The Indian woman's romance with precious jewelry: How the relationship has evolved

From safety net to a fashion statement, the contemporary woman looks at precious jewelry quite differently from earlier generations.
The Indian woman's romance with precious jewelry: How the relationship has evolved
The Indian woman's romance with precious jewelry: How the relationship has evolved
Written by:

When it comes to fine jewelry, there is only one rule – one can’t own one too many.

Jewelry, especially gold jewelry is the ultimate form of luxury purchase for many south Indian women.

While women world-over flock to Tiffany’s, Gucci & Prada; we take pains to go to our trusted achari or gold shop for our little indulgences. Today, fine jewelry has become an item worthy of being flaunted, but that has not always been the case.

Our relationship with gold

Chennai-based Textile and Art connoisseur Sreemathy Mohan explains that our relationship with gold and gold ornaments goes way back: “When saint Adi Sankaracharya sang the Kanakadhara strotram, it is said that Goddess Mahalakshmi blessed the poor lady, who offered him an amla fruit with golden amlas. Gold came to be associated with purity and worthy of being offered to deities.” 

Since then, gold jewelry came to signify wealth and women adorned themselves with heavy gold jewelry studded with precious stones to establish their wealth.

Prior to the era of banking, this was a form of safety net for women. Parents hence sent a girl to her marital home with gold jewelry, for her to sell should the need arise.

Somewhere along the line, banking systems evolved but the obsession with gold and gold jewelry, in particular, didn’t quite go away.

Fine jewelry

Sreemathy recounts how in the '70s and '80s, mothers saved up though chit funds and other humble means to buy gold jewelry for their daughters as a wedding gift. “Many of the jewelry pieces I own are from my mother’s collection and they are so timeless that they can be worn even today” says Sreemathy.

There is no doubt that today, fine jewelry is viewed differently.

Vijayalakshmi Krishna, a Chennai based fashion designer & entrepreneur says, “Jewelry has evolved as a fashion statement rather than an asset or an investment. So, people are looking for style, finish and fashion rather than value as such.”

Image courtesy: Vijayalakshmi Krishna

For Suman Iyengar, an avid collector and connoisseur of jewelry, gold continues to be the ultimate prized possession. She says, “Across generations, gold ornaments are still coveted. With ever changing designs, there is something novel for every woman.”

How tastes have evolved

 While most women start off wearing the jewelry their mother has lovingly collected for them, tastes evolve along the way.

Sreemathy says she prefers classics. “There is a reason why a kemp addigai or kodai jimikki doesn’t go out of trend. I have learnt to appreciate these pieces more and I end up gravitating towards such pieces.”

Image courtesy: Sreemathy Mohan

Vijayalakshmi agrees that classics are timeless. She says, “I feel it is best to go with classics when it comes to jewelry. I don’t buy anything that would go out of trend in a few months or years. So I can wear my jewelry for years to come and not look outdated."

That said, every now and then, we do make mistakes. Like buying a piece of jewelry on impulse or getting something you would never wear.

Suman says she has become a more discerning buyer when it comes to gold jewelry. She says, “I have become more prudent and do not shop on a whim. I have less regrets about my purchases.”

Must-haves and good-to-haves wardrobe staples for Vijayalakshmi include a long silver neckpiece that can go with indo-western outfits, a mid-sized kemp and ruby haram, a string of south-sea pearls, a navaratna necklace and a gold bunch chain.

She says, “These can be mixed and matched with earrings and bangles from time to time.”

Suman says pearls are her favourite. Next comes diamonds followed by silver. She also loves traditional temple jewelry, kundans and jadau.

Image courtesy: Suman Iyengar

When it comes to the various types of jewelry, every state in India has its own jewelry that is associated with it. Many women aspire to have at least one from the exhaustive works, each different from the other.

Sreemathy helped put together a list that could be a check-list for every fashionista who loves fine jewelry. While this list isn’t exhaustive, it is a great benchmark.

She says, “While I have a never-ending love affair with temple jewelry (vadasery jewelry), over the years I have grown to love the varieties our karigars create.”

The dream list

Vaira Todu(7 stone diamond stud), Besari (elaborate diamond nosepin), Kodai Jimikki, Thutukudi Muthu(pearls), karugamani-vairam (black beads & diamonds), Slim gold bangles, Elakka thali, Guttapusalu, rhodium finish diamonds, Neli, Kemp Addigai, Thandai, Kada, Getti Golusu, Navaratna set from the southern states.

From the northern states, the pearl Rani Haar, Kundan necklace, Jadau bangles, Pachhi work pendants, Theva & Meenakari work set, Thushee could be a good start for anyone looking to build their collection.

This list is far from exhaustive.

The silver lining

Silver jewelry has certainly gained popularity. Blame the ever-rising gold price or the whimsical approach to jewelry in general, silver jewelry is slowly being considered and valued as fine jewelry.

More and more designers are choosing to fashion their designs out of silver.

Says Vijayalakshmi, “People do not want to repeat jewelry. Investing a few lakhs in one piece is not practical if you do not get to wear it that often. Silver and silver dipped in gold is becoming the next choice. With intricate kundans and polkis being crafted from silver, one is spoilt for choice and these pieces manage to look classy as well.”

Suman adds, “Silver is so versatile and can be transformed into amazing jewelry. Even diamonds can be set in silver and depending on the finish these pieces can look exquisite.”

Sreemathy believes we must be able to wear our jewelry without fear and wear them often. She does not believe in keep jewelry locked away for occasional use. She recommends indulging in pieces that one can wear more often. Silver jewelry can be a good way to compliment some traditional pieces we own.

Related Stories

No stories found.
The News Minute