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Glitter-glitter: India bullish on expensive jewellery
Archana Jahagirdar in New Delhi | April 14, 2007
In an economically buoyant India, expensive jewellery is the in-thing.
As consumption patterns become more and more conspicuous in capitalist economies, language theorists try to keep up by coining new terms and words to explain this urge to buy.
So the economist-sociologist Thorstein Veblen in 1899 coined the phrase "conspicuous consumption", which includes "possessing objects that imply great purchase cost such as expensive jewellery, prestige vehicles, clothing..."
In the 1990s the phrase "bling-bling" was coined, a reference to once-improvised youths who, on acquiring riches, wore expensive jewellery on their person to hold on to their wealth and show it off to the world.
India, no longer a stranger to conspicuous consumption, is taking to high-end jewellery just the way a fish takes to water. Bling-bling and conspicuous consumption meet in a happy marriage in a country that has always viewed (gold) jewellery as almost a necessity rather than a piece of adornment.
The difference now is that those with the tosh aren't asking how much gold there is or what the caratage of a diamond is in a piece of jewellery; now exclusivity is part of the price tag and no one is blinking hard at that charge for these intangibles. Says
Mira Jain, who has started her own line of high-end jewellery with an investment of Rs 25 crore, "My jewellery has a certain style and it is meant for the woman of the world. My jewellery can be worn round the year. At the end of the day it's the design that matters."
And there are many tempting designs that are on offer by an array of jewellery designers, a tribe that is proliferating with the kind of speed that would do a healthy economy proud. These designers, like their fashion counterparts, started small, often encouraged when their own personal jewellery pieces were appreciated by family and friends who then urged them to design some for them.
Says Alpana Gujral, who by virtue of being painter/sculptor Satish Gujral's daughter, was already part of a select social set, "People would compliment me on the jewellery that I used to wear and that's how I started my own line."
The start was a good idea for many of these ladies have since then grown from showing privately annually, then twice a year and now some like Gujral and Jain who are thinking of starting full-fledged stores to showcase their designs. But these stores will maintain the kind of exclusivity in design (limited edition is a phrase that is used commonly for this kind of design) that Indian patrons are willing to pay good money for.
So how expensive does this jewellery have to be to qualify to be called designer? Jain, for instance, had a necklace (which she sold) during her inaugural exhibition which was priced at Rs 82 lakh. Others caught in the fear of the notorious taxman aren't willing to talk numbers but will tell you the kind of material that goes into their work.
Jewellery designer Vandana Munjal (she is married into the Munjal family) says of her creations, "I have made pieces and have been requested to make, say, one necklace with 20 carat diamonds, or it could be a string of solitaires where the solitaire in the centre is about five carat and the string graduates down to one carat diamonds. So that's the kind of money people are willing to spend."
Like fashion, there are now clear trends even in this kind of expensive jewellery. Though Indians have only recently woken up to the charms of stones like diamonds, the current international trend dictates that gold jewellery is in vogue at this moment.
Says Munjal, who otherwise primarily designed diamond jewellery, "Right now gold is in fashion and for my current collection I have used yellow gold." Gujral's latest collection acknowledges fashion's current twin obsessions; jeans and the colour blue.
Says Gujral, "The collection I have done can even be worn with jeans. These days people wear jeans even at night for a formal occasion." Blue jewellery would mean the use of sapphire, a stone that in India is connected with a lot of superstition.
To circumvent that Gujral has used stones like blue topaz and aquamarine. Jain, however, isn't shy of using high quality sapphire; the Rs 82 lakh necklace has a large sapphire along with a ruby as a drop/pendant.
More than any other business in this country, its the jewellery business that works on implicit trust between the jeweller and the client. And when it comes to these designers trust plays an even greater role than what is usual.
Designers like Munjal and Jain do give certificates for the diamonds and, where applicable, for other stones that they sell, but as a customer who buys frequently from jewellery designers says, "I have never asked for a certificate. This whole thing really works on trust and you know that you can take the piece back if there is a problem."
Eventually, the reason their business succeeds is the intimacy they offers buyers - something no store can!