Hyderabad may still be the 'City of Pearls', but it is increasingly pearls from China that are dominating the city's trade in pearls.
Pearls from Japan, Australia, Indonesia, Burma, Venezuela and Tahiti are also coming into the market. Chinese pearls are more affordable and have taken the business away from big players and to the smaller retailers.
"But there is nothing Hyderabadi about these pearls," says Satish Agarwal, managing director of Kundan Jewellers. The result: volume of trade, which had touched 120 tonne a year, is now down to 70-80 tonne.
"Similar pearls are available elsewhere at the same price," rues Agarwal. No wonder many like Agarwal have shifted to the business of gold and diamond jewellery.
Hyderabad's pearl legacy is as old as the city itself. The nizams, who ruled the city, were great patrons of the gem. This encouraged merchants to get the best pearls from Basra, Tahiti and some Gulf countries. The trade flourished, despite the absence of a river or a sea for pearl farming.
With plenty of skilled labour, drilling, assorting, threading and processing formed the bulk of the business. Besides Hyderabad, a few villages such as Chandampet in Medak district were exclusively dedicated to pearl drilling. Today most of them have moved to agriculture.
The decline in tourists, a result of the political disturbance in the state and the economic slowdown, have also hit the pearl business, worth Rs 500-700 crore (Rs 5-7 billion) a year. "Tourists contribute about 40 per cent of sales," says Naresh Agarwal, managing director, Mangatrai Pearls.
But the story is not over for the Hyderabadi pearl. Retailers, who are rejoicing in the small-value, big-volumes game, say, "The demand from domestic customers is good." With gold prices touching the sky, the pearl floats on hope.