Indian Style JewelryGalavante Confidential - Analyzing the Commodities Market: 22 Karat Gold
This may not be the Gold Rush of the Wild, Wild West, but the global demand for gold in 2011 sure looked like it. Gold demand in dollar value in 2011 was at a record high, totalling over $200 billion for the first time in history. Marcus Grubb, Managing Director at the World Gold Council, commented, “What we can see from these 2011 figures is that there were two main factors driving the results: Asian growth and optimism on the one hand and western desire to protect assets against uncertainty on the other.” Whether you’re a commodities trader or just looking for the perfect adornment for your wrist, 2011 global gold demand has made your purchases worth a pretty little penny or, in the case of India, a pretty little rupee.
China and India are the greatest consumers of gold, both for investment and jewelry. Together, they generate 55% of jewelry demand and 49% of global demand. Between the two, India dominated in 2011 for both currency reasons and to meet the needs of the wedding season. No joke. The Indian wedding season, which starts in late September and runs until December, historically creates spikes in gold prices. This is no small business, either; the value of jewelry demand in 2011 exceeded $99 billion, or just under half of the overall global demand for gold.
From north to south, and east to west, you’ll find gold for sale everywhere in India. But, don’t be seduced by just any gold vendor. “Although 22k gold jewelry is sold all over India, the city of Delhi has all the well-known brands and established jewelers,” says Jyoti Singhvi, owner of Jyoti New York and a seventh-generation jeweler whose family comes from Rajasthan in Northern India.
Where to go in Delhi? Look no further than the narrow lanes of Dariba Kalan, which are a gold mine, no pun intended. In Emperor Jahan’s time, Dariba Kalan was a bustling market where the locals went to buy their gems and gold. Today, with its pedicabs fighting for space amid Sari-clad shoppers and hawkers selling street food, it’s one of many places in Delhi where jewelry is the star of the show.
Singhvi says that jewelry has always been significant in Indian culture. For centuries, it has been an important part of women’s lives and is often given as a gift at milestones such as birth, marriage, and motherhood. It has also served as a practical way to provide financial security in tough times. The continued rise in the worldwide prices of gold and silver seems to support the wisdom of this.
One of the most popular types of traditional Indian jewelry is Kundankari – popularly called Kundan – a must-have for Indian weddings. Kundan are 22k gold necklaces, earrings and bracelets embedded with precious and semiprecious stones. Made famous by the 16th-century Rajasthan maharajas and maharanis, Kundankari is frequently set with rubies, emeralds, and polki (uncut) diamonds.
Bhagwan Dass & Son in Dariba Kalan carries a small but classy collection of vintage Kundan jewelry. A pair of delicious 22k teardrop earrings inlaid with polki diamonds and a small, smooth sapphire stone swinging gently from each base will set you back about $600. These earrings would be twice or three times that in the US – if you could even find them.
For a modern take on traditional gold, Ganjam Jewelers – established over a hundred years ago in Bangalore – is one of India’s preeminent preservers of the dying art of Carnatic jewelry. Inspired by South Indian temple architecture, these intricate pieces involve chiseling designs on gold and fashioning precious stones into the ornament. Pieces such as a peacock-like necklace of gold with diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and other gems gleam up at customers from crystal-clear glass cases. Prices begin at $5,000 and can go upwards of several hundred thousand dollars. The Ganjam staff are gracious enough to let you try anything on, giving you the chance to imagine what it must have been like to live as Indian royalty a century ago.
But how does a visitor know they’re paying a fair price, let alone getting the real deal? Jyoti says smart investors should look for pieces that are stamped with a 22k hallmark on the back; shop at well-known and older, established jewelers; and ask local friends or the hotel concierge for recommendations. Also, bargain hard but turn on the charm when you’re in reputable establishments.
If all else fails, Jyoti suggests taking a second look at the price being asked. “If the piece you are buying is being sold only by the weight of the gold, it’s probably not 22k,” she says, “since that would not account for the labor or gemstones. In that case, it’s more likely you are being sold a 20k piece with stones of questionable quality.”
While some investors think a romantic overture is gifting a share of Berkshire Hathaway stock to that special someone, our advice is to opt for a little token of gold. At these prices and in this global economic climate, you can justify it as an investment upside––and for the pleasure it’ll bring when wearing it.