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Indian Jewellery - Pearls, Diamonds, Emeralds

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Indian Jewellery

Opulent palaces, vibrant colours, shimmering silks and antique jewellery – Indian royalty has been the patron of these arts since ancient times. Surely, amongst them, jewellery making was the one craft that exercised their imagination and passion the most. Pearls, diamonds, emeralds, topazes used to flow like dew drops from the maharajas’ treasury. It is thanks to this age long royal patronage that jewellery making centres like Jaipur and Hyderabad gained prominence and we now have the excuse to travel hunt for such precious arts like meenakari and pearls.

» Jaipur – Meenakari Jewellery

Indians have a lot to thank the Mughals for. From silks to pashminas, jamawar shawls to jewellery making – the Mughals were passionate enthusiasts of the decorative arts. The Mughal kings first introduced the art of Meenakari or enameling into India and in the 16th century, Raja Mansingh of Amber brought the art to Rajasthan where it currently flourishes.

Meenakari Jewellery

Essentially, meenakari is the art of fusing different minerals onto a metal surface by firing them in a kiln. The meenakar does not work alone – craftsmen called ‘chitras’ make the design on the metal surface which is then engraved by ‘gharias’. The ‘kundansaz’ sets precious stones onto the gold. The piece is then sent to the meenakar who does the enameling.

Essentially, meenakari is the art of fusing different minerals onto a metal surface by firing them in a kiln. The meenakar does not work alone – craftsmen called ‘chitras’ make the design on the metal surface which is then engraved by ‘gharias’. The ‘kundansaz’ sets precious stones onto the gold. The piece is then sent to the meenakar who does the enameling.

Traditional meenakari motifs include ‘makara’ (crocodile), elephant, ‘simha’ (lion) and heads of birds (especially parrots and peacocks). The colour palette of the peacock’s feathers will give you an idea of the liveliness of the finished jewel. By custom, the meenakari ornament is classified either as a ‘ek rung khula mina’ (a single colour fills the entire engraved area leaving the metal outlines exposed) or a ‘pachrangi mina’ (five colour enamel work on the metal).

The capital of Rajasthan, Jaipur, is the main centre of Meenakari work in India. The Jaipuri style is heavily dominated by Mughal motifs. Even the colours used by the local craftsmen – red, green, white – are traditional Mughal colours. For the travel enthusiast, the ‘Johari Bazaar’ of the Pink City is the place to hunt for authentic Meenakari jewellery.

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» Hyderabad – Pearls

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.

Natural Pearls

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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