Friday, March 05, 2010

Kundan... the technique revisited

Ages ago when the only technique of diamond polishing that the artisans of Old India knew were to grind one surface and polish it till it shone like mirror, the origin of the Kundan technique happened.

· The word ‘Kundan’ means Pure gold. And that is exactly what this technique of setting stones required. A collet or cup was made out of pure gold sheets.
· The various parts of the jewel were put into place and fixed in the form of necklaces, earrings, bangles etc and soldered into place.
· The reverse would be carved or etched to create a base for the finishing which was Meenakari or enamel work. Real precious and semi-precious stones were ground into fine power and mixed with catalysts to fill into these grooves and ‘fixed’ into place by blowing them till they melted into place as beautiful colors.
· It could be hammered or beaten into shape to fit uncut or cabochon cut diamonds of size. This was filled with lac or lacquer from trees which was hardened just enough to solidify around the base of the gold cup.
· A very thin foil of pure silver was then spread very carefully on the lacquer layer to cover the black completely.
· On this clean shiny bed of silver foil, the cleanest or shiniest surface of the uncut or cabochon cut diamond and precious colored stone was placed so that it would shine as much as a mirror would. Only the best of colors with highest of clarity grade of diamond were used.
· Finally very fine foils of pure gold were gently pressed down into the fine gaps and spaces around the diamond to ‘set’ it in position. This was one of the slowest and painstaking part of the work since based on this the final look of the jewelry product could change dramatically.

The origins of Kundan are unknown but the guesswork of knowledgeable people indicates that this beautiful technique was born in the Northern parts of India. Over a period of time, the shiny mirror like look of Kundan was translated with the use of glass and other colorless stones to cut the cost of the final product. The meenakari was replaced with pen enamel, a technique much easier than the actual blow torch Meena work. Nowadays, Kundan simply means the use of glass, quartz and other non-diamond stones and semi-precious stones in the same technique. The lacquer now involves the use of synthetic glue and finally the gold foils used to ‘press’ down the stones is replaced with gold wire.

The simple reason for all these simple changes is to reduce the cost of making Kundan jewelry by material as well as labor costs.

So when you go out to buy Kundan jewelry you must know that the gold may be 22K and the stones may be glass. What you will be paying for is the design and the look of the product and not so much for the material used or the labor that went into making this product.

Coming up next... Polki- uncut diamonds from the raw

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