With her patrician looks, signature pearls and pastel French chiffon saris, Jaipur’s Maharani Gayatri was the very epitome of elegance and style. It would be foolish to underestimate the power of those lustrous pearls, for in a way they remind us of Jaipur’s historic association with the finest gems and jewels that India has long been envied for. When Jaipur’s jewellery traditions blow you away, you will unfailingly recall how this gorgeous maharani was ranked amongst the most beautiful women in the world and lauded for her style and grace while travelling abroad with her handsome husband, Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II.
If anyone knew about how to enhance the beauty of those gemstones, Maharani Gayatri would be one of the most accomplished to speak of such things. In her memoir, A Princess Remembers she shares how her granny taught her never to wear emeralds with a green sari as they look so much better with pink. She learned quickly that even simple chiffon was just the perfect foil for bringing out the beauty of a large gemstone necklace or earrings, or to team a heavier sari with delicate jewellery.
In 1727, when Maharaja Jai Singh II was planning his new capital, Jaipur, which was to replace Amber the old bastion of the Kachhwaha rulers, one of the most important things he envisaged was a dedicated place in the market for artisans of every hue. As you wander around the bazaar in the Old Quarter of the walled city of Jaipur, the Johari Bazaar, or the jewellery market, will be a firm reminder of Maharaja Jai Singh II as a connoisseur of the arts, crafts and culture and his upholding of these great traditions.
Furthermore, to make the new capital Jaipur a flourishing hub of commerce and enterprise, the maharaja encouraged gemstone cutters and jewellery makers from traditional centres such as Agra, Delhi and Varanasi to settle there, along with artisans from other disciplines. With the patronage of no less a luminary than the maharaja himself, and the nobility from his court, it was no surprise that the tradition of making jewellery flourished apace in Jaipur. Notable in this trade was the Persian jewel craft of minakari (enameling on precious metals) for which Jaipur is even today justly famed. While Varanasi is famous for its pink minkari, Jaipur is lauded for its red mina work. It is also a reputed name for gemstones used to create stunning jewels of the highest calibre. A steady supply of raw materials for the artisans over time ensured that the business of gem cutting and polishing, and jewellery making, was here to stay in Jaipur. The city today is the largest stone-cutting centre in the world.
Jaipur continued to strengthen its reputation for this expertise and by the 19th century was importing emeralds from Columbia and rubies from Burma to adorn its maharajas and maharanis. Over time, the city expanded its canvas of expertise and painted it with a rainbow of hues of many imported gemstones; even pearls came into the ambit of this grand scheme of things for its accomplished artisans skilled in also carving, bead-making, stringing, manufacture of objets d’art and fine jewellery.
Spend a leisurely time browsing through Johari Bazaar where minakari experts and coloured stone cutters and polishers and stone jewellery artisans have, by tradition, been plying their craft since Jaipur was established. Located here is Tallin, a bespoke jewel house which offers the superb range of jewellery in which is embedded the rich confluence of Jaipur traditions and contemporary trends. Embodied in this seamless marriage are elements of organic and geometric designed pieces backed by high-quality workmanship. Tallin’s expertise is rooted in years of trading in gemstones and natural diamonds with global jewellery houses.
Straddling the iconic MI Road is Gem Palace, established in the 16th century by the Kasliwal family. Pioneers in minakari jewellery Gem Palace has catered to the needs of kings, queens and nobles ever since. It has long been renowned for kundan-style jewellery, featuring uncut Golconda diamonds created for maharajas. Gem Palace was appointed as the official supplier of jewellery to the Vicereine of India, the Marchioness of Linlithgow. Nine generations of Jaipur’s Kasliwals have kept alive this precious legacy of beautifully crafted jewellery traditions and workmanship on superb natural diamonds and gems.
Jaipur’s Surana Jewellers have been serving royalty from the 1700s. With the onset of colonial rule in the 1900s, it started catering to the wealthy Brits and burgeoning Indian merchant class. Kundan jewellery for traditional Indian weddings is still the heart of Surana Jewellers’ offerings, though it has quickly adjusted to the spreading demand for more modern classic designs, whilst still showcasing its brilliance in its craft of bold enamel colours and polki diamonds. Birdhichand Ghanshyamdas Jewellers have served as goldsmiths to some maharajas from the 1700s. Its leading lights have been traditional kundan-mina jewellery with polki diamonds, which are a great delight for its Rajasthani clientele. A unique experience can be enjoyed at Amrapali, an enterprise which was inspired by two entrepreneurial history students back in 1978. Amrapali is popular for its tribal-inspired jewellery and traditional kundan work.
There are two places you in Jaipur which need to be on your bucket list as a jewellery buff; and they both offer the full measure of Jaipur’s standing as a gem and jewellery hub, including all aspects of coloured stone cutting, wholesale trading, jewellery design, manufacturing, and retail. These two establishments are the Museum of Gem and Jewellery and the recently launched museum–Khazana Mahal, a joint effort of Indian Jewellers from New York and Jaipur traders, with its 2,000 pieces of real and rare gemstones and jewellery, near Parshuram Dwar. Also unmissable is the Amrapali Museum, with its spectacular display on Ashoka Road.
Repeat visits are very much on the cards to delve deeper into the legacy of Jaipur’s astonishing art of jewellery design and gemstone business, whose tentacles have reached across the globe for their excellence and expertise.