The Magic Of Antique Jewellery
The J Mag|August 2019

The story of India’s fascination with jewellery begins 5,000 years ago in the Indus Valley.

Spanning a legacy of 5,000 years, the jewellery of India is a striking expression of the country’s aesthetic and cultural history. The small number of jewels that have survived from different periods and different parts of the country, references in literature, texts on gemology, myths, legends and chronicles provide evidence of a tradition without parallel in the world. for Indian women, jewellery was, and is, in many parts considered a social and economic security, the value of which will almost always appreciate, never depreciate.

For more than 2,000 years, India was the sole supplier of gemstones to the world. Golconda diamonds, sapphires from Kashmir and pearls from the Gulf of Mannar were coveted and drew merchants across land and sea to India. For the rulers, jewels were a statement of power, prosperity and prestige. But for Indian women, jewellery was, and is, in many parts considered a social and economic security, the value of which will almost always appreciate, never depreciate.

At that time, India was the largest manufacturer and exporter of beads to the world. India was also home to the diamond and invented the diamond drill, which was then taught to the Romans.The craftsmen of the Indus Valley Civilisation used semi-precious material like carnelian, agate, turquoise, faience, steatite and feldspar, fashioning them into tubular or barrel shapes, decorating them with carvings, bands, dots and patterns, or setting them minutely with gold.

Going by the jewellery they made and wore, the ancient people of the Indus Valley Civilisation were an extremely sophisticated lot with a finely developed aesthetic sense, backed by intricate engineering skills. Take for instance the necklace excavated from Mohenjodaro now on display at the jewellery gallery of the National Museum in Delhi.

Despite the relative simplicity of these early pieces, Indian jewellery was about to become much more complex in its style and workmanship. In the 2,000 years after the decline of Mohenjodaro, the Indian craftsman had polished his skills immensely. So there’s delicate filigree work on gold, embossing work and detailed micro-granulations on the pendants of a pair of large earrings that date back to this period.

The sculptures at Bharhut, Sanchi and Amaravati and the paintings at Ajanta depict a wide range of jewellery worn by man and woman, by king and commoner.While Silappadikaram, an ancient Tamil classic of the Sangam era, talks of a society dealing in gold, pearls and precious stones, the chronicles of Paes, a Portuguese traveller, describes the dazzling jewellery worn by the people of the Vijayanagar empire.

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