‘Diamonds are a girl’s best friend’, sang Marilyn Monroe way back in 1953 in the now classic “Gentlemen prefer Blondes” Hollywood film. Jewellery, with or without diamonds is definitely a woman’s best friend and even though tastes may vary considerably from wildly extravagant to the delicately subtle, its magnetism is no less great.
Over a decade now, India has epitomized a legacy of jewels that depicts luxury, sovereignty, extravagance and competency of the craftsmen. The age old history of jewellery is a fine art with reference to the work of the artisans that gave a beautiful look not just for Indian women but also to Indian men.
With times, traditional jewellery designs in India have well emerged to suit the modern needs. The modern, sophisticated jewellery is not merely restricted to the usage of gold but includes combination of gold, stones, diamonds, pearls, glass, resin etc. with other metals like silver, palladium, titanium and platinum.
One of the oldest forms of jewellery that has made one look elegant and coveted is the Kundan Jewellery. Originating from the Mughal period, the art of Kundan work reached Rajasthan making Jaipur as the epitome of this timeless beauty.
The word Kundan means highly refined gold and in the making, pure form of molten gold is used. The beauty of the Kundan jewellery lies in setting of the stones, usually cut, intricately shaped and polished, into gold base or metal faux base.
The art of making Kundan jewellery or Kundankari is carried out by a group of craftsmen who meticulously transition a design to the finished piece. The process begins with Ghadayi or the making of the framework or skeleton of the piece. Thin gold sheets are cut, coiled and shaped according to the design by the craftsmen, also known as Chiterias by using specialised fine tools. These are placed on wax board to imitate the design and then soldered together to form one piece, be it a pendant, earring or pendant. Lac or Laakh is poured into the creeks which are meant to hold the gems. The black residue is removed carefully with mild chemicals.
What follows is Khudayi that involves etching or engraving designs on the back or front (or both) of the piece. These designs are known to be inspired from floral art, nature or sometimes geometry. A steady hand and lot of patience goes into Khudayi to create the immensely beautiful piece. The gold dust that is used in the making is recycled.
The role of an enameller comes to an important stage when he decorates the piece with Meenakari. The laborious task of enamelling uses the red, green, blue and white colours. Combination of these along with gold is called Panchranga. The colours are applied with thin needles in the engraved pattern. Each time a colour is used, the piece is put in fire for the colour to fuse in the gold. Once it is done, the piece is scrubbed with a filer to enhance the details of the piece. After the piece is boiled with a mild acid to elaborate the sheen, it is sent to the next craftsman.
The stone setters take the process of using gems such as diamonds, sapphire, emerald, ruby, agate, garnate, rock crystal, topaz and amethyst etc. to insert between the gold foil and the mount. For a perfect gleam and refraction, silver foil is usually placed under the stones. These are heated and placed on the lac after which pieces of 24 carat gold foil are set into the sides of the gemstones till they grip on tightly. The fine tools chisel out the extra foil and the piece is handed over for Puwai to adorn it with threads and beads.
Finally, the piece is made to entice every eye. Meenakari or Meena jewellery uses enamelling on the surface of the piece. Polki, another type of Kundan jewellery uses uncut diamonds, precious and semi precious gems and is impossible to be replicated, because no two uncut diamonds are same. The third kind is the Jadau which involves Meenakari at the back and gem setting in the front.
Veteran actors like Waheeda Rehman, Sharmila Tagore and Rekha for over 25 years have been buying Kundan jewellery from Jaipur and are known to be the trend-setters of Bollywood. But if we look in the past, Kundan Meena was first seen radiating in Mughal-e-Azam; also in late Beena Rai and Pradeep Kumar starrer Taj Mahal and Pakeezah. Later, films like Devdas, Paheli and Jodha Akbar saw the stone studded jewellery pieces becoming every woman’s envy.
Kundan Jewellery exuberate royalty and has travelled far and wide from the Mughal era from 1526 to 1858, to Rajasthan, Hyderabad and has surpassed the domestic boundaries. The modern designers have modified the ancient art and conceptualised contemporary styles to meet the latest needs.
The heritage of craftsmanship gives them an edge over other types of jewellery in the market. Rings, necklaces, earrings, bangles, pendants; an almost endless array of accessories are now made. The universal appeal of Kundan Jewellery has enabled it to become most sought after accessory across the globe.
This article was first published in Lifestyle magazine ‘The City Angle’ of Udaipur.