The city of the Nizams and pearls are inextricably linked. It was in the 19th century that the Nizams of Hyderabad first discovered their passion for pearls making it an important pearl centre in India. Hindu astrology considers pearl as a very powerful ‘maharatna’ – they have come to symbolize wealth, purity and dignity. Associated with the ‘Chandrama’ or the Moon-god, it is one of the Navratnas.
The three kinds of pearls are natural, cultured and semi-cultured. Natural pearls are formed without any kind of human intervention. However, since their shape and quality varies it makes them even more valuable. Cultured pearls are created by introducing an irritant into an oyster. This technique of human intervention for pearl creation was perfected by the Japanese. Semi-cultured are completely artificial pearls made of materials like plastic and glass. Natural pearls are either black or white and some have hues of yellow, blue, red, brown, pink and green.
The process of making jewellery begins by drilling a hole in to the pearl. This is a highly skilled job and the best artisans are found in Chandampet, near Hyderabad who have been in the pearl jewellery business for generations. Pearls are then grouped according to their colour and quality. Since this process can not be mechanized, a grader ends up examining hundreds thousands of pearls in a day. The process is completed by stringing pearls on a silk or gold string by the skilled group of ‘patwa’ artisans.
Indisputably, Hyderabad is the place to go to if you want to buy pearl jewellery in India. The city trades in 40 to 50 thousand kilograms in a year! Traditional designs include the 7 string necklace set with diamonds, emeralds and rubies called the ‘Satlada’, pearls set with enamel and Kundan work, the ‘Kundan Ranihar’ and the ever popular ‘Jugni’ set – a central pendant offset by several strands of pearls.
The Charminar area within the Old City of Hyderabad has jewellery shops which have been trading in pearls for generations now. A jaunt within its labyrinthine streets might land you with a precious gift. The Secunderabad market is chockablock with jewellers and those looking for variety in design and souvenirs for the folks back home will never go back disappointed from these streets.
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