India’s multicultural heritage has honed its jewellery craftsmanship over civilisations and generations. We do a quick dive into the most sought-after, valuable traditional Indian jewellery designs and their making.
By: Jay Sagar, Jewellery Expert, AstaGuru
Posted on: September 28, 2022
While the origin of jewellery in India goes back to prehistoric times, the heritage of Indian jewellery was built upon the unmatched craftsmanship of artisans in the mediaeval era. Known as the meadow of gold and precious gems, the Indian subcontinent became a melting pot of unique jewellery design traditions that were an ode to the multifaceted identities and rituals observed in the country.
©Harit Zaveri Jewellers
Not merely an object of visual pleasure for the wearer and the beholder, it also became a symbol of power, prestige, and opulence. Rendered in different styles of ornaments studded with precious gems like emerald, rubies, natural pearls, and diamonds, the legacy of India’s jewellery tradition became a confluence of cultures. Here is a spotlight on some important jewellery traditions of India that have stood the test of time and continue to be highly sought after.
Getting its name from the term ‘jad’, which means to embed, ‘Jadau’ jewellery was spearheaded in India during the reign of the Mughal Kingdom. In the course of cultural exchange, the technique was perfected and refined by the craftsmen of the state of Rajasthan, which is now the hub of this Indian jewellery design tradition.
An Important Vintage Jadau Aadiya Necklace From Rajasthan. ©AstaGuru
Executed by embedding precious gemstones such as diamonds, pearls, emeralds, and rubies in gold, ‘Jadau’ jewellery continues to be highly sought after due to the pure and delicate handwork that goes into its making. Bearing witness to the meticulous and intricate craftsmanship of the Indian jewellery tradition, Jadau jewellery has always been highly sought after by the connoisseurs and collectors of traditional Indian jewellery throughout the course of history. Even in present times, it remains a prized possession and enhances the beauty of any heirloom jewellery collection. Pieces like vintage Jadau 'chandbalis' or 'aadiya' necklaces are a perfect reflection of this unique tradition.
While the early origins of Meenakari jewellery can be traced to ancient Persia, the tradition is said to have been introduced in India during the 13th century. Reaching its zenith during the course of the Mughal Era, this tradition of polishing and decorating jewellery with colourful enamels has stood the test of time and remains quintessential to every superlative heirloom jewellery collection.
An Antique Pair Of Gold Makara Head Bangles. ©AstaGuru
Dominating the northern part of India in the present time, the design tradition is broadly bifurcated into two styles, locally known as "Ek Rang Khula" and "Panchrangi Meena”. The former refers to the application of single enamel colour, while the latter suggests the fusion of colours like pearl white, powder blue, ink blue, blood red, and forest green to render a sense of beautiful vibrancy to a piece of jewellery. One of the most exquisite examples of the meenakari technique is seen in the elaborately enamelled ‘Makarahead Kadas’.
Meaning ‘pure gold’, Kundan jewellery is one of the most important heritages of jewellery traditions in India. Tracing back to the royal Rajput courts of Rajasthan, before the ushering in of the Mughal era, the traditional design involves a complex process comprising several steps.
Studded with precious gems, Kundan jewellery at times is also rendered with ‘meenakari’ or enamelling with vivid colours on the reverse.
It starts with the creation of unique forms out of golden strips known as ghat or gadhayi. This is achieved by transferring pure 22 karats of molten gold into moulds which are then further cut or coiled to take on different shapes. The outer surfaces of these shapes, filled with gold or lac, are then engraved with intricate and exquisite designs and patterns. Studded with precious gems, Kundan jewellery at times is also rendered with ‘meenakari’ or enamelling with vivid colours on the reverse.
Known to be the world’s oldest cut diamond, Polki diamonds are imperfectly shaped due to their non-faceted and softly rounded original surfaces. Executed with deft craftsmanship of hand, Polki jewellery is highly coveted due to the unmatched uniqueness of every piece. A speciality of Bikaner in Rajasthan, the tradition of creating elaborate jewellery pieces studded with Polki diamonds traces back to mediaeval times when it was the crowning glory of India’s royal opulence.
An Important Diamond, Natural Pearl & Emerald Drop Choker & Ear Pendant. ©AstaGuru
While traditional styles continue to be one of the must-have bridal trousseau adornments, Polki jewellery has also found a reinterpretation with the modern and minimalistic style of contemporary times. An exquisite example of Polki jewellery is seen in a close-fitting necklace worn around the neck known as a ‘Choker.’ Often paired with other necklaces, in India chokers were favoured in particular by the women of the royal household of the Nizam of Hyderabad.
The tradition of temple jewellery is considered to have originated in the 9th century during the Chola and Pandya dynasty in South India. A symbol of reverence towards the gods, the origin of traditional temple jewellery is rooted in deep devotion and highly skilled craftsmanship. In fact, in ancient times, temple jewellery was meant to be adorned by deities, royalties, and priests. Temple jewellery has always been executed with gold, which is considered auspicious.
A Suite Of 22k Gold Temple Jewellery. ©AstaGuru
A unique embodiment of Indian culture, pieces inspired by the tradition of temple jewellery continue to be acquired during auspicious occasions such as Diwali or weddings where it is gifted to new brides. A striking example of this masterful tradition is the ‘Guttapusalu’ necklace and the traditional ‘Mango Mala.’
Jay Sagar joined the auction house AstaGuru in 2018 with 21 years of experience under his belt. Belonging to the 4th generation of the family jewellery business, Jay has honed his skills and has a knack for appraising vintage and estate jewellery. He started his journey from the ground up and now is a partner at his family’s boutique jewellery business which specialises in vintage jewellery and design. Jay has perfected the art of evaluating important and rare gems and has a vast understanding of the current trends in the market.