A sparkling beginning
Almost everyone has some degree of fascination with jewellery whether they simply want to look at it or want to be buried under it. To decorate themselves ancient man (mostly woman) would use everything from flowers and leaves to precious stones and metals as well as the odd set of bones, horns and other “after-body” parts. Such material added with exquisite designs was used by ancient people to accessorize. In some cases with old tribes jewellery was more widely used to cover up than actual clothing.
But the ancient people did not always use jewellery for decorative purposes. Many items were believed to have spiritual connections and alliances which would shower the wearer with good fortune. It's still very much prevalent with birthstones and those weird colored rings you will see worn by many men.
In the middle ages craftsmen used copper and bronze to create superbly detailed murals and inscriptions on walls. These became such wonderments that people wanted them. But of course, you cannot carry a wall around your neck so similar artworks began to be created in a scale much easier for people to wear around the neck and other bodily regions. In parts of Asia such murals and motifs that were translated into jewellery were highlighted with beautiful gems. The Chinese and Japanese used a combination of wood and a tough green stone called jade along with ivory highlights. South American, European and the Greeks focused more on depicting the human and animal forms. In these regions although many different types of metals were used gold was preferred above all. The Italians specialised in creating very small items. The Roman jewellery was similar to the Greeks except their carvings were much more elaborate and intricate. The Egyptians worked on thinly beaten strips off gold where they carved out their particular styles. These were much more delicate and as a result quite fragile. Examples closer to our region include excavations from the ancient civilization of Mohenjodaro that had all kinds of jewellery such as bracelets, crowns, rings etc made out of a rich combination of precious stones and expensive metals.
Jewellery of the sixth and seventh century were marked by richly detailed carvings. This is evident by the illustrations from the Ramayana and Mahabharat era. Also the many different caves in Elora and Ajanta attest to the prevalent styles of that time. Such external decorations dealt with homage to gods and goddesses as well as depicting symbolic images of nature. Royalty used gold, silver studded with gems and pearls. Other people had to remain content with copper, bronze and silver. But as the ages progressed through the Rajputs, the Mughals and the British rule, use of heavy jewellery gradually decreased.
The golden age
In our country gold is primarily used for creating jewellery. It's been used for thousands of years as a symbol of class and status. In most cases the goldsmith business is a family profession where the skills are handed down from father to son through generations. The goldsmiths themselves turn out to be the designers who carry out all the tasks of melting the gold, beating it into thin strips, drilling, connecting etc to come up with the final masterpiece. Such handmade items are quite popular across the globe.
Although both men and women wear jewellery it is mostly the latter who swoon at the thought and sight. It's hard to imagine a monsoon season without rain and in a similar vein it is hard to imagine woman without jewellery.
The jewellery fashion like all other fashion goes through cycles where what exists now becomes outmoded. But as cycles go what was chic a decade ago might be equally in vogue now. Take for example how in the early eighties heavy jewellery was a big hit. It went away for a while only to surface a few years ago. But such heavy items are starting to lose weight again as the fad now dictates slim and trim. Thick fat bracelets have given way to sleek designs that focus more on the craftsmanship. Big earrings that looked like chandeliers have surrendered to simplicity in the form of rings of varying diameters. Then there's the simple bracelets and pendants as well as kundon items. Solid gold jewellery is no longer such a singular fad with the frequent additions of imitation gems.
Whereas people used to deck themselves up with gold to show off their affluence nowadays it's a crazy rat race of the fashion world. That as well as the recent price hike of goods means that buyers are looking into less expensive options such as lightweight gems studded jewellery.
The only one who has to suffer from the heavy weight of jewellery are the poor brides who still have to carry around huge amounts of gold on themselves. But even here only the traditional pieces maintain their weighty existence whereas most of the other material follow the lighter herd.
Yearning for the Silver Lining
Of course gold isn't always the preferable choice. Being expensive it is not only yearned by women but also by prowling men (and in a few instances also women) commonly known as muggers. Also gold simply clashes with certain colours and outfits. The remedy is to go for the next best material in accessorising which is silver.
It's a relatively inexpensive metal and has been a favourite in the rural communities for a very long time. Simple things such as chains round the waist or anklets add a suave and complementary touch to any ensemble.
Silver has also earned its shining place of honour in formal occasions such as weddings and holuds. Also included are the various cultural festivities where lightweight silver ornaments are worn. This increasing popularity of silver is owed partly to Aarong. They started off the revival in the eighties with a fusion of classical designs and modern production techniques. A large part of the charm lies in the usage of the styles and designs of our indigenous tribal people.
One of the primary reasons for the increase in the popularity is the increasing price of gold. Pure gold jewellery is becoming a bit of a rare sight nowadays. People prefer to have ornaments created out of silver and have that plated with gold. To create more flash, beads and gems are added to the collage.
Heavy Metal versus Rock
Even a few years ago women were seen wearing heavy gold items with intricate carvings. That trend has recently started to change with a shift from heavy metals to much lighter rocks and stones. Current fashion deals with using simple stone settings to enhance the look of gold or silver ornaments. Take for example a simple yet very elegant set consisting of single pearl earrings, an equally solitary pearl necklace and maybe a ring set with tiny pearls.
What's really hot right now is stone jewellery with delectable gems like ruby, zircon, amethyst, garnet, golden topaz, black zircon etc. Along with these are also varied designs of stones settings in a multitude of colours. Such stones available in red, green, blue, black and anything else your heart desires are also used in combination or contrast with the clothes.
Brought in from India, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Pakistan and Europe these semi precious stones are now available in the local market. But for super exclusivity nothing beats the timeless diamonds. Pricey they might be but anything else is hard pressed to bring about as many 'oohs' and 'aahs' as diamonds no matter what the size. The prices depend very much upon the colour and cut. The clear diamonds are more expensive than the coloured ones.
White or Gold?
Another trend is that of opting for white or coloured gold. These are always foreign made as in our country such techniques are still to be learned. For these the quantity of gold is less important than the actual designs. So whether these are 18 or 20 carat gold is not as much of heartache as is the eventual design. White and coloured gold is preferred by young women who mainly go for chains and earrings.
The focus is moving more towards simplicity and style rather than the previous preoccupation with the quantity of the precious metal itself. Whereas heavy jewellery drew attention to the object itself such new simpler designs are bringing the wearer into the limelight.
Back to Nature
Alternative material for jewellery include clay and wood often combined with beads. Young women generally prefer these as it is safe to be shown off to wannabe muggers as well as being inexpensive. Not only that it provides the allure of being closer to the historical aspects of our culture. Some of the students form Charukola Institute have come up with a fusion of the classical design as well as the latest fads to create some beautiful terracotta pieces. What's really amazing about such material is that they don't feel as fragile as more expensive jewellery. You can wear them anywhere at anytime and it pretty much matches with any outfit. Also you can simply wash them to clean up any dirt or residue.
Trinkets for men
Metal jewellery especially of the imitation kind are quite popular with teenagers. It's amazing that a lot of the users in this category are young men who buy the bracelets, chains, rings and even earrings. The large stores in the city where these are sold are often thronged by boys who possibly are buying for their beloved. In most cases such material are imported although a few entrepreneurs are experimenting with creating some local flavour.
Even a couple of years ago we could find in many boutiques unique jewellery items made out of seeds from various fruits and vegetables. These seeds were often cut up and different beads were attached as well as colouring to create eye catching ensembles. Earrings, tops and simple necklaces were created using this unusual material.
Abrarur Rahman spends a large part of his waking moments coming up with unusual combinations of gold and silver with all kinds of stones. His style follows a simple modern European form or a fusion with classical designs. Primarily he chooses nature as his motif. Some of his work is finished off in dazzling copper highlights. He has created some amazing designs based on customer demands.
Human beings are by nature vain animals. Wearing jewellery to enhance one's looks is the truest manifestation of that vanity.
By Sultana Yasmin
Translated by Ehsanur Raza Ronny
Make-up and styling: Farzana Shakil
Jewellery: Farzana Shakil's personal collection
Photo Direction: Khaled Mahmud, Head Office
Photo: Munem Wasif