Society

Adding shine to the city

A neckpiece sketched by A.V. Shinde.  

You can’t help but notice the sepia posters across the city in which actress Padmini strikes a dance pose. She is laden with jewellery and wears an oddiyanam that is the focus of attention. It is said the diamond encrusted waist ornament belonged to a movie maker who lent it to the star to wear for a film. Kirtilal Kalidas, the diamond people, have released the picture to commemorate their 75th year of their presence in the city.

They are planning a host of activities to celebrate the year.

It all started in the 1930s. Kirtilal Kalidas Mehta, a jeweller from Palanpur in Gujarat, heard about the Manchester of the South, Coimbatore, and thought it could be a potential market for his diamonds. He made several trips here, to study, assess and create a small but exclusive client base.

Along with a designer, he visited old, affluent families in their homes, conferred with them about the jewel to be created and returned to Bombay to execute the order. He would then revisit the city bearing the finished piece of jewellery.

Fond memories

Sujani Balu remembers Mr. Mehta’s visits to her mother’s home. “I remember him as an affable man,” says Sujani whose first pair of earrings were made by Kirtilal Mehta.

“They were tiny stars that I wore till I passed out of the tenth. He would come home wearing a long coat with many pockets from which he would fish out the jewellery. Anytime there was a wedding or a function at home, he would show up and the ladies of the house would discuss designs with him. They would either order new pieces or redesign and reset old ones. Every one trusted him implicitly and he ensured that what he made for one family was not repeated for the other.”

Another reason why Kirtilal Mehta’s jewellery was sought after was that he brought in designs that were different from the traditional South Indian ones.

They were from Bombay. It is said that if he happened to make a piece of jewellery for his daughters, he would bring it and show it to the ladies in Coimbatore. If they liked it, they would order something similar.

In 1938, Kirtilal Mehta created a small sales desk in the city. And the following year, in 1939, he converted it into a firm headquartered not too far from the present showroom in Raja Street. For a decade or so, he continued with exclusive diamond business till in 1956 he brought in gold jewellery too, to make the business viable.

From then to this day, Kirtilals has acquired a formidable reputation in Coimbatore, and has opened exclusive outlets across the country, including Chennai, Hyderabad, Cochin, Bangalore, Vijayawada and Vizag.

From the one designer who accompanied Kirtilal Mehta on his trips to people’s home, the jewellers today have a team of designers. Their function remains the same. Anyone wanting to purchase jewellery from Kirtilals can step into any of its showrooms and the designers will help them create their own design.

Designs of A.V. Shinde

Kirtilals has had the privilege of having some of its designs created by A.V. Shinde, described as the man who “decorated everyone from the Queen of England to Madonna.” Shinde was head designer for diamond legend Harry Winston.

In 1988, the jewellers set up a manufacturing facility in Coimbatore. Shanta Kumar, one of the four shareholders of Kirtilals (the others are Pankaj Mehta, Kaushik Mehta and Paresh Mehta), recounts how at that time there was a gold-control Act that stipulated that primary gold could be handled only by an artisan by birth. “But that Act was repealed and we employed 20 Matric-pass girls and trained them in jewellery making,” he says. In 1992, a state-of-the-art factory was established in Thudiyalur. It is a matter of great pride, says Shanta Kumar, that 90 per cent of the employees in this factory are women, who are bread winners for their families. He says the manufacturing facility and the quality of gems and workmanship are at par with the best in the world. And the technology and the skill sets of the employees are constantly upgraded.

Coimbatore’s people are well travelled and have access to the best in the world. “Sometimes, they bring samples of work they have seen abroad and ask us to create the same, and we do that” says Shanta Kumar. It is not just about modern jewellery, many families bring back their old pieces and ask Kirtilals to reinvent them, or create new jewellery using old traditional motifs. “Some of our clients are the fourth generation in their families,” he says.

One of them is Asha Vasudev Dave who has inherited jewellery bought at Kirtilals from her mother-in-law. “I too have bought gold and diamond jewellery for my daughter and my daughter-in-law from there. And my grand daughter has a few pieces of jewellery too. We believe that the purity of the diamonds have brought us good luck and well being!”

Corporate Social Responsibility

Not just glitter, Kirtilal Kalidas has also added green to Coimbatore as well as the other cities in which it has a presence. As part of its CSR, it maintains parks in airports in Coimbatore, Madurai, Chennai, Cochin, Tirupati, Vizag and Vijayawada.

In Coimbatore, it maintains gardens across the city, besides a traffic signal in Gandhipuram and road signs on the Palghat and the Mettupalayam roads.

Kirtilal Kalidas has set up a 1,000-seater Dr. Usha Mehta Convention Centre at Bharathiar University.

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Printable version | Apr 16, 2021 3:40:12 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/adding-shine-to-the-city/article5746483.ece

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