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T

o teeka or not to teeka, that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler to hunt down the diamond drops of your dreams, or to set aside the spectacular set for something more practical—that is another question—and wants answers.

Let’s face it: South Asian culture has a long-standing reverence for all things shiny—necklaces bedecked with emeralds and pearls, diamond kundan work, ruby jhoomke, sona teekas. And what better time to parade your pearls and display your diamonds than on your wedding day?

But how do you know what to look for? What about the value of the stones? The quality of the craftsmanship? And can jewelry be a good investment? These are pretty common questions, so we sought advice from the renowned Gem Palace—centuries-old designers, stone suppliers and jewelers to royalty and stars—in Jaipur, and jewelry designer Rosena Sammi about what women should look for in terms of style, stones and craftsmanship.

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Jadau kundan enamel three-line necklace and earrings studded with large uncut diamonds and large South Sea pearls from Jaipur Gems.
Something Old … Or Something New?

When I got married, my mother hunted down a few older pieces—from jewelers in Lahore that she trusted—to complement my collection. Her reasoning? That the craftsmanship in those pieces had more “nifaasat” (finesse) than newer jewelry. But is that true? There’s some disagreement.

Sanjay Kasliwal, one of the designers and part-owner of Gem Palace, is enthusiastic about older jewelry: “There’s a great aesthetic sense—the balance and proportion and everything was just amazing. They could devote more time to creating a piece. There are some pieces where somebody took one year on making one piece. Today, you can’t do it. It’s like the Taj Mahal cannot be built again today—who’s going to do it?” So if you find a good older piece? Hold on tight.

But, as designer Rosena Sammi adds, don’t just focus on older jewelry: “I have seen wonderful genuine antique pieces, but I also work with artisans in India today creating jewelry that is equally beautiful. So you really need to look at each piece individually and make that determination for yourself.”

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Rosena Sammi‘s creations.

And what about that jhoomer your mum wants to pass on to you or those jhumke that your daadi cherishes? Does a modern 21st-century woman still need those kinds of pieces?

Maybe not. But Kasliwal states that a “nice delicate teeka” looks good even today. And Sammi believes that our jewelry is an important part of our culture. She’s noticed a trend of “young South Asian brides deciding not to invest money in buying real jewelry but rather to buy imitation jewelry. That saddens me a little bit. There’s so much tradition and culture and auspicious value in wearing jewelry, that it’s nice to keep up that tradition.” Not to mention the sentimental value of being able to pass on the jhumke and the jhoomer to your kids and grandkids. But in the end, that decision is personal—and financial.

And remember, “On your wedding day, you want a classic look.” Her example: Don’t buy a turquoise set because all the magazines are featuring big chunky turquoise rings this season. Instead, look for really traditional designs—in the style of those worn by old Bollywood starlets, for example. (Don’t know Meena Kumari from Hema Malini? See Aishwarya’s bling in Devdas for ideas.)

Blow Your Budget

At least, on a necklace and earrings. While Sammi believes that jewelry decisions are ultimately personal, she also says that the most important element in any woman’s jewelry wardrobe is a good, basic matching set: necklace and earrings. And if your budget is really limited, try to either make sure it complements your actual wedding day outfit (the most important) or go broad and choose what will fit together most with your other outfits. Just remember, when it comes to real jewelry, you don’t need to fall into the “matchy matchy” trap. A ruby necklace, for example, can be worn with a host of colors besides just red.

But, Sammi emphasizes, “You need to really think about the outfit as a whole—the bangles and the earrings and the necklace—and really work out a budget and where you can spend the money.” If a piece is culturally significant—like a mangal sutra—then that should be your most important piece. But as far as teekas, armbands and hand jewelry are concerned, consider borrowing or wear imitation if your budget is limited.

Still, as Sammi points out, “Women these days are very comfortable spending thousands of dollars on a sari or a lengha, and I would like to see them putting some of their budget toward investing in nice jewelry.”

And the best way to do that? Pick jewelry that you’ll be able to wear with either a sari or a little black dress, says Sammi. These days, you can find “detachable” earrings that allow you to control how much bling you want adorning your lobes. Pieces that can make the transition from big Indian wedding to night on the town are the very best ones to buy—because you’ll be wearing them over and over again.

Diamonds and Emeralds and Aquamarines, Oh My!

One growing long-term trend—as opposed to just a seasonal one—is the demand for semiprecious stones such as aquamarine. In fact, Kasliwal says, the precious/semiprecious distinction is almost meaningless now, given that some so-called semiprecious stones (such as high-quality pink tourmaline) can actually be more expensive than some precious stones (such as lower-quality emeralds and sapphires). For example, a top-quality aquamarine will garner a higher price than a bad emerald. And alexandrite, a rare semi-precious stone, is another example of a gem now more expensive than rubies and emeralds. And while the very best of the precious stones will commandeer prices that the best tourmalines and aquamarines will never see, these days, a really fine semiprecious stone will be more valuable than a low- or average-quality precious stone.

Buyers have come to understand that as well. In fact, Kasliwal says, “People are happy now to buy a beautiful necklace in aquamarine,” whereas before, only diamond and emerald sets were considered “important.” (For more on how to avoid buying conflict diamonds, see Death and Diamonds.)

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Diamond necklace and earring by Jaipur Gems.
Reputation Matters

“Go to somebody you trust,” says Kasliwal. It’s difficult for laypeople to really assess the quality and value of the jewels they buy, so it’s imperative that the jeweler is trustworthy. Don’t just stop by any mom-and-pop diamond mart—seek out established stores with long-standing reputations.

Sammi agrees: “Go to stores where you trust the quality and craftsmanship.” But how do you find them? Sammi suggests relying on a network of friends and family to help you navigate the labyrinth of jewelers. She also suggests checking out the Jewelry Information Center and the Jewelers Vigilance Committee, both trade organizations that provide information on buying jewelry and on reputable retailers.

And when you go to buy your jewelry, ask whether the color of the stone has been enhanced in any way. The most common way this is done, says Sammi, is by placing leaf or foil underneath the stone to improve the color. If you’re buying traditional kundan work, ask the origins of the piece—the best kundan comes from Bikaner and Jaipur. If you can, bring a magnifying glass to examine “for imperfections like cracks or fissures in the stones or the gold work. Bear in mind, however, that hand-made jewelry will always have some imperfections, and that is part of its beauty.”

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Gem Palace jewelers craft exquisite pieces.
Primping up Your Portfolio?

Sure, you’re wildly investing in your 401k—at least, you know you should be—but should you think about your jewelry shopping with the same tough-minded approach you use to pick your stocks and bonds?

Well, yes and no. As Kasliwal explains, diamonds are good investments: “There’s more and more of a demand and less of those diamonds around.” In fact, most precious stones—rubies, emeralds, and sapphires—are good investments, because they’re sure to rise in value. And Sammi points out that in traditional Indian jewelry, it’s not rough-cut rubies that will provide value, but rather the weight of the gold. But it’s unclear as to how good an investment that really is—while gold prices have been rising in the past few years, that hasn’t always been the case. So when shopping for jewels, keep in mind that investment value isn’t always set in stone—though there might be times when purchasing that piece turns out to be a smart financial move.

But. Both Kasliwal and Sammi agree that when it comes time to buy jewelry, you should leave your excel sheet at home. What’s really important is not the investment value (which is almost impossible to predict)—it’s how that sparkly something makes you feel. Buying jewelry should be about “what looks good on the person and has the pleasure of wearing it. Jewelry is a funny thing, because you make a pair of earrings in multicolored sapphires, and someone tries it, and on her it doesn’t look as good as the same design in tourmaline,” says Kasliwal. Sammi is passionate about the emotions that jewels evoke: “You have to be able to enjoy things. You can’t just buy jewelry because it’s going to hold its value. They’re ornaments—they’re here to make you feel beautiful and glamorous and happy.” n

Nakasha Ahmad doesn’t do shiny very often—but she does go all out for weddings.
Published on June 18, 2007.
Photography: Header image by courtesy of Jaipur Gems. (Gold necklace, earrings and bracelet with fine engraving studded with white kundan.)
Comments are closed.
  1. August 7, 2007, 2:38 pm Rahmania

    Hey,
    Happy to see Jaipur Gems here! wonderful stores and highly design and quality oriented. Not many people share knowledge in india the way the two brothers do over there.

    Good luck!

    Rahmania

  2. October 15, 2008, 12:56 pm GAGANDEEP SINGH LUTHRA

    i like ur design good antique work send more
    pic of antique work i gave u oder

    gagan

  3. November 9, 2008, 9:17 am sanchit dureja

    want to purchase sea pearl.