Exquisite red-green kundan maangtikas layered with seed pearls, twin peacock antique gold necklaces, hallowed temple design armlets, chunky Calcutta gold bangles, floral Meenakari gold rings… Indian gold jewellery is known for its diverse variety.
Designed by skilled craftsmen, traditional Indian gold ornaments embody the country’s ancient heritage and multifaceted culture. Be it temple jewellery or kundan jewellery popular among the royal families of north India or meenakari designs characterised by colourful enamel engravings — there is an aesthetic and cultural significance attached to them.
Across India, gold jewellery is considered as a symbol of wealth and prosperity. It is bought as a gift during auspicious occasions and considered a smart financial investment. On the festive occasion of Akshaya Tritiya, we explore the origins, designs and trends in various categories of Indian gold jewellery.
Inspired by Hindu deities and temple architecture of south India, temple jewellery is believed to have originated during the rule of Chola and Pandya dynasties way back in the ninth century. During this time even as art, literature and architecture flourished in south India, kings employed goldsmiths to make jewellery for deities and accessories for royals.
Dance was one of the many art forms directly associated with temples and the dancers were also adorned with temple jewellery — a practice still followed in Bharatanatyam, the classical dance form of Tamil Nadu and Kuchipudi in Andhra Pradesh.
This form of jewellery requires painful handwork and finesse. Craftsmen have to work with great concentration and in cool temperatures so that heat does not damage the delicate gold threading. ‘Temple jewellery is ornate and intricately handcrafted. It is studded with kemp stones, rubies, garnets, emeralds and pearls. In certain types of temple jewellery lac (wax) is used to give shape and also to embed the precious stone in it,’ says Ramesh Kalyanaraman, executive director, Kalyan Jewellers.
Besides deities, elaborately made temple pieces feature several motifs in the designs such as the crocodile, swan, parrot, serpent, mango, lotus, and temple towers.
According to Ramesh, the must-have pieces in temple designs include Attigai necklace, a long haram necklace, a nethi chutti or a maangtika, bangles and jhumka-style earrings.
From long necklaces to armlets, anklets to waist belts and nose rings, a wide range of temple jewellery is available at the numerous jewellery houses across the UAE.
‘This year has seen a resurgence in demand for temple jewellery. Some of the most popular designs are birds, statues of religious figures and royal figures,’ points out Shaheer Mannam Parambath, head, gold procurement, Malabar Gold and Diamonds, Dubai.
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Temple jewellery with its priceless historical value and intricate designs has captured the hearts of women who want to combine trends and traditions.
At the Joyalukkas stores, the Veda and Nirthangayani (based on traditional dance forms) collections are most popoular in the temple jewellery category.
Very little is known about how or when this technique of jewellery design emerged. As the name suggests jewellers say it would have originated in the city of Kolkata in West Bengal, India. The key identifying aspect of Calcutta jewellery is the use of flattened, bright-yellow gold to make elaborate designs. Traditionally neither enamel work nor precious stones or pearls were added to these designs. However, in recent times jewellers have unveiled collections incorporating some enamel and stones in Calcutta jewellery.
Calcutta-style designs are handcrafted in yellow gold by traditional artisans. ‘The expertise of these craftsmen is such that they can make both elaborate designs as well as the most delicate lightweight creations by hand. The skill of these master craftsmen make this jewellery unique and this style popular world over,’ says Ramesh.
Traditional Calcutta jewellery has been around for many years and it continues to be popular especially among Indian brides. Designers combine classical designs inspired from a grandma’s jewellery box with contemporary patterns and motifs to create collections that appeal to the new-age bride. Gold filigree and meenakari work are incorporated into earrings, bangles, necklaces and maangtikas. ‘Calcutta jewellery has a unique look to it. Choosing the right design can elevate the beauty of any outfit. It is popularly chosen by most brides as the spectacular sheen of the design makes them stand out on their big day,’ says Arjun Dhanak, director, Kanz Jewels, Dubai. According to him choker sets and kadas (cuffs) are very popular with women.
Whatever the style, the best news is that customers are spoilt for choice thanks to the wide variety of designs available at jewellery stores in the UAE.
One of the oldest forms of jewellery worn in India is kundan jewellery. Believed to have originated in the royal courts of Rajasthan in India, it was later popularised during the Mughal reign in the 16th century. The word kundan means highly refined and so a highly refined form of gold is used to design a kundan ornament in which glass stones, uncut diamonds and gemstones take pride of place.
Kundan jewellery has elaborate designs that entail the expertise of multiple artisans and is made in different stages. ‘Kundan jewellery is handmade using an age-old crafting technique. It is created by setting shaped, uncut diamonds, multi-coloured gemstones into a framework on a pure gold metal base,’ explains Joy. In this unique technique gold is hammered into thin sheets and used to form the frame. Gold sheets are also made into cup-like shapes meant to hold the stones. Lac or wax is poured into these gold cups. Stones are then inserted into them and the lac is covered by a very thin film of gold. The final stage involves polishing the gemstones properly.
Traditional Mughal colours of red, green and white dominate kundan jewellery designs. Jewellery houses say they have seen a revival in the demand for this type of jewellery. ‘People understand the real value of such jewellery as they have come to recognise that what they have chosen to wear is not just gold and precious stones, but a tradition that has survived for centuries thanks to the craftsmen who have perfected the skills,’ says Ramesh, adding that at his stores long kundan haar (necklace) is trending this season.
The versatility of kundan jewellery makes it a choice of accessory that can be worn both with Indian and Western attires. Celebrity endorsement in recent times has paved the way for it to be paired with not only a bridal lehenga but also with the little black dress.
‘Kundan jewellery is classic and will never go out style. It looks elegant and is versatile,’ says Joy Alukkas, chairman and managing director of Joyalukkas Group.
The word meenakari is derived from the Persian word mina that means azure colours of the heaven. Iranian craftsmen invented this art and it was brought to India by the Mughals. It is also said that Raja Mansingh of Mewar patronised this art after seeing it in the Mughal darbar of Shah Jahan and brought it to Rajasthan in the 16th century. Today meenakari jewellery is primarily made in Jaipur, Delhi, and Varanasi.
The basic ethos of this artistic jewellery involves colouring the metal surface by fusing it with bright colours. Patterns with animals, birds and floral themes in colours of yellow, light blue, red, and green are etched on the pieces. ‘A lot of handcrafted labour is used and it requires great amount of patience to ensure that the colouring has the right shine and finish,’ says Arjun of Kanz Jewels, Dubai.
The making of meenakari jewellery involves several stages. The naquash or designer creates the design, which is then sent to the goldsmith. A team of artisans then work on it engraving, applying the colour, polishing it, setting the stones before the final touches. ‘The jewellery is gaining popularity for its unique craftsmanship and the splashes of colours it offers. And it symbolises the rich cultural heritage of India,’ says Shaheer of Malabar Gold and Diamonds.
Meenakari jewellery suits Indian outfits and also looks elegant when matched with the right colours of a Western outfit. ‘Subtle colours are in demand right now. Turquoise is quite popular among our customers. Pink meenakari is also sought after right now — the summer season — as meenakari jewellery looks impressive when worn with summer dresses,’ points out Dhanak, adding, big jhumkas with some meena work too are being widely loved. From necklaces to rings and bangles, meenakari designs are showcased in a wide range of jewellery. According to Karim Merchant, group CEO and managing director, Pure Gold Jewellers, meenakari bangles and choker necklaces are trending this year.
Jewels crafted using antique styles associated with the bygone era are also popular. Like a family heirloom that has a rustic charm and an emotional quotient attached to it, antique jewellery has an old-world charm, but it does not necessarily mean pre-worn or handed down. ‘Antique finish jewellery is trending. The dull gold finish of an heirloom piece is recreated by craftsmen where the design ethos draws heavily from the past,’ says Ramesh.
In India, antique jewellery is made using precious and semi-precious stones. Some of the ancient styles used in this category of jewellery include Tarakashi, Thewa and Pachchikam. Tarakashi is a 500-year-old jewellery-making style from Orissa. It is inspired by the Greek filigree work. Rich in patterns, the ornaments are delicate and have inter-woven metal wires that give it a lace-like appearance.
Thewa jewellery originated in Rajasthan, India, in the 16th century and was first believed to have been designed by Nathu Lal Sonewal, a goldsmith in Pratapgarh. The jewellery is made by fusing sheets of gold on multicoloured molten glass. The origin of Pachchikam jewellery is unclear as it is attributed both to Kutch region of Gujarat and to instances of European nobility wearing it in the 16th century. This type of jewellery uses elaborate stonework and has a rough antique-style finish.
‘Antique jewellery is preferred for its outstanding craftsmanship, design and charm. People usually wear it for special occasions and traditional festivals and events. The craftsmanship is known for its precision and care. Traditional motifs abound in this type of jewellery and the designs are inspired by bygone eras,’ points out Karim of Pure Gold Jewellers.
The process of crafting antique jewellery is both laborious and time consuming. With elaborate workmanship each piece is handmade to look like a legacy in itself.
At Joyalukkas stores antique gold jewellery is created by their in-house team of skilled artisans. ‘Our antique jewellery reflects the vibrancy and style of ethno contemporary designs. Oxidised jewellery with kundan as well as plain oxidised jewellery is in trend these days,’ says Joy Alukkas, chairman and managing director of Joyalukkas Group.
Malabar Gold’s Shaheer says the recent weddings of Bollywood actresses have increased the popularity of the Maharani necklace — an antique jewellery item.
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