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Gems Kundan And Meenakari Jewellery

Delhi is home to two very unique kinds of jewellery forms, namely Meenakari and Kundan, which were particularly patronized by the Mughals. Both the jewellery types are extremely intricate. Many craftsmen in Delhi continue to make ancient jewellery in traditional and modern forms.

Ancient Art Form

Kundan is the oldest form of jewelry making, an art that prospered during the Mughal era. It started specifically in the state of Rajasthan. The word ‘Kundan’ in Sanskrit means refined pure gold. In Kundan jewelry, the purest form of molten gold is used for setting the stones. It is a handmade art and no machines are used in their making.

Creation of Kundan Jewellery

Each individual piece of Kundan Jewelry involves a team work with each craftsman working on a separate specialized portion. Holes are cut for the gems, the gold foil is engraved and the stones or gems are then set into it. The core of the ornament is made out of lac or laakh, a natural tree resin. Lac is inserted into the holes and highly refined gold or Kundan is used to cover the lac and gems are then fitted into the Kundan.

Traditional Kundan jewellery has stones engraved on one side and Meenakari work on the reverse side. Some of the stones used in Kundan Jewelry include emerald, topaz, sapphire, jade and rubies.

Kundan Jewelry is especially famous with the Indian weddings. Anklets, bangles and maang tilak with red and green stones are particularly famous.

Creation of Meenakari

Meenakari is the art of painting, colouring and ornamenting the surface of metals, preferably gold, by fusing over brilliant colours in splendid designs. The word ‘Meena’ stands for enamel and ‘kari’ is the art. Meenakari refers to the enamel work done on a metal surface.

It was the Hindu Punjabis who brought the skill of Meenakari from Lahore to Delhi. Meenakari was originally meant to protect gold, since gold is so soft in its pure form that it can easily wear away. The Mughals enamelled the reverse side of jewelry to protect it from contact with the skin.

Gold is mostly used and preferred for Meenakari jewellery as it holds the enamel better and lasts longer. Moreover, all the colours can be applied to gold and its shine brings out the colours of the enamels. Meenakari requires highly skilled labour. The piece of metal is fixed on a lac stick and some delicate designs of flowers, birds, animals, etc. are engraved on it. This creates grooves to hold the colour. Sometimes grooves are created by hammering. Enamel dust of the required colour is then poured into the grooves and each colour is fired individually. Generally, glass and other coloured stones are crushed into very fine powder to be used for enamelling. Certain chemicals such as cobalt oxide, ferrous salts, copper salts, etc. are also used as enamels. Green Meena ideally comes out of an emerald stone.

The meenakari is actually done by a team of craftsmen. As meenakari is generally done on the reverse side of kundan jewellery, the meenakar has to work with the goldsmith, the engraver or ghaaria, the designer or chitteria and jadiya who applies the gems on gold. The finished product is a result of the expertise of all these craftsmen.

Jewelry in Delhi today

Both Kundan and Meenakari are labour intensive tasks. A piece of jewelry with both kundankari and meenakari looks so magnificent as if it has been acquired from the Alladin’s magical lamp.

The Dariba Kalan near Chandni Chowk, is a famous jewellers’ street in Delhi. There you can find out the traditional meenakari and kundan jewellery.

Creation of Polki Jewellery

Polki is also similar to kundan, the technical difference being 'polki' uses real diamonds whereas kundan fancies 'glass' imitations of the same. Uncut diamond is referred to as Polki and the setting done in this manner is called ‘Jadau’ or ‘Jadai’. In Jadau jewellery, only real uncut diamonds are used. It is impossible to duplicate polki jewellery since no two uncut diamonds have exactly same shape. A combination of Polki, Kundan and Meenakari works make a Jadau piece of jewellery.

Navratna is another special kind of jewellery item, in which nine precious stones are embedded in gold. This traditional skill was practised by Muslim craftsmen called saadegars who settled in Delhi during the reign of Shahjahan.

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