Legacy jewellery designs are back in fashion, but not all can afford them.
When the Bollywood movie Jodhaa Akbar was released a few years ago, the grandeur of the gold ornaments worn by actor Aishwarya Rai dazzled many. Master craftsmen at Tanishq, the 165-store jewellery brand owned by Titan Company Ltd, had spent several weeks studying the finer aspects of the Mughal era jewellery patterns before making them. The retailer subsequently unveiled 400 products under the 'Jodhaa Akbar' collection. The movie gave a new lease of life to 'jadau work' - one of the Mughal-era styles of craftsmanship that embellished Indian jewellery.
"The movie glorified the designs leading to a good demand for those products," says Bhaskar Bhat, Managing Director, Titan. "Women are discovering more themes from Indian history."
India is the world's largest consumer of the yellow metal, with the bulk of it going into ornaments. Unlike apparel in India, which is increasingly influenced by Western designs, ornaments with desi designs were preferred by most women, though with a contemporary touch. In recent times, however, even that touch is being dispensed with - women want designs that are not contemporary, according to leading jewellery retailers.
"People are more aware today, being flooded with information from all corners," says Umesh Ganjam, Director at Ganjam, the 125-year-old luxury brand with a presence in Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi and Tokyo. Ganjam sells only handcrafted ornaments.
Customer preference for legacy designs has seen a sudden increase. But these are sought only by those who can afford them, says Ganjam's Umesh. They do not come cheap. His chain gets about 20 per cent of its revenue from ornaments falling into this category. Tanishq gets about 30 per cent, says Titan's Bhat.
Jewellers are also tweaking contemporary designs to lend them a vintage touch. Kundan jewellery from Rajasthan with a unique style and a rich legacy is an example. A Kundan ornament traditionally sported the intricate Meenakari (enamel) handwork on the underside. "But it is so beautiful people now prefer to have the work on the face of the ornament for others to see and appreciate," says Abhishek Rastogi, Design Manager at Tanishq.
People have begun to see beauty in tradition. Handmade workmanship and traditional craft are the flavour of the times, say jewellery retailers. The work an artisan puts in is what makes heritage jewellery unique. "That kind of detail and aesthetic flavour is best achieved when it is done by hand rather than on a machine," says Ganesh Narayan, Joint Managing Director at C. Krishniah Chetty & Sons, a 145-year jewellery retailer in Bangalore.
Rising affluence and greater awareness has led to a big revival of the traditional craft, according to Narayan. "In the 1970s and 1980s, this kind of jewellery was accessible only to royal families and an affluent few. Today, the growing number of millionaires and billionaires in India is leading to a revival of many designs," he says. For example, in the Addige (necklace), popular in south India, the ghandabherunda (double-headed eagle) pendant is now an important motif inspired by the insignia of the Mysore kings. Similarly, rose cut diamonds - a traditional cut with fewer facets and closer to raw diamonds in their appearance - are back in fashion. They were earlier popular during the Victorian and Nizam era. "But we are now seeing a revival of rose cut or English cut diamonds," says Rastogi. A big leg-up for tradition, indeed.