Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Kundan, Polki and Meenakari

India, the land of plenty, has been known for the great diamonds, gemstones and jewelry from the ages of rajas and maharajas and before. The jewels from India are priceless and some of the techniques that were passed on from generation to generation are incomparable.

One such technique is the Kundan jewelry which came from parts of North India and is practiced all over the country with variations.

Gorgeous neck piece from Art Karat in silver based Kundan art

Way before the standard proportions of a round brilliant cut diamond were decided upon, and even before the shape of a diamond itself was defined, craftsmen cut the beautiful raw diamonds in whatever shape was desired by the design of the final product.
Gorgeous neckpiece from Art Karat in silver based Kundan art
In those days, diamonds and other 'uncut' stones were set in the only form of setting that the craftsmen knew, a technique which came to be known as 'kundan'.

Kundan means pure gold and very much like the name suggests, very fine hand beaten sheets of pure gold sheets were hammered together in form of cups or holders or containers to hold the diamond. Each 'cup' was filled with a natural glue like blackish colored substance called 'lac'. This was then covered by a very fine film of pure silver which was used simply to cover the lac and gave a background to the diamond to make it look a bit shiny. The diamond was then 'pressed' in the lac and the edges of the cup were gently pressed onto the edges to secure the stone in place. Once the lac dried up, it would harden thus holding the stone in place.

To give a well groomed finish, the reverse side of the products was beautifully decorated by a technique called meenakari or minakari.
Kundan and pink tourmalines set beautifully in 22K gold kundan art

22K gold kundan thumb ring
This ring looks fabulous for wedding outfits and when you want to get that dramatic Indian look
You can also adorn this on your ring finger or coordinate with the hathphool

Beautiful dressy kundan neckpiece in 22K gold

Reverse of the same neckpiece with very intricate meenakari work

At the time when very little was known about diamonds and imitations, every stone which was set in this technique fell into the category of 'kundan', but eventually, instead of diamonds some artisans started using glass in their products. Rubies, emeralds, sapphire and semi precious stones were already being set in the kundan form of jewelry. To add color to the products, enamel work was done wherever required which made it more appealing and better finished.

Gradually, the distinction of a diamond from the glass being used in these products was categorised by another technique called 'polki'. Very little is known about when the word polki was used initially to describe uncut diamonds but when it was used, it came to define the kundan art that used uncut natural diamonds and 'kundan' itself was a word that was used to describe glass imitations of the same.

The technical difference between polki and kundan is that 'polki' uses real diamonds and kundan fancies 'glass' imitations of the same. Because kundan is more expensive, therefore the craftsmanship used in kundan products is more refined.

Polki pendant

Kundan necklet and earring set
The neck piece can be strung on reddish pink bead strings, colored raw silk cord or gold chain

Polki is also created in non-precious and other precious materials such as silver. A new art called "Hyderabadi Polki' has recently come into the market. This technique is very similar to the kundan art but there is a difference of the metals which are used. The artisan uses a combination of silver and gold to create a white and yellow gold look, using the of silver and the contrast of gold to his advantage. Usually real uncut diamonds are used in these products and the value of the product depends completely on the design and labor that went into creating each piece.
Toe rings from Art Karat in silver

In this technique, the form of the design is created then stones are temporarily set around the design in a mosaic form. 'Rings' of metal are created to fit each stone as it has been set in the mosaic pattern. The rings are then connected to each other by manual linking and the stones are set in. This form of setting the stone looks very interesting but does not justify the use of diamonds and other light colored stones since there is loss of brilliance of the diamonds and other stones. The technique is unique, looks very royal in bigger sizes and intriguing in smaller.

Beautiful design in open polki work done in 22K gold

Open Polki in a wonderful contemporary design with traditional color combination

The enamel work done on a metal surface is known as meenakari. The word Meena stands for enamel and the work 'kari' is the art.
Meena (enamel) + Kari (the art) = meenakari (art of enameling)
To finish the reverse side of precious jewels, experienced craftsmen would enamel the product with various colors made of natural and treated substances.

Glass and other colored stones are crushed into very fine powder and prepared for enameling. Nowadays, chemicals including cobalt oxide, ferrous salts, copper salts and some other salts are used to enhance or create the color used in enameling jewelry. This is mixed in with various catalysts depending on the metal and color used.

This powder mixture is laid carefully in predefined boundaries of metal created by either soldering very fine outlines in gold or by hammering into the metal to create grooves where the color should fill in. The color is then 'blown' in by heat torches to melt and fuse in with the metal surface. The trick of the art is to get the heat to just the right temperature where it will melt and fuse the glass into the metal without over heating it and getting it foggy or over melting the surface of the metal.

The final effect of meenakari gives a look similar to stained glass paintings. This technique has further been evolved into thewa art work but the original version in itself looks gorgeous to b with. You can get a range of colors, textures, shades and looks with meenakari which would be otherwise impossible to create in jewelry.

To find out more about the art or technique of how any of the above mentioned technique works, please feel free to write to me at surbhi.s.gupta@gmail.com
To find out about the prices of any of the designs above or to see a wider range of products please feel free to reach me at surbhi.s.gupta@gmail.com


To find out more about the art or technique of how any of the above mentioned technique works, please feel free to write to me at surbhi.s.gupta@gmail.com
To find out about the prices of any of the designs above or to see a wider range of products please feel free to reach me at surbhi.s.gupta@gmail.com

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Jewelry shopping at the Oak Tree Road

When you go out to the Oak tree road in NJ to buy jewelry, you will be confused, apprehensive, doubtful and yet, above all, tempted to buy. What is the reality behind those gorgeous jewels from that Indian illaka? Read further to get gyaan (information) about shopping for jewelry at the Oak tree road.

Material quality:
The jewelers who are jewelry educated are the ones who present the best options.are the only ones you can trust. They know for sure if their stones are synthetic, treated, untreated, imitations or natural. They know the difference between better and worse quality of manufacturing, stones and metals.
Once you know that the jeweler is educated, then you would move on to determine whether or not he is giving out the truth to his client. That is the trickier part.
For the most part, and I may be wrong, but Sona Jewelers, Raj Jewelers, Neena and RK all held high standards of quality. Each of them had educated staff and experienced owners. Some of the others such as Abhushan despite the label of a "good brand" carried some stones which despite being clearly synthetic were declared as natural. This may be the error of uneducated staff, shrewd marketing tactic, or for those who care, my own misunderstanding, but either ways, the consumer would have to bear the loss.

Manufacturing quality:
Most jewelers small and big retained a variety of goods with various manufacturing quality. Good quality is determined by wearability, accessories, detailing, finish, durability, symmetry, appeal and of course design. The product should fit well on the wearers body, it should be wearable without any pricks and unnecessary stick outs which would catch the fabric.
The earring post (stems) should be of comfortable length. They should have easy to wear but secure clasps. The weight should be well balanced and any additional chain (kanauti etc) should be suggested when required.
The chain of neck pieces should be comfortable and smooth. Rings should be comfortable to wear. Bangles should have secure locks which are easy to operate single handed.
The pieces should look visually symmetrical when required and otherwise go along with the design.
The locks and clasps of various ornaments should compliment the design, be secure, not take up too much material value and easy to operate. The stones set in a design should be evenly matched by color and cut. They should be set securely with proportionate amount of metal showing out of the design.
The product should be flexible or else the movement in the product should follow the design.
At the Oak tree road, the jewelry as I mentioned, showed me varying trends of quality. At some places the stones were great, but the setting not that great. At others, you could see too much metal or negative space. But for the most part, Indian handcrafted jewelry is the best in the world, and that sure reflected in the jewelry at the Oak tree road.

Design choice:
Some of the best choices in Indian jewelry designs are available at the Oak tree road. My favorites happened to be at the Neena Jewelers and the Sona Jewelers. The others did have a few interesting 'almost- there' concepts but really missed on getting me to write about them. What I liked the most at the Neena was their polki collection and at Sona was the diamond and colored stone collection.

Engagement rings and loose diamonds:
The classic American engagement rings at any of the Indian jewelry stores are pretty much the same to look at as any other American jewelry store such as Walmart, Kay, Zales etc. The difference is the prices. I had expected some out of the world difference in the prices but unfortunately the only difference I noticed was that the Indian store carried the same diamond quality in higher prices if not the competitive as most other chain jewelry stores. Walmart, Blueniles and Zales all had cheaper stones than did ANY of the Indian stores.
Logic: The Indian stores sell to you at the Rappaport price minus 300 to 400 $ per carat of stone which is negligible. The chain stores have a HUGE variety with numerous number of discounts which makes them more competitive. All you need is basic diamond education to buy the stone and you should be good to go.

Colored Stones and Birthstones:
Pukhraj, Mani, Neelam, Moonga, Rudraksh etc would have been difficult stones to buy had it not been for the jewelers at the Oak tree road. It is still tough to buy these stones since they are expensive and there is so much that you can get swindled because of that you cannot be sure enough of what you buy at the Oak tree road as well. There is always this option of getting the stones from India (which I would highly suggest if you have reliable sources in India). The best looking stones that I saw were at the RK jewelers and Sona jewelers. Not only were their stones good to look at but also the jewelers at least KNEW what they were talking about. They charge you a BOMB but that I think is the price for getting the honest ethical information about the stones that you buy. Especially for pukhraj, since the market is so weak, without competition from any of the angreji brands, it is easy to hike the prices.
Just an interesting place to visit in case you are looking for COMPLETE declaration of the stone that you are buying, visit http://www.thenaturalsapphirecompany.com/ It is one of my favorite companies and though expensive their products and information both are genuine and very welcoming.

Now this is the BIGGEST question that I'm sure all of you have. So here are some answers that I hope will help you make a decision:
As compared to similar jewelry bought from India, the prices are VERY HIGH. Unless you have reason to buy immediately, you simply LOVE something or have no source of buying from India, I would say do NOT buy Indian jewelry from America. The reason is simple, the designs are same, the material is evaluated, but the manufacturing is from India.
You must keep in mind that in buying from the Oak tree road, you are actually paying for the maintenance of that high priced real estate, the high paid sales staff, the high overhead charges, the money spent on taxes, inventory maintenance, export duty and other charges and MOST of all, you are paying for that middle man (or the number of middle men) who make it possible for this jewelry to reach you in NJ.
As compared to similar Indian looking handcrafted jewelry bought in US from an American store such as the Fords Jeweler, the prices are really reasonable. The reason is because here in US the labor cost for a hand manufacturer often exceed the cost of material. Indian stores as I may have mentioned buy jewelry from the Indian manufacturers and can afford to give better prices than at least the American stores.
Loose Diamonds and contemporary/western jewelry as compared to the American stores is comparable if not cheaper at the AMERICAN chain jewelry stores. The reason is simple, you can compare at stores where you get good discounts on good buying days such as Thanks giving, Mothers day etc or on special sale events. This jewelry is usually mass manufactured and comes from China and India. The over head costs are divided and what you get can be as I mentioned, comparable if not cheaper than the Indian stores. You must keep in mind the added benefits of buying from Macys, Walmart, Bluenile etc... the benefit of being able to return, exchange, upgrade or sue.

One of the biggest advantage of buying product in US is the consumer friendly environment. You buy a diamond from Costco today and a year later you simply "feel" it is not right... you can return it with no hard feelings, no questions asked and no obligation of buying another product instead. In short, you have complete freedom of buying a product, getting comfortable with it, comparing it for prices, living with it and really OWNING it. When buying from an Indian store, you have no way of getting a product evaluated before paying for it. You have this immense responsibility of making a decision in the store under those beautiful lights which make every stone sparkle like a diamond and worst of all, if after your purchase, you take it to another jeweler and he tells you it is not half the value of what you paid, you will have to live with the worst feeling of either having to live with that wasted money or else the guilt of returning it to the jeweler who will definitely not make it easy for you to return the piece.

The product design on the Oak tree road at various jewelers is unmatched by many others in US. The prices are exorbitant if you can manage to buy directly from India, but if not then these are very competitively priced beautiful goods. The quality of material is not something that you can blindly buy even from the Indian stores in US, you HAVE to rely on your own instincts and education to buy safely. It is better to buy Indian designs from the Indian stores but buy the Western designs (common ones especially) from the chain jewelry US stores. Buy loose stones online with a proper GIA certificate or else from a well known chain store but definitely NOT from the Indian stores and not from India unless your immediate kin in India polishes diamonds.

Best advise:
You can always write to me at surbhi.s.gupta@gmail.com to ask more about buying jewelry from ANY store in NJ especially if it is from the Oak tree road. I would love to hear your comments and some more about your own experience at buying jewelry from the Oak tree road.
To listen to my radio show, tune in to 1170 am EBC Radio Tuesdays 10-12 noon. Or else log on to www.ebcmusic.com on Tuesdays 10-12 noon.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The thing about buying diamonds from Costco

Costco was my favorite store to buy anything and everything... till the day I started looking out for a diamond. With their 100 % return - no questions asked policy you could be sure of buying the best of everything from Costco. But read on to get the real picture.

With the search of 'the perfect ring' while helping a friend, I went into Costco, picked up the jewelry pamphlet which described their diamonds as select pieces and that they carry only the higher ranges in the 4 Cs.

Now for anybody who would be least interested in the 4 Cs of a diamond, these are the 4 basic description of the properties of a diamond namely, Clarity, Color, Cut and Carat.

Clarity: Describes the 'internal inclusions' in a diamond and runs from the grade of F (Flawless), IF (Internally Flawless), VVS (Very very slightly included), VS (Very Slightly included), SI (Slightly included) and I (Included). Costco claims that the diamonds that they sell range from VS and above. This is very much above average clarity grade.

Color: The whiter the diamond, the more colorless it is and hence more expensive. The color range of diamond ranges from D (being the best) to Z onwards to fancy colors. Costco uses diamonds from the range of near colorless or the color "I" and better which is good.

Carat: This is the weight of the diamond and can start from anywhere from 0.005 in round brilliant cuts to ~. Costco starts the sale of loose round brilliant cut from 1 ct and bigger something that relies upon your personal preference and budget.

Cut: Now this is usually the most neglected and yet an integral of the 4 Cs of a diamond. The cut of a diamond is that which describes the quality of cut of a diamond as Signature Ideal, Ideal, Excellent, very good, good, poor or very poor. A well cut diamond with appropriate proportions is probably the most important factor that determines the final brilliance, fire and scintillation produced by that diamond. The difference between the price of a poor cut diamond vs an excellent cut when all other parameters are the same, can be as much as 4 times lower.

Unfortunately, in my observations of the diamonds for sale on Costco many of them do not acknowledge the cut of the stone that you are looking at.
As I dwelt further into the concern, I realized that several stones at Costco have a GIA certificate which clearly indicates the 4 Cs and other important factors describing the worth and describe the value of those diamonds, but several others have no such indication.

Instead, the jewelry brochure of Costco clearly states that they use round brilliant cut diamonds of very high standards but no real mention of exactly what is that cut.

Shape: This describes the peripheral shape in which a diamond has been cut/ polished. It can be a round brilliant with 51/52 facets, princess cut (square), baguette (rectangle), trillion (triangle), cushion cut, heart shape, oval, emerald (rectangle step cut), or other fancy shapes. This is something that Costco just as any store tells the customer with pride... round brilliant cut.

Currently I await a reply from the customer service at Costco about this concern. But where my own judgement comes into play, I feel sort of cheated with partial information from costco. The thing about buying a diamond is that there are 2 parts to it... identify the worth of your diamond by judging the 4 Cs and other physical characterstics of the individual piece and then getting finally getting it for a good value. I am very sure Costco gives you value, but what I want is also to know whether or not the product is worth it.

Read more.. Comparing Tiffany diamonds with Costco
Silver Jewelry from Costco a Good Value?