All That Glitters-  Spotlight on Indian Jewellery

Jewellery has been part of the Indian lifestyle and tradition for many centuries. Treasuries filled with diamonds, emeralds, rubies and gold lured even the most skeptical of foreign traders to the subcontinent, and they returned to their homelands in the West with stories of unimaginable riches. The image of India was such that it came to be known as the Golden Bird of the East. While the country had innumerable schools of design, laymen divided jewellery roughly into Mughal and non-Mughal styles.

Today, however, the realm of jewellery is no longer restricted to age-old traditional views. Women are spoilt for choice, with jewels crafted by prominent designers from all over the world. Mikimoto pearls, Farah Khan’s line of couture jewellery, designer charms and trinkets… the list is practically endless. Even our very own local girl, Suhani Pittie and her nouveau jewellery collection, represents the face of things to come. In this special jewellery issue, You & I takes a closer look at our obsession with everything that glitters, as we explore what it is that draws Indians, and Hyderabadi’s in particular, into the fascinating world of jewellery.

Today, however, the realm of jewellery is no longer restricted to age-old traditional views. Women are spoilt for choice, with jewels crafted by prominent designers from all over the world. Mikimoto pearls, Farah Khan’s line of couture jewellery, designer charms and trinkets… the list is practically endless.

Even our very own local girl, Suhani Pittie and her nouveau jewellery collection, represents the face of things to come. In this special jewellery issue, You & I takes a closer look at our obsession with everything that glitters, as we explore what it is that draws Indians, and Hyderabadi’s in particular, into the fascinating world of jewellery.

The underlying purpose of jewellery in India differs from region to region. While in the North it is viewed as an ornamental necessity and part of a woman’s day-to-day attire, here in the South it is taken as something to indulge in on occasion. The Southern sentiment, however, wasn’t always shared by the Muslim rulers who ruled the Deccan for centuries, and the Nizams became universally famous for their fabulous wealth and overflowing jewellery boxes. Rumours, myths and urban legends of the royal family’s famous jewellery collection float around Hyderabadi society even today. Most jewellery aficionados have heard stories of life-sized emerald parrots with sapphire eyes and ruby claws that went mysteriously missing. Or how about the set of cups and saucers carved entirely out of Burmese rubies that the Nizam wanted to dispose of, but failed to find a buyer who could afford them? While these tales may sometimes be apocryphal, they nevertheless speak of a time when unbelievable extravagance and opulence were a part of Royal India.

Although jewellery has always been imagined to be the province of women, in the Hyderabad of old it was the male rulers who collected and invested in priceless jewels. Since it was a sign of success and wealth, jewellery was worn as regularly by male rulers as it was by their female counterparts. Belts, necklaces, head ornaments, cufflinks, pocket watch chains, buttons and even snuffboxes were more often than not covered in diamonds and other precious stones. Nizams like Mahboob Ali Khan were indeed connoisseurs of jewellery and the infamous 184-carat Jacob diamond, marred by controversy, stands out today among all the Nizami jewels as a testament to the era. The famed collection was finally sold to the Indian government in 1972, after a 23-year-long argument over the settlement price. Although the jewels were bought for a mere fraction of their true value, they remain an intact and integral part of a unique collection that reveals our country’s exotic past.

Royal households up north such as Patiala and Jamnagar were also part of the elite club, and are now more commonly known for their association with the famed house of Cartier, which made their most exquisite necklaces. As the Raj crumbled, many of these pieces were lost or mysteriously sold, in order to avoid embarrassment. Priceless collections were stripped apart due to the naivety of big-headed monarchs and hungry palace servants, and very little was left of our country’s sparkling past.

In recent years, of course, India has begun to regain its lost glory, and has emerged as an Asian superpower. Our economic boom is evidenced in part by the sudden desire to splurge that is seen amongst our desi women today. No longer just buying for investment and bridal trousseaus, women have become much more jewellery savvy. They know what they want, how much it costs and are no longer constrained by a budget. Corporate houses such as the Tatas and Reliance have gotten into the game, and family run jewellers such as Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri have revamped their look and transformed into a nationwide chain of stores. Not to be left behind, Hyderabad too has undergone a transformation as far as jewellery retailing is concerned. The jewellery district, once located in Basheerbagh and the Old City, has gradually shifted to Panjagutta, in order to be closer to high flying clients who live nearby. Swanky showrooms and a lot of glass and chrome – that is the face of jewellery retailing in the city. Gone are the days when the family jeweller had to be consulted before a wedding, and it’s no longer necessary to make arduous trips to dingy stores in the back of beyond.

The elite of our city today adorn themselves with baubles that could make even Liz Taylor blush. Twenty-carat diamond rings, jewelled watches worth millions and earrings worth crores can be spotted at any socialite-studded soirée. No longer a taboo topic, jewellery is today worn and shown off on a scale which was earlier perceived as brash and frivolous. The words of acclaimed writer Shobhaa De come to mind: “If you have it and don’t flaunt it, you’re dubbed a monumental fool.” This is the sentiment of the new India, where success and wealth are celebrated and not hidden. And what could epitomize these characteristics more than the ever-evolving, awe-inspiring industry that is Jewellery.

DISTINCTLY DECCAN: Unlocking the Jewels of Hyderabad

Women’s fascination with jewellery is ageless. Most women have a limitless desire to adorn themselves with jewellery. Jewellery in Hyderabad, our own princely city, has always had a royal touch, and is strongly influenced by the Nizam family, whose jewellery collection is world-renowned. The jewels belonging to the royal family of Hyderabad comprise an extraordinary collection, consisting of ornaments, loose precious stones, especially emeralds, diamonds and an amazing variety of artefacts. It is one of the most impressive jewellery collections in the world, and has inspired eminent creations by famous designers such as Cartier. Noted jewellery expert and craftsman D. Gazdar refers to it as “the finest collection of Eastern jewellery in the world,” while legendary gemstone expert H. Rosenthal of Paris referred to the royal jewels as “simply out of this world.” This famous collection, representative of the royal family’s massive wealth and stature, was amassed over the period of Nizami ruled, and later purchased by the Indian Government.

Hyderabad, once the richest princely state in India, built its wealth by trading gold, diamonds and pearls. The streets of ‘Pathargatti’ in the Old City facilitated the passage of huge quantities of diamonds and pearls. Although diamonds like the Hope, Regent, and Kohinoor have been mined from the Golconda mines, Hyderabad is today called the City of Pearls. Tourists and others who visit Hyderabad from all over the world make it a point to see and, if possible, leave with some of our famous pearls. Jewellery designs available in Hyderabad are a unique blend of Muslim and Indian craftsmanship, with a distinct leaning towards the Southern ‘Deccani’ workmanship acquired from the Vijaynagar Kingdom.

Gold and silver-work embedded with uncut diamonds and edged with silver kundan or just gold and silver-work with diamonds and tear-drop emeralds with enameled work on the back. Intricate Mughal designs or lacy web-like designs are evident in kundan jewellery.

The Indian jewellery industry is emblematic of our country’s diversity. The sense of design that began developing hundreds of years ago still survives, but now displays a fusion in its journey - be it the tribal jewellery of Rajasthan, or the bangles and jhumkey of traditional India; they have all amalgamated into new trends of fusion. However, gold has always been a dominant part of most designs, whether traditional, fusion or modern. The people of Hyderabad have a great sense of style and taste in terms of jewellery, and this comes to many of them naturally, courtesy of their illustrious heritage.

Over the years, jewellery has not just developed in style and design, but also in terms of metals and materials used. Jewellery in India has a deeper meaning; it doesn’t just complement beauty, but also signifies an aesthetic sense, status and affordability. Until a few years ago, however, Hyderabadis were slightly conservative and treated jewellery like an investment which was meant to be kept in the bank; heavy jewellery was worn only for big family affairs. But now, people are more open and we get to see exquisite pieces more often.

Jewellery is also of great importance in our weddings. As with any kind of jewellery, Indian bridal jewellery is specifically designed to enhance beauty, and every single adornment brings meaning. From necklaces to earrings, bangles to anklets, the bride is practically dripping from head to toe, and looks exquisitely elegant on the most special day of her life.

No matter what, jewellery will always have a certain royal status, and can make a person stand out in a crowd. And the best part about jewels is that unlike clothes, they always retain their financial value, and in fact appreciate over time. So go ahead and buy yourself a dazzling piece this season. After all… it’s tradition!

Hot & Sparkly : What’s In Style This Season

It’s no secret that jewellery is every girl’s best friend and is often an expression of a lady’s own personal style and attitude. Apart from having lasting fashion potential, jewellery is about stating and defining who you are. Moreover, jewellery trends tend to outlast other fashion trends, so your jewellery will dazzle, season after season. A few of the hottest trends this year include right-hand rings, cocktail rings, charm bracelets, vintage style jewellery, circle jewellery and layered jewellery.

The right-hand ring, for example, is a popular trend in which women buy diamond rings for their right hand, a statement of independence and empowerment. Bracelets are another huge category in this season’s jewellery trends, and topping the style quotient is the charm bracelet, a simple yet fun way to accessorise. You can either buy them assembled, or you can purchase a linked chain, collect your charms, and make your own distinctive charm bracelet. Certain types of jewellery, especially vintage varieties, are expected to maintain their appeal this year. Classic vintage jewellery always grabs some part of the jewellery market limelight; it captures the spirit of the 1950s, featuring modern interpretations of classics which will, in time, become classics themselves. Stylish and timeless heirloom pieces will never go out of fashion.

Circular jewellery is another prominent element of this season’s defining trends. The circle, which is perhaps the simplest of all shapes, is an endless symbol of love and life. Circular jewellery is therefore the perfect way to celebrate a career boom or a significant occasion in your life. 2008 is the year for gold-toned jewellery. Long chains with chunky beads and warm-coloured gems will overwhelm the jewellery scenario. Designer jewellery and signature collections by Indian designers like Poonam Soni, Farah Khan, Neelam Kothari, Maheep Kapoor and Shobha Asar are popular, and fashionistas are spoilt for choice with their new lines. Celebrated jewellery designer Alpana Gujral recommends large handcuffs, long satwar neckpieces and contemporised Mughal jewellery for the wedding season.

Keep these tips in mind, have fun shopping and remember, the most important thing with jewellery is that it’s meant to be worn and not treated as an investment. So sport your bling jewels as often as you can and get noticed!

-    Vishwaveer and Anushree
-    Pic Courtsey: Sreenivas