Jewellery

Kundan jewellery: The history and intricate craft behind the bridal favourite

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A staple heirloom in jewellery kits, kundan pieces assume special significance in the country. With deep roots in the royal era of fore, the prized craft of kundan jewellery has been lovingly passed down through generations. Heritage jewellery designer Sunita Shekhawat would have you know that the meticulous amount of labour and precision that goes into crafting each piece results in one-of-a-kind creations. Which is why you’ll have no trouble spotting this signature style in the jewellery cases of Kareena Kapoor Khan, Sonam Kapoor Ahuja, Mira Kapoor and more. Here, the Jaipur-based designer draws up an all-you-need-to-know guide on this revered jewellery form.

What is kundan jewellery?

Kundan is a form of jewellery made from gold, usually with a core of wax. The term ‘kundan’ itself means highly refined pure gold, and this type of jewellery generally involves 24k pure gold. Kundan jewellery holds credit as one of the oldest forms of jewellery in India with a rich legacy of over 2,500 years. Since 24 karats are a little softer, a complete jewellery piece cannot be made from it—only the jadayi part is done in 24 karats, which is ultimately known as kundan. The art of making kundan is also known as jadau jewellery.

What can you tell us about the history of kundan jewellery?

The origins of kundan jewellery date back to the Rajput and Mughal era, as it is one of the oldest jewellery crafts in India. This style was brought to the country many centuries ago, where it flourished under the patronage of the Mughals. It was then successfully adapted by the royal families of India. Today, you can find traces of art and craftsmanship from the Mughal and Rajput era in this kind of jewellery.

What is the procedure of crafting kundan jewellery?

The process of making kundan jewellery starts with the making of ghat in 22 karat gold, which is known as gadhayi—unique pieces structured with golden strips. The image of a typical mould-like framework is set according to the design, using thin golden strips which are then cut, coiled and shaped. This is the most important step to establish the foundation of the piece. The second step is khudayi, which involves engraving the outer surface with the required designs and patterns. The framework is filled with lac (a type of wax) or gold, and then engraved in this process. This step basically includes etching the planned pattern or design on the surface of the jewellery piece.

This is followed by meenakari, wherein the engraved patterns on the gold surface are then filled with various natural colours. Finally, to enhance the beauty of the jewellery, jadayi is done for setting precious, rare stones like diamonds, polkis, emeralds, sapphires and rubies into the piece. This process involves setting the gem by inserting a gold foil between the stones and their mount. They are then placed on the surface of the jewellery piece and supported by the gold foiling for sufficient grip.

How long does it take to craft one piece of kundan jewellery?

Kundan pieces are extremely intricate and involve a lot of skilled labour. Each piece is hand-finished, which translates into countless hours of hard work by skilled artisans. The time taken to craft a small piece of kundan jewellery could vary anywhere between two to four months, depending on the craftsmanship and the intricacy of the chosen design.

What are the most common motifs used in kundan jewellery?

There is no predetermined criteria for using specific motifs in kundan jewellery. However, the most common sources of inspiration include nature and architecture. Different aspects of these are employed to construct the motifs, with florals being a recurring favourite. The beautiful shapes of tulips, lotuses and carnations are usually immortalised within the motifs of the pieces.

How has the art of kundan evolved over the years?

Traditionally, kundan jewellery includes very detailed and intricate designs. Earlier, it was only crafted for royal families. Over the years, this jewellery style has evolved and it has been copied in silver metal as well. Once the commercialisation took root, this jewellery form became available to the common man too. Since its accessibility has increased, the quality of workmanship has reduced in comparison to the previous era. Now, only selected artisans can be trusted for authentic, quality work. Ideally, a piece that used to take three to four months to complete is now manufactured in a month’s time.

How can one identify real kundan from fake pieces?

Adequate knowledge of real kundan pieces is extremely important while shopping. A basic understanding of jewellery and craftsmanship is essential to make out the difference between fake and real pieces. However, since kundan jewellery is set in 24 karat gold, it should come with quality certifications from the jeweller. You can also check for authentic stamps on the jewellery pieces to cut down the risk of fakes.

What is the cultural significance of kundan jewellery for brides?

The elegant and graceful look of kundan is always in demand for weddings. Traditional Indian jewellery has always been rather heavy, consisting of voluminous gold pieces. With the change in times, kundan jewellery is now being made lighter in weight, and has gained new-found popularity among Indian brides. Every bride wants to look like a queen on her big day, and this form of jewellery was favoured by royals for a reason. Often, heavy diamond sets can’t complement the traditional bridal attire the way kundan jewellery does.

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