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Evolution of Indian jewellery

The popular adage `old is gold' holds true for Indian jewellery as traditional and antique designs make a comeback amidst a swelling clientele, writes ARCHANA RAGHURAM.

This majestic gold, diamond, emerald and ruby `sarpech' once belonged to the Maharajas of Patiala.

FIVE THOUSAND years ago was born the desire to adorn oneself and thus took root Indian jewellery. India being a "gem-bearing" country has been a treasure trove of various precious stones and has enticed many a traveller, trader and invader alike.

Transgressing through time and history, Indian jewellery has not remained just a craft, but evolved into an art - both in design and workmanship. For the rulers, jewels were a statement of power, prosperity and prestige. But for the Indian woman, jewellery was and is, even today in many parts considered as a security, the value of which will almost always accentuate, never depreciate.

Temple jewellery: Classical and traditional in its appearance, temple jewellery is commonly associated with dancers practicing the dance form of Bharatanatyam or Kuchipudi. Temple jewellery is characterised by some of the finest handwork, painfully crafted by skilled craftsmen and jewellers. Due to the finesse required in crafting it, the time required to deliver the jewellery may sometimes even go up to a year, depending on the number of pieces required. But one sight at the final product and most of customers will forget the agony of their wait.

From earrings to necklaces to pieces for adorning the hair, feet, hip and even the plait, the temple jewellery that is custom-made, according to the measurements of the customer, is surely an enviable possession.

Made with uncut rubies (pucchakallu), emeralds, uncut diamonds (param), pearls, sapphire and other precious stones with the foundation in gold.

The price range could be anywhere between Rs. 80,000 for a pair of jhumkas (earrings) to several lakhs for necklaces and other specialised items. A set for a dancer, meeting all her requirements for the perfect adornment could be between Rs. 8,00,000 to Rs. 15,00,000.

Says Kirtilal's manager Gunashekar, "the reason for the expensive nature of temple jewellery is obviously the making charge, which itself is almost one-third of the total cost."

This 19th century gold enameled necklace - for a man - is decorated with various motifs.

Even today, the original temple jewellery is made only by certain craftsmen, who have to follow stringent requirements during the course of making it, like maintaining a cool temperature (as heat could damage the delicate gold threading), total concentration on each set due to the intricacy involved (which means taking up only one order at a time), and so on.

Antique jewellery: In contrast to its name, it actually relates to the present trend and is in reality considered more of fancy jewellery. Says Gunashekar, "the real antique jewellery is only that which is passed on through the ages. What we now craft in the name of antique jewellery is actually the modern day jewellery in gold or silver, which goes through a process of oxidising and is sometimes buried in a pot of clay, to give it a dull look."

"Antique silver is an offshoot of this process," he says. In lieu of its uncommon appearance, wherein the shine of gold is conspicuous by its absence, a very select clientele desires antique jewellery.

The price of antique gold or antique silver is usually Rs.150 to Rs. 200 more than the normal price per gram. "In contrast, real antiques are totally priceless and the price per gram could range anywhere between Rs. 2,500 to Rs. 3,000 per gram," the manager of the upscale jewellery mart adds.

Minakari jewellery: Minakari or enamelling a unique combination of gems, enamel pigments and precious stones, was born as a result of Shah Jahan's aesthetic vision that transformed enamelling into a sophisticated art. The outcome was a range of items, from jewellery to imperial thrones. The motifs used in the original minakari work were flowers, plants, scrolling vines and animal forms, amongst others.

Minakari jewellery is sought after more, by people in North India. The price starts from Rs. 3,000 for the simplest form of jewellery.

This 18th century Chettinad necklace is composed of five rows of small rudrakshas completely encased in gold.

The jewellery of the past speaks volubly of the unmatched calibre of the artisans of the past and their ability to generate some of the finest designs. Says Gunashekar, "If observed closely, the nakshatra design, by the Diamond Trading Corporation, is an offshoot of the seven-stone diamond earring (vaira thodu) concept in the South, which is purchased by most of the parents of prospective brides. Keeping the seven stones as base, thousands of designs have been produced by the DTC to suit the changing trends."

What is it about traditional or old jewellery that remains attractive for years, one might wonder! The answer is, `They have shone through to stand the test of time'.

Try your luck

1. What are the four C's whilst talking about diamonds?

2. What is the purity of gold used in temple jewellery?

3. What is KDM?

4. Which gold mine has been India's single largest source of gold?

5. Which country was the only source of emeralds in olden days?

6. What is also known as the `gem of autumn'?

7. What is the traditional name of the art of enamelling?

Answers: 1. Colour, clarity, cut and carat
2. 22 carat
3. Cadmium
4. Kolar gold fields
5. Egypt
6. Sapphire
7. Minakari

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