Why is all Indian jewellery made in the same ornate style? There must be several styles of Indian jewellery with India’s rich heritage in jewellery making.
That got me started on researching the different Indian styles of jewellery making. Here is a list of the famous ethnic Indian jewellery styles that I have identified
The silver filigree work of Orissa in East India is well known as Tarakashi. This skilled art form is more than 500 years old. The filigree work in India derives from Greek filigree style but has maintained and modified that style. The works in Tarakashi are a combination of beauty and utility. Filigree jewellery is particularly rich in patterns and intricate artwork. It requires precision, technical knowledge, patience and an eye for detail. Most of the designs are themes of animals, birds and flowers with the rose flower dominating the design in the Cuttack region. Manufacturing Process
The artists who do Tarakashi are known as Bania. They work with an alloy that is at least 90% pure silver. Silver is beaten and then drawn into fine wires. This is done by hammering silver on an anvil made of iron or steel. After this, the two thinnest wires are wound around a rotating wheel machine known as “Charkha”. They are again flattened to make a single wire. The craftsman uses thick silver wires to make the frame into which he fits small design pieces (sikko) made from thinner wires. The craftsmanship lies in fitting the small parts in the frame. The craftsman makes the wires thinner by drawing silver through a series of smaller holes to produce finer strands. Then he twists the wires into various shapes by binding them into different designs by soldering them with pincers and scissors. Some of the traditional jewellery items made by this art include arm jewellery, necklaces, nose rings and anklets. Modern jewellers also make brooches, earrings, pendant, hair pins and bangles.
Thewa is a 400 years old Rajasthani art for making jewellery by fusing 23K gold with multicolored glass. It’s origin dates back to the Mughal ages. Thewa usually shows the culture, heritage and tales of romance and valour of Rajasthan through fine craftsmanship. Pratapgarh in Rajasthan is the only place where Thewa art jewellery gets made. Nathu Lal Sonewal was the first goldsmith who initiated this style in 1707. It soon caught the fancy of royalty and Maharaja Sumant Singh patronized this art in 1765. The family of Nathu Lal has guarded the secret of manufacturing thewa jewellery for centuries but thankfully today it is no longer a family secret.
The product is made from sheets of 23 k gold on glass of different colors. The glass has glittering effects, which in turn highlights the intricate gold work. The whole piece is hand crafted and this process takes over a period of one month for a skilled artisan. The process starts with broken pieces of terracotta, finely ground, which are mixed with chemicals and oil to produce a thick paste. The paste is spread on a wooden base that has a 23 carat gold sheet set onto it. Black paint spread over the gold sheet that highlights the design so it becomes visible for further detailed work. The designs are often based on the Hindu mythology or Mughal court scenes, historical events or with flora and fauna motifs.
Pachchikam jewellery is an Indian jewellery craft belonging to the region of Kutch in the western Indian state of Gujarat. The term Pachchikam derives from ‘pachchigar’ which means ‘goldsmith’. Pachchikam came from Europe to India during the 16th century. The Indian craftspeople then injected their own ethnic style into the original style. But the way the base presses over the gems makes Pachchikam pieces seem rough compared to European jewellery. When compared to Kundan work, Pachchikam comes across as rather delicate and unfinished. This is also because the craft makes use of silver as the base metal instead of gold used in Kundan work. This makes it cost-effective. Pachchikam jewellery pattern has a soft, metallic shimmer, similar to platinum. The jewellery has limited colour designs, but the unique artistic designs and silver linings impart a rare beauty to the ornaments. Pachchikam jewellery encompasses various ornaments such as rings, jhumkas, bracelets, necklaces, earnings and chokers. Manufacturing Process
The process in crafting a Pachchikam jewellery piece is quite elaborate and complicated. A silver casing is first made for inserting the stone which is then affixed with grooves. The uncut semi-precious stones and glasswork are kept in grooves through tiny metal claws (in contrast to the Kundan Jadau style of embedding or encrusting). The entire process of making a single piece is not only laborious, but is also time consuming. Silver along with uncut glass and semi precious stones, is the main aw materials for Pachchikam jewellery. The main colours used in Pachchikam jewellery are white, blue, red and green stones and white rice pearls.
Meenakari is the style or method of adding more artistic value to jewellery and is unique to India. The word ‘Meena’ stands for enamel and the word ‘Kari’ means art. There are two types of Meena Jewellery, Meena with Kundan and Meena without Kundan. Indian enameling work is different from those of France, England and Turkey. In Indian Meena Jewellery, enameling work is usually done on the backside of the ornaments and is known as ek posta meena. Sometimes it is in the front side too and then it is called do posta meena. It is believed that the art was introduced by Raja Mansingh of Amer who invited craftsmen from Lahore to practice it. The confluence of artisans from Lahore and local artisans resulted in the art of Meenakari. Bikaner in Rajasthan is world renowned for traditional Meena, Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh is famous for Pink Meena, Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh for Kaarwani and Kolkata in West Bengal for English and French Meena. Silver Meena of Nathadwara in Rajasthan is also worth mentioning.
Making of Meena jewellery is a complicated and systematic process. The Chiterias first makes the design which if approved, goes to Gharia who makes initial skeleton of the piece called Ghat. This Ghat goes to Meenakar for further processing. The jewellery piece is kept on a lac stick and designs are engraved on it. This leads to creation of grooves which hold colour. Enamel dust of the required colour is then poured into the grooves. Each time the Meenakar can put only one color as each colour gets heated alone. The heat of the oven furnace melts the colour and the colored liquid gets equally spread into the grooves. Colours that are most heat-resistant are applied first as they are re-fired with each new colour. Once the last color is fired, the jewellery piece is allowed to cool and then burnished and polished. The depth of the grooves determines the play of the light. Silver and gold are usually used as the base for Meenakari jewellery. In case of silver, colours that are usually used are green, yellow or blue. For gold pieces, any colour can be used. The art has changed with time, according to the availability of materials, demand and artisans. The stunning bright colours which we see on Meenakari artifacts nowadays are metal oxides with fine powdered glass.
Kundankari (Kundan craft) is the oldest form of jewellery made and worn in India. The method originated in the royal courts of Rajasthan and Gujarat. It is used in India for setting gemstones like diamonds, sapphires, rubies and other precious gems on gold to create elaborate pieces of jewellery. It has been prevalent in India from before the introduction of the western method of claw settings in the 19th century. The word Kundan in Sanskrit really means pure sparkling gold or refined gold. Kundan jewellery is always made with the purest form of molten gold which is 24 K gold. The entire technique of Kundankari lies in the skilful setting of gems and stones in gold. Traditional Kundan jewellery has stones encrusted on one side with intricate Meenakari with vivid colours and designs on the reverse. It is also known as Kundan Meena or Bikaneri jewellery. Manufacturing Process
Kundan jewellery is created by setting shaped, cut and polished gemstones into a pure gold base. Every piece of Kundan jewellery is a team effort where individual craftsperson work on a separate portion. Each artisan in the team uses the particular technique that he specializes in and together they create a beautiful piece of jewellery. The elaborate process begins with the skeletal framework called Ghaat. Thereafter, the Paadh procedure takes place, during which wax is poured onto the framework and moulded according to the design. Then comes the Khudai process, when the stones or uncut gems are fit into the framework. Meenakari then involves enameling to define the design details. Next, the Pakai process involves gold foils that hold the gems onto the framework; these are soldered. Finally, the gems are polished using the Chillai process.
Judau jewllery is a combination of real uncut diamonds (Polki), Kundan work and Meenakari work. It is also called ‘Jadai’ setting. In Jadau jewellery, only real uncut diamonds (referred to as Polki) are used. Polki is essentially an uncut diamond without any enhancement or processing. Polki is always in great demand and valued because of its natural form. Both Polki & Jadau jewellery are examples of high skilled craftsmanship that was brought into India by Mughals. The tradition of Jadau work has been in practice in the states of Rajasthan and Gujarat since the Mughal Era. Jadau jewellery is also called Engraved Jewellery. Jadau works are done with Indian Meena style only and not with French or English Meena as compared to Kundan Meena.
Jadau work is team work, where a group of craftsmen work together. Each craftsman carries out a specific task related to the jewellery creation. The Chiterias make the basic design, Ghaarias are responsible for engraving and making holes. The piece then go to Jadia who pours gala (a resin like material) in the blank spaces. When Kundan becomes pliable, the stones are set on it with great precision and artistry using lac and gold foils. After that, it is allowed to cool down and the diamonds get fixed on it without any adhesive or carvings. The Polki (also known as Vilandi) are used as the central stone. Polki jewellery sets are made with a gold foil at the back that has been painted to provide extra glitter. Sometimes the Jadia add color to daak (made from silver foil) to enhance color of gemstones such as Emerald, Ruby and Sapphires. Meenakari or art work done at the back of the jewel is then done for beautifying purposes.