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a jewellery style map: chronicles of our jewellery heritage

Jewellery is often considered the most aesthetic expression of a culture and India’s jewels have stolen hearts (and been stolen, in return) around the world. It is said that the body attains form, becomes attractive and visually appealing once adorned with jewels, and this is traditionally termed as Alankara/Alamkara. Our rich culture and heritage is evident in how our jewellery evolved through the ages.

Indus Valley Jewellery
Our people have been fascinated by jewellery since time immemorial and an ode to this can be found in the excavations of the Indus Valley Civilization. Necklaces, pendants, and bracelets excavated from 5000 years ago show stupendous craftsmanship using a variety of material like turquoise, agate, carnelian, feldspar, and steatite. The jewellery was fashioned into drum like shapes or tubal structures and strung together using fine gold threads. Intricate patterns, dots, and carvings ornamented these jewels and gave a splendid look of sophistication and aesthetic appeal to the curios. India was also known to be the largest manufacturer of beads back then.

Antique Jewels
Forward to 3000 years ahead of the Indus Valley Civilization, the great empires such as Mauryas, Satvahanas in the north, and the Vijayanagara empire from down south, had delicately embossed jewels with intricate filigree and complex micro-granulations. It was a time period that was rich in gold jewellery and ornaments that were an ode to our deities. The Silapadikaram, a Tamil classic text, mentions jewellery made of pearls , precious stones, and gold during the Cheran, Pandia, and Chola dynasty rule.. Large and chunky jewellery from that era came to be known as ‘Temple Jewellery’ because of the motifs of temple ‘Gopurams’, presiding deities, and pagan symbols such as the sun and birds. Around this time, nine different gemstones made a mark on ornaments and a trend of ‘Navarathna’ necklaces and bracelets began. These colourful stones embedded in intricate jewels were symbolic of the ‘Navagraha’ or nine planetary gods of Hinduism.

Mughal Influence and British Inspiration
With the coming of Mughals into India, craftsmanship reached its pinnacle of finesse and latticed pattern-work. Enamelling work of ornaments became a much used technique. Existing styles of jewellery were fused with Mughal ‘karigaree’ to create exquisite pendants, necklaces, long-chains, bracelets, and arm bands. The use of pearls, and kundan increased during the Mughal empire with geometric shapes and nature-enthused designs became prominent. Chokers that were hammered precious metals, inlaid with stones, encrusted with jade and finished off with enamel-work were popular amongst royalty and the nawabs. Rubies and pearls were repetitively used, earning the moniker of ‘Tears of The Moon’ from Mughal emperors.

The British rule brought in new techniques with Cartier creating jewellery for the Maharajas of India. Indian cultural influences were also seen in British jewellery with the ‘Tutti-Frutti’ bracelet being inspired by South-Indian floral motifs.

Modern Day Jewellery
With the coming of Mughals into India, craftsmanship reached its pinnacle of finesse and latticed pattern-work. Enamelling work of ornaments became a much used technique. Existing styles of jewellery were fused with Mughal ‘karigaree’ to create exquisite pendants, necklaces, long-chains, bracelets, and arm bands. The use of pearls, and kundan increased during the Mughal empire with geometric shapes and nature-enthused designs became prominent. Chokers that were hammered precious metals, inlaid with stones, encrusted with jade and finished off with enamel-work were popular amongst royalty and the nawabs. Rubies and pearls were repetitively used, earning the moniker of ‘Tears of The Moon’ from Mughal emperors.