‘Love of gold’ is one of the oldest of human passions and it appears the bond is as strong as the metal itself. It has driven men across continents as in the days of the California Gold Rush; some have died clutching a bag of gold (corpse found in Pompeii), while others chose to sink in quicksand, foregoing the option of releasing the precious metal that was actually causing them to sink. Men have harbored dreams of turning lead into gold (alchemy). The hypothetical combination of different ingredients and different ratios of ingredients that might suddenly bring about the transformation was known as “the Philosopher’s Stone.” Alas, they never found the magic combination in spite of a century (300 B.C.) spent in experimentation.
As for decorating the ankles,'Pauju' made of gold and not silver, is in.
Gold is known to possess some unique qualities. Its color at- tracts the human eye and when found along rivers they immediately draw one’s attention. It is the most malleable of metals and pure gold can be cut with a knife (One does not wear pure gold). Yet the metal is strong enough to retain its shape and can be beaten into any shape. Its color remains untarnished even when left unattended for centuries. Over the ages, it has proved to be unaffected by wind, water, sea, extreme heat or cold. Tutankaman’s golden sarcophagus was found within the confines of a pyramid in perfect condition, and gold recovered from sunken ships is well preserved.
Human beings from ancient times have adorned themselves with jewelry, especially the women. Beauty and jewelry go hand in hand, and it is unthinkable that a woman should not possess some form of adornment. A Nepali wedding would not be complete without jewelry and it is customary for a groom to gift the bride with such precious adornment.
Trends in jewelry change with the times. In ancient cultures, women were known to cover their necks with numerous rings (some still retain such trends), especially in parts of Africa. Today, besides what has been the norm, we see young women wearing jewelry on their lips and even their navels. In Nepal, most women buy new jewelry during the wedding season and the trend now is to go for lighter jewelry. We cannot do without gold jewelry at a Nepali wedding and even those who attend the function are likely to wear new ones.
The heavy influence of Bollywood and Indian TV serials on Nepali society cannot be downplayed; it is heavy. According to Gaurav Shrestha, Managing Director of 24 Carat, a renowned store in New Road, clients often ask them to replicate a piece of jewelry that they have seen worn by an actress in a popular TV serial or a recent movie. “Remember that necklace worn by Aishwarya Rai in Devdas, please make me one like that,” is a typical request. Gold still reigns supreme, and Nepali people for centuries have looked upon gold as an investment. Although stored in the form of jewelry, they are seen as insurance against hard times and at the same time, they can be worn. At 24 Carat, we learnt that Rani-haars are much in demand followed by earrings and bangles. The noses are adorned with a ‘phuli’ or ‘nathi,’ the latter being quite large and inlaid with stone. As for decorating the ankles, ‘Pauju’ made of gold and not silver, is in.
Another popular piece of jewelry is the ‘mangal sutra,’ which originated in India and is worn only by married women. Rakesh Manandhar of Gem House has interesting designs, both in traditional Indian, as well as innovative fusion designs. Fusing Nepali and Indian styles, he has come up with something quite unique. He informs us, “For festivals like ‘Teej,’ a ‘tilhari’ is most essential, but for weddings, the jewelry worn depends on a person’s caste. Nava ratna sets are also popular; consisting of ruby, emerald, blue sapphire, yellow sapphire, diamond, coral, cat’s eye, pearl, goumed (hessonite garnet). The new trend in wedding rings is to have a diamond in combination with colorful stones and for office wear, Nepali women prefer lighter western style ornaments.” Today, it is more fashionable to wear less gold and more gemstones, while a set of pearls are deemed a must have.
Silver has played second fiddle to gold and was once called ‘White Gold.’ Gold is considered a metal of the ‘sun’ and silver is said to be a metal of the ‘moon.’ While gold is mostly preferred by the older generation, silver is more desirable to the younger ones. The silversmiths who produce handcrafted jewelry make intricate, imaginative designs to furnish necklaces, bracelets, bangles, earrings, rings and anklets to name a few. Silver jewelry usually has stones inlaid to enhance their beauty and some of the popular ones are turquoise, coral, aquamarine, garnet, topaz, amethyst, lapis, sapphire, emerald and rainbow moonstone.
It is believed that silver was first found in Anatolia (Turkey), and silver jewelry was widely used in Asia Minor and Greece in ancient times. These early civilizations are said to have popularized silver. Its scarcity once led to its being valued more than gold in some countries like Egypt, but gradually, with easy availability in comparison to gold, its value decreased considerably.
Nepal has been exporting silver jewelry, and these products are mostly in demand in the USA, Germany and France. Though Nepal exports silver goods in a large scale, the element is not found locally, and is usually imported from countries such as Australia, Switzerland and Hong Kong. According to Swoyambhu R. Tuladhar, Managing Director of ‘Yak & Yeti Enterprises,’ silver jewelry from Nepal enjoys a good reputation in the international market and the exports are very high. While ethnic designs have been retained, at Y & Y, they also incorporate modern designs and this trend has proved quite popular.
The demand for silver products has been quite consistent through the years. “Unlike gold, which is in demand during the festive season or the marriage season, there is no special season for silver products; it is in demand throughout the year,” says Mana Mohan Singh Malla, General Manager of ‘Rinchen Tashi Enterprises.’
One store that instantly catches your eye in Thamel is ‘Take Care.’ Roselle has come up with unique creations. Besides being visually attractive, their jewelry products consist of 99% silver and they claim to be the only jewelers providing silver of such high quality. Hence, they are softer and also whiter than the usual silver available in the market. Silver found in the market usually contains 92% silver, which is the Hallmark standard and the prevalent standard for all silver goods that are being sold here or exported.
Ramesh Maharjan left for Hong Kong to work for Diagems Trading Co. in 1988. His keen interest in the diamond business impressed his boss, and he was given lessons until 10 pm every day after work. Then, on his request, he was sent to Mumbai in 1993 for further training, where he learnt grading and sorting of diamonds. The company was known for good production and distributed cut diamonds to Asia and Europe. Ramesh then came back to Nepal to explore possibilities here. In 1996, he quit his job and came back for good, to establish R.B. Enterprises, which deals in gemstones. According to Maharjan, diamond prices in the market became stabilized and even came down after he gave the dealers buy back guarantee. “There is great potential for exporting jewelry,” says Maharjan, “there is expertise and silver jewelry is doing well, as much is being exported. At the moment, NRNs in the US and Australia have shown interest in buying our products. And people in the trade are sending their kids for training, which is a very good sign.” Ramesh goes on to explain that most people have now come to realize that all diamonds are not expensive. One can buy a diamond ring for NRs 4000/-. “Diamonds with semi-precious stones are much in demand these days,” reveals Maharjan. “If diamond cutting is started here, it will be great for export as well as for employment,” he concludes.
Many gemstones are found in Nepal and are being mined to a certain extent. Ruby and Sapphire are found in the Ganesh Himal region; Aquamarine in Jajarkot, Lamjung, Sankhuwasabha and Taplejung. Tourmaline is found in Jajarkot, Manang and Sankhuwasabha as well as Taplejung; Amethyst in Dhading; Garnets in Sankhuwasabha, Dhading and Taplejung; Amazonite in Sankhuwasabha and Quartz crystal in Dhading, Gorkha, Jajarkot, Sindhupalchowk and Taplejung. Many lesser-known gems are also found in Nepal.
The possibilities seem endless. With a growing export market for Nepali jewelry, more trained jewelers in the country, complemented by the possibility of exploiting local mineral resources, the future looks promising for the jewelry trade.
“More steps to climb?” I complained; ascending more than 500 of them had made my legs tired already...