Wednesday, 9 March 2011

The international jewellery market and the stoneworkers of Jaipur

I saw a delightful style of silver jewellery while I was in India that I thought was traditional Jaipuri work. Mixed, rough-cut stones are set in silver bezels, linked together to form necklaces or bracelets.

It's rather effective from a price point of view. The stones are quite large, but they're not regular, and often flawed, so they're relatively cheap. And the amount of silver used is much lower than in an all silver necklace, which now that silver prices are hitting 40-year highs, is helpful.

But is it traditional? Is it heck.

I spoke to a couple of jewellers - Netaji, who has a little shop not far from Holiday Inn (on the way to Jal Mahal), was most informative and very honest about his trade.

"We are international, very international. The stones for instance, they don't come just from India. Some from Brazil, from South Africa, from other places. I am buying from everywhere. And I am selling to everywhere."

Because he's international, he has to respond to what international markets want. That changes from year to year - when I asked about some amethyst beads that were cut like little pumpkins, with segments, he said "Oh, those are not fashionable any more - two years ago, not now."

And he also has to take on board the dual effect of economic recession and the rise in the silver price. Silver used to be the low cost alternative to gold; now, it's too dear, having quadrupled in price. Netaji noted that everyone's sales were down over the last year or so; but he has a secret weapon. He's started importing glass from China, and thinks a promise of maximum bling for minimum outlay will keep his sales buoyant.

I hope so.  I never bought anything... but he still introduced me to his family, including the pet rabbit.

What you see in Jaipur is traditional skills - stonecutting, silversmithing, and even I'd argue gem trading, because recognising good stones and a good cut is a skill, and one I began to acquire while I was in Jaipur. But you won't see traditional designs. This isn't like the souk at Muttrah, where until a few years ago you'd find old Bedouin amulets and anklets alongside recognisably Baluchi and Kashmiri work, and where you could still pick up museum-quality khanjars (if you had enough money).

In fact if what you want is what the modern Indian is wearing, it's not going to be silver, and it won't be big rough cut stones either. It'll either be gold, or costume jewellery.

The gold will be in a thoroughly ornate style, with tiny, extremely well cut stones, and possibly with enamelling. No semi-precious stones either; no lapis, no turquoise. It'll be diamonds, rubies, emeralds.

Meanwhile the costume jewellery is intricate, with tiny 'stones' set in complex designs. A complete set of costume jewellery might cost you 500 to 1,000 rupees - £6-12. A nice cheap souvenir - and far more authentically Indian than most of what you'll find in the tourist shops.

1 comment:

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