METRO PLUS

The gold rush

THERE IS a visible shift in the consumer's perception of the coveted yellow metal. In a market dominated by `yellow' gold, it is difficult to convince a traditional buyer that gold means much more than the ubiquitous `yellow' jewellery.

The buyers know the market like the back of their hands. They are aware of new trends and styles. Nevertheless, a break from the conventional terrain is not easy, say gold retailers in the State.

Gold jewellery is considered a `safe investment' by most Keralites. For them, gold has to be `yellow'; they are averse to buying anything that does not have "the golden gleam". There is unnecessary worry about the quality of gold, the retailers point out.

"`At the same time, `white' jewellery too is gaining popularity," says Anil George, manager, Alukkas Jewellery, Thiruvananthapuram.

In Kochi, the customers seem to prefer chic western designs in `yellow' (gold and copper), `white' (gold and nickel) and `pink' (gold with Rhodium polish) gold; in Thiruvananthapuram, however, conventional jewellery with a contemporary twist rules supreme.

"The market for unconventional jewellery is yet to be tapped," says K. Shivram, vice-president (India), World Gold Council. One can see elements of the north Indian style, such as the intricate kundan work of Rajasthan or the filigree work characteristic of Kolkata, making their way into new versions of traditional ornaments such as Maangamala (with mango motifs) and Kaasumala (with coin motifs).

"People hesitate to completely switch over to trendy styles," explains V. Suresh, manager of the city-based showroom of the Alappat Fashion Jewellery.

The designers too are working on variations of traditional Kerala jewellery. "The younger generation is quite happy with the updated versions of traditional motifs," says Shivram. "Branded jewellery would take time to create an impact in the traditional 22-carat `yellow' gold segment," observes the vice-president of the World Gold Council.

"Platinum is yet to caught on in Kerala," he adds. "The key players outsource contemporary jewellery," Shivram points out.

Suresh Kumar, manager, Bhima Jewellery, explains the reasons for the outsourcing of north Indian jewellery and `white' gold jewellery. "Earlier, such jewellery was brought in from Singapore, but now we have turned to Mumbai, New Delhi and Kolkata," he says.

Lack of adequate infrastructure and expertise are the reasons cited by most retailers for this trend. "We can replicate the patterns only to a certain extent; we cannot excel in what is inherently a craft characteristic of north India," says a goldsmith, who works for a leading outlet.

The mood is upbeat at most jewellery outlets this season. Explains Shivram: "It is estimated that the jewellery business in Kerala has grown by 12 to 15 per cent this year. The market too has seen a significant expansion in terms of the number of upcountry outlets."

Despite the entry of national and international brands in the jewellery sector, the middle-class customers vouch for local brands. Most prefer ornaments that are much cheaper and light in weight while giving an appearance of plenty. The palakka mala, usually crafted in about eight to 10 sovereigns of gold, is now available in less than two sovereigns. And at one glance, nobody is any the wiser.

"There are many takers for such ornaments. Until a few years ago, we had customers coming in from Neyyattinkara and Balaramapuram. But with new outlets mushrooming in these parts of the district, the number of customers coming here has dwindled considerably," says Swamy, manager, Chemmanur Jewellery, Thiruvananthapuram.

On the other hand, big retail players are cashing in on this trend by opening new branches of their outlets in cities with a high concentration of Malayali population. Says B. Govindan of Bhima Jewellery, Thiruvananthapuram: "We found that a chunk of our clientele comes from as far as Tirunelveli and Nagercoil. Hence, we decided to open an outlet at Nagercoil."

The well-known brands enjoy high brand equity. "Trust in the brand counts and we strive to maintain the standards of purity," says a gold retailer. "According to a recent study, conducted by Tanishq, Kerala jewellery is ranked top on the purity-level charts," confirms Shivram. The upper crust is prepared to pay the price for the best -- which is why retailers try to introduce noveau designs on a regular basis. Retailers vie with one another to woo customers, with exciting discount and gift offers. "We do reduce a significant amount from the final bill. We also have gift schemes," says a spokesman of Josco Jewellery. This is done to reaffirm customer loyalty. Of late, the leading retailers in Kerala have been leaning heavily on extensive advertising and marketing techniques. With new players entering the jewellery segment, the old players are on the lookout for innovative ways of being market savvy.

"The customers in Kerala are discerning; they are aware of the international trends and styles in jewellery," remarks Shivram.

Says Sushma Sanil, Human Resource Manager with an MNC at Technopark: "I prefer minimalist design. Opulent jewellery is an absolute no-no for me. And when it comes to 22-carat gold, be it `white' or `yellow', I'd pick up something that suits not only my ensembles but also my personality."

The modern working woman seems to have taken to lightweight jewellery. Understated elegance is what she is looking for.

Another youngster, Bidya Lakshmi, who works with an MNC at Technopark, says: "I reserve traditional jewellery for certain occasions. On other occasions, I wear lightweight 22-carat `yellow' gold jewellery because they come in a variety of designs."

"Indians have always have had a preference for `yellow' gold than any other variety. The reason: the glimmer of `yellow' gold blends well the Indian skin tones," adds Shivram.

"It may take some time for `white' gold to be a favourite of Kerala women."

SMITHA SADANANDAN

Graphics: Manoj

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