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Home > Business > Special

Going for gold

Kishore Singh | February 15, 2003

Jewellery sales in India are usually less on the basis of design, and more on the bedrock of materials -- the weight of gold, the price per carat of stone, and a little bit for the setting thrown in for good measure.

It isn't a process that finds much favour with jewellery and silver specialist Jay Dave, who finds the process reprehensible.

"To my mind, it does not do the jewellery justice," he says.

Particularly when it comes to old pieces that have survived in near-pristine condition.

Dave's reservation is understandable, but whether it is acceptable will only come to light when jewellery and silver come under the hammer on February 27 in Delhi.

For the first time ever, jewellery (including watches) will be auctioned in India in a major sale, to be conducted by Bowring's, but that this is no flash in the pan becomes evident from its interest in repeating the sale in Mumbai in April and finding a permanent place for jewellery in its catalogues.

There is a murmur of interest in the current auction from both within India and outside, according to Dave.

However, some who have received the Rs 500 catalogue that allows them to bid at the auction, feel the lots may be seriously undervalued.

"The estimates represent international market values at auctions," Dave says, "and if people feel these are low, then it's a great opportunity for them to bid at the sale."

Less tongue-in-cheek, he adds, "The prices are a fair representation, but in the end, they're just a guide."

Mostly, interest in the 134-lot sale is limited to the jewellery that includes, surprisingly, enough pieces for men too, though understandably, the overwhelming presence is directed at women's accessories.

Among Dave's favourites are two lots dating to 1910, one an Edwardian pearl bayadere (long rope knotted in the manner of a scarf) made in India, the other a French belle-epoque fob watch and chain with brooch attachment, set with diamonds and emeralds.

"They're in very good condition, considering they're 90 years old," says Dave. The bayadere (Rs 3.5-4.5 lakh), with 20 strings of twisted pearls, 146 cm long, also shows that "India was extremely cosmopolitan in terms of international jewellery fashion of the time."

The fob watch (Rs 400,000 to Rs 500,000) is elegant, and all stones are original and the chain is complete, adding to its rarity.

Other pieces in the catalogue are a mix of Art-Deco, or Edwardian, or Indian designs. While Dave admires the Western setting, he is as charmed at the treatment of the enamelled sets from northern India.

"Indian jewellery uses a lot of caratage," he says, "which is why it uses enamel on the reverse, to prevent the soft gold from wearing off. But instead of just applying a single enamel colour, the jewellers enrich it with intricate patterns, which is so overwhelming."

Not all pieces are old, and several are contemporary, but it is the simplicity of the pieces from 1910-20 that mark them out.

Dave considers the Indian pieces in the catalogue stupendous because several of them are "fun pieces, jewellery for the sake of jewellery that showed how adventurous India could be."

The silver objects in the sale, in spite of Dave's protestations, are more mundane, perhaps the only exception being a Sheffield pen that comes mounted on a silver base inscribed with the full title of the Kashmir maharaja who had signed his first order with it after ascending to the gaddi in 1925.

Considering Kashmir's tortured history, the pen and its base (estimated value Rs 170,000-200,000) give them terrific historic value.

As for the rest, the porcelain, opaline glass, cut glass and other doo-dahs are mere piffles to pad up the contents of the sale.

What the proceeds are likely to be closely watched for is the selection of jewellery that could make, or break, this option in hammer sales for some time to come.

For bidding at the auction on February 27, email

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