Antique Indian bangles.
India is one of the most fascinating regions in the world and I can’t wait for my next trip there, in December. Indian jewelry is a huge and fascinating topic. Needless to say, antique Indian jewelry fascinates me most and antique Indian bangles are a particular favorite of mine.
India is huge with a myriad of tribes and cultures, most of whom I’m woefully ignorant of. Each tribe had/has its own form of personal adornment. In India, what jewelry you wear and the way you wear your jewelry tells other members of the group a lot of important personal information about yourself: your standing within the group; your marital status; an indication of your wealth and so on. Antique Indian bangles come in as many forms and varieties as there are sub-cultures and tribes on that continent.
Indians love jewelry. Indians especially adore gold. Until recently, they did not for the most part differentiate between brand new and very old jewelry. They saw the value of the item in the weight of the gold. That has been changing fast. On my first visit to India, around 2010, there was really no difference between a brand new and a very old jewel. My 2nd visit saw a change and growing awareness of the greater value and rarity of an antique. Priced accordingly. When I last visited India, it was very, very difficult to find really old jewels. However, in style, nothing seems to have changed over the last few thousand years and very similar bangles are made today in India as were made thousands of years ago. Many Indian bangle styles have been copied in ‘the West’ as well. It seems that almost every major jewelry manufacturer has made a version of the bangle shown below with the lion terminals.
Antique Indian Bangle with lion head terminals. This design has been copied by modern-day European jewelers for over 100 years. Cartier, Van Cleef and Arpels, Tiffany all made them. This is an original antique Indian bangle.
Back to antique Indian bangles. What is the difference between a bangle and a bracelet? There are a lot of opinions out there, but I believe that a bangle is rigid, while a bracelet is flexible and floppy. Either might have a clasp and either may be made of any material.
A very early antique Indian bangle, dating to the early 18th century or even earlier. The crocodile head terminals are still produced today as is the wonderful Indian enameling. However, look at the detail of this example. Compare the fine enameling with that made today. See the finely set diamonds and turquoise. Look at those red glass tongues – still in great shape after more than 200 years.
Let’s also remember that while much Indian jewelry might seem a little strange to us, there was also a lot that was so in tune with western Europe, that it was imported to England in the 19th century and sold as local merchandise. The antique Indian bangle below with magnificent subtle gold-work is tribal, yet any woman would find it an asset to her attire.
While some Indian jewelry cannot be worn by most of us without enormously distorted earlobes, or the ability to do our daily work with a 6-inch ring on our fingers, antique Indian bangles are easy to wear and comfortable for most of us.
Antique Indian bangles reflect most Indians’ love of bright colors. This can be achieved by enameling or brightly colored gemstones. Called minaar work and highly sought after today, Indian enameling is still produced, but easily distinguished from the finer, more subtle work of the past.
The fashion for setting gems on one side of a jewel and using beautiful enamel work on the back, was also used in Europe in the period after the Renaissance (16-17th centuries). The Europeans stopped paying as much attention to the backs of their jewelry a long time ago, but the practice persisted in India.
Not only Indians of the past loved beautiful gemstones. The Persians and others cast their eyes on the wealth of India and this was in large part the cause of their conquest and what subsequently became the Mughal Empire. Golconda diamonds were believed to be the most colorless (best quality) of them all. Sadly, the supply has long dried up. Indian gem-cutting techniques are vastly different to those we see in the West today. To a large extent, stones might be cabochon or very flat and barely faceted. A Mughal antique Indian bangle with rubies.
Even today, most Indian women don’t wear a single bangle. They wear multiples. Many bangles jingle up their arms. When possible, look for multiples, or even pairs, which are always considered more than the sum of each.
Above: a pair of Indian bangles with Burmese rubies and Basra pearls.
Indian women did not historically own property. If she inherited her father’s wealth, it went straight to the control of her husband when she married. All she had for herself was her jewelry. In India, a woman’s bank was and still is her jewelry. Not a bad idea for something to enjoy now and have available for a rainy day. The old tradition of a widow destroying her jewels has largely passed. On the other side of a marriage: glass bangles worn on a honeymoon slowly smashed. When the last one smashed, the honeymoon was over.
We too can take the best from each culture and tradition. So while they might be a sound economic investment for the future, you can enjoy your wonderful antique Indian bangles every day.
Post 73. See other posts and website on Indian jewelry as well as articles on bangles and bracelets.
Eg post 77 French bangles and bracelets, posts on Navaratna jewelry etc.
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