the pendant, each roughly the size of the rubies which will be embedded in them. The circular whorls are placed carefully and soldered to the base, after which the rubies are placed one by one, into the tiny receptacles. While Vadivelu is the base-maker specialist, Rajesh Soni from Jaipur is the kundan specialist. He places the rubies over the base and secures them with tiny slivers of beaten gold, often 15-20 in each groove. Gold beads or ‘gundus' are added to the pendant as danglers. The stringing of the chain with ‘nallika gundus’ or pearls from which the pendant will hang is specially made by Nagaraj and Rajesh, each a master in the field. Samanth, meanwhile, fashions by hand the most ethereal of chains with micro gold threads.

Each aesthetic and exquisite item on view at the expo showcases the creativity of this group of 'paramparik' craftpersons from Chettinad and Jaipur. There are exceptional pieces such as a dazzling diamond and emerald Mughal pankhi haar, magnificent maanga malais, pulinagam necklace, hunslis teamed with addigai pendants, a thalai samaan piece made into a necklace and a diamond and sapphire necklace.

The 'Traditional Jewellery Expo' is on till May 20, at 44/73, Basement (Kalpalam Complex) C.P. Ramaswami Road, Alwarpet, and Alsa Mall, 1st Floor & Basement, Montieth Road, Egmore.