A whirlwind History of Indian Jewellery
Updated: Apr 30
To celebrate today’s launch of Buying Gemstones and Jewellery in India, I’m going to give you a whirlwind introduction to the history of Indian jewellery!
It’s hard to overstate the importance of gemstones and jewellery in India. From earliest times to the modern day, gemstones and jewellery have played a huge part in Indian culture, adornment and religion.
Our earliest evidence of Indian jewellery takes us back 5000 years to burial sites in the Indus valley. The artefacts found there, now on display in Delhi’s National Museum, showcase the emerging skill of the craftsmen of the Indus Valley civilisation. Tubular beads were carved from a variety of gemstones, including agate, feldspar and carnelian, and decorated with patterns, dots and lines.
As the centuries passed, Indian jewellers developed new techniques and became even more adept at metal working and gemstone cutting. India was until relatively recently the world’s main producer of gemstones. This meant that the craftsmen of India had plenty of opportunity to develop their skills and today, though gemstone mining has declined significantly, India is still known for the expertise of its gemstone cutters.
Indian jewellery and gemstones weren’t simply a statement of status and wealth but were—and still are—important in religious worship and observance. Perhaps the most well-known example of this is the Navaratna (‘Nine Gems’) jewellery. In the Navaratna, the nine gemstones represent nine Indian deities associated with the planets. The particular arrangement of a Navaratna piece is often tailored to the individual according to the reading of astrological charts to make sure that the gemstones are utilised to their best effect.
It was in the Mughal empire that Indian jewellery had its heyday. From the early 16th to the mid 19th centuries, this dynasty produced some of the most spectacular adornments ever made. Intricate pieces, lavishly decorated with gemstones, enamel and filigree gold and silver helped make the wealth of the Mughal Emperors famous across the globe. You can see examples of Mughal jewellery in many of the world’s famous museums, including London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.
Today, jewellery is still very much part of everyday life in India. Fashion jewellery (everyday jewellery made from cheaper materials) is favoured by the younger generations as it’s more affordable and means the wearer is less likely to be mugged. More expensive jewellery is worn on special occasions like weddings and each piece not only has religious significance but is also believed to have health implications.
To find out more about the jewellery of India and get yourself a signed copy of my latest book, do come along to the Institute of Directors on the 14th of May from 7pm. I’ll be there to answer your questions and talk about my amazing experiences researching gemstones and jewellery in India.
See you there!
Kim Rix GG (GIA)
Be sure. Be smart. Buy with confidence.