Kundan - Jewellery fit for a Queen!
Kundan in Sanskrit means Gold. One of the oldest forms of jewellery made and worn in India is the 24 carat pure gold Kundan jewellery. Kundan work is a method of gem setting, consisting of inserting gold foil between the stones and it's mount. Kundan jewellery received great patronage during the Mughal era and the most beautiful pieces were created in those times.
Kundan Making Process
The jewellery piece is first shaped by specialized craftsmen (and soldered together if the shape is complicated). Holes are cut for the precious stones like diamond, emeralds or rubies, any engraving or chasing is carried out, and the pieces are enamelled. When the stones are to be set, lac is inserted in the back, and is then visible in the front through the holes. Highly refined gold, the kundan, is then used to cover the lac and the stone is pushed into the kundan. More kundan is applied around the edges to strengthen the setting and give it a neat appearance. This was the only form of setting for stones in gold until claw settings were introduced under the influence of western jewellery in the nineteenth century.
Often Kundan work is combined with enameling, Meenakari, so that a piece of jewelry has two equally beautiful surfaces, enamel at the back end and Kundan set gems in the front. Meenakari involves the fusion of colored minerals, such as cobalt oxide for blue, copper oxide for green. This, on the surface of the metal, gives the effect of precious stone inlay work. The particular mode employed is known as Champleve where the metal is engraved or chased in such a way as to provide depressions within which the colors can be embedded. The colors are applied in order of the hardness those requiring more heat first and those requiring less heat later.
Craftsmen associated in making Kundan:
Kundankari is carried by a group of craftsmen, each carrying out a specific task. The chiterias make the basic design, the ghaarias are responsible for engraving and making holes, meenakari or enameling is done by the enameller and the goldsmith is takes care of the Kundan or gold. The jadiyas or stone setters, set stones such as jade, rock crystal, agate, garnet, emerald, topaz, amethyst, and spinel into kundan.
The Enamellings Process itself needs an entire team of specialist to all pool in their various skills. First, the designer selects a design as per the client's requirements and passes it to the goldsmith. The Goldsmith creates the gold stencil and gives it back to the designer who outlines the pattern on the gold surface and burnishes it, to make it stand out.
Now the engraver comes into the picture. His is the job which requires maximum skill and precision. Champleve - is a technique used by the engraver to lower those areas of the metal that will take the enamel by carving them out. These lowered surfaces are hatched with fine parallel lines to enable thorough fusion between colour and metal, to add to the visual delight as the hatchings enchance the play of light over the transparent colours.
The Meenakar or enameller is the next in line. He fills in the enamel colours in the lowered surfaces, thereby evening the surface and fusing it to the gold with repeated firings. Since the enamels are of varying hardness and thus require different temperatures for fusing, they must be fired separately - that from hardest highest temperature to softest lowest temperature. Cooling is as important as heating: a flow at this stage could crack the enamel or render it undesirably opaque.
The usual colour sequence begins with white and runs through blue, green, black and yellow before reaching red, rich ruby the signature colour of Jaipur enamelling. It achieves an unmatched brilliance and clarity. "The purer the gold, the richer the colour," goes an old saying, and the red Meena of Jaipur is applied only to a high karat gold.
Once the enamelling has been completed the surfaces must be polished. The kundan setter then asks the Patua or stringer, to thread the pieces with strings and make them a ready-to-wear stunning piece of art!
- As compared to the Western-style bezel or claw setting, Kundan gives the craftsman the freedom to use irregular shapes and sizes. Thus the time and labour needed to create each setting separately to the size of the stone is saved.
- A stone thus needs to be only minimally sized and can retain its original look.
- Additionally, Kundan enables work to be carried out without soldering or applying heat. The Gold or Silver in which the Kundan is embedded is soft enough that the stones can be encased simply by pressing them.
Tips for Buying Original Kundan Jewelry
- Old, solid gold ornaments are sometimes filled with shellac. It is important to determine this in order to not be overcharged.
- In trying to differentiate between an old and a new minakari piece, remember that the older the piece, the more intricate the design and more brilliant the colour.
- To identify imperfections in a diamond, look for tiny, rents or fissures and specks. If the diamond has any of these, it is flawed. Note also that a real diamond can never have scratches on its surface, if it does, it is not a diamond.
- Genuine kundan-set crystal has a mellow, opaque appearance. Artificial kundan-set crystal is transparent and it glitters. This is due to the fact that glass has been used instead of crystal and colored tinfoil under the stones to create the illusion of color.
- New cord in an old piece should not make the buyer suspicious. It could have been replaced to hold the ornament together.
Here are some tips on how to take good care of your Kundan Jewellery.
- When replacing the jewellery after use, wipe it with a suede cloth to restore its shine.
- If space is an issue, place the jewellery in between layers of cotton wool and seal it in a good plastic bag.
- Do not clean the jewellery with soap and water.
- Keep a pouch of desiccant with the piece to protect it from tarnishing due to excessive humidity. Dampness causes the silver in the setting to tarnish and the enamel to crack.
- Handle the silk chord used to adjust the length of the necklace with care. Never wet the chord as it causes the zari in it to discolour.
Lately designers have started using uncut diamonds/ colored glass or crystals as embellishments in sarees, lehengas and accessories like handbags and shoes. This is called “Kundan Work” as it involves embroidery with stones set in metal surround and looks similar to Kundan jewellery.
There is a lot of costume kundan jewellery available which is made with simulated ruby/emerald or with rhinestones. Having kundan jewelry replicated and sold at lower prices is a welcome alternative for those who could not afford to buy the original antique pieces. The original kundan antique pieces had commonly used uncut gems such as emeralds, rubies and sapphires. There are now a lot of kundan jewelry available in the market is often just a replica of the original one made in the eighteenth or seventeenth or nineteenth centuries. The original pieces could sell for as much as $200,000 or more per set.
Kundan Making Centres:
Today the finest Kundan jewellery is made in Bikaner & Jaipur, in Rajasthan. Jaipur is the main center of kundan work. The famous Johri Bazaar is the nerve center of this craft. Nathdwara is known for its silver kundan work. Bikaner is also known for its kundan work.
The Historical significance associated with this jewellery, that it was once worn by only Kings and Queens, is what makes it so attractive. As those who have it will tell you, Kundan jewellery, like wine only gets better with time.
Despite the trend for fusion and IndoWestern jewellery in our culture, on occasions like Wedding and Festivals, Indian women prefer the traditional and the Royal Ethnic look - Kundan it is!