Did you know that Indians love gold more than any other nation on earth? Gold plays a big part in the life of most Indians.
Traditionally, women had no property of their own. Their wealth and belongings all went to the man they married. So what did an Indian woman have to call her own? She had her jewelry. Jewelry plays a very big part in the life of Indian women. She often wears all of her jewelry at once. This is her bank. If ever she is in need, she can remove a bangle and cover a debt.
Bangles are probably worn by Indian women more than any other nation. When a woman married, she was given a set of glass bangles. By their nature, they would break. When the last one broke, the honeymoon was over.
I noticed that Indian men wear a lot more rings than Indian women do. This is because the stones in the rings have special significance. They are talismans, bringing good luck and protection against evil forces in nature. Realms can be read about the significance of each stone. There is a wonderful kind of jewelry in India called Navaratna or 9-gem jewelry. It consists of a particular order of particular gemstones, each with its significance and powers. These represent the planets surrounding the sun on the greater level and corresponding parts of our bodies in the microcosm.
Until a few years ago, Indians did not seem to appreciate any significant difference between new and old jewelry. There was no shortage of antique pieces, to which they gave no extra value. That has definitely changed. Today, just try to find antique Indian jewelry! As the Indian population or collectors became aware of the value of antique jewelry, the availability became scarcer and today it is extremely difficult to find the good, old pieces.
Indians love bright color and bright gemstones are a big hit in their jewelry. They traditionally cut stones differently to European or Brilliant cuts and most of the gems were flat and foiled. Until about 200 years ago, the only known source of diamonds in the world was the Golconda mine in central India. Until you have seen a Golconda diamond, it is difficult to understand what a diamond that looks like water is. These stones really are special and very, very beautiful.
When bright gems were not available or too expensive, enameling was a great alternative. The beautiful pink enameling of Jaipur is exquisite and still created today.
We speak about Indian jewelry as though it is homogenous. In fact, every area, every tribe had its own designs and techniques that were executed and worn for hundreds of years. Although they may have been tribal, some of the designs of Indian jewelry are so stunning that they could easily be mistaken for a creation of the 21st century. There are earrings that look like miniature sculptures; cuff bangles with jutting out geometric designs, rings that any hip-hop star would give a gold tooth to own. Many Indian jewels of hundreds of years standing were copied by the biggest names in European jewelry manufacturing – Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels and Tiffany to name a few, all made variations of Indian jewelry.
These manufacturers, especially Cartier, were often called by the wealthy Maharajas to convert old jewelry to something more fashionable. In particular, during the Art Deco period, a lot of old Indian jewelry was adapted to Western taste.
I love the ingenuity and the imagination to be found in Indian jewelry. Where else will you find a ring with roses on top and frogs on the shank? Where will you find dragons with flashing tongues, set with glass and diamonds and the most exquisite enamel work on the inside?
There are a number of excellent books on the topic of Indian jewelry. We have made some wonderful contacts and friends in India, where we look for fabulous antique and wearable jewelry. You can share in our finds and delight in these little works of art, imagination and the spirit.