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THE ART OF KUNDAN


Step into the land of pageantry and simplicity, fiery sunsets, infinite stretches of sand dunes, indefinable splashes of color,  mud huts and royal palaces.  Ceremonial turbans, shy smiles, exquisite courtesy  and fierce pride...Rajasthan.

From here, begins  the journey of Kundan jewelry.  The technique arose from a necessity to preserve, protect and encase a gem in its pure form and set it in a piece of jewelry.

Kundan could not remain within the confines of the palaces of India. Renowned European jewelers  were also inspired by this art form. Today, the world acknowledges the legacy and beauty of this style. The detailed craftsmanship and burnished beauty of true Kundan jewelry is neither time bound nor is it slave to fashion.

Besides its classic appeal, the fact that this skill is jealously guarded and perfected by a chosen few, makes it worth possessing. There is wonderment in knowing the number of hands that a piece of Kundan jewelry passes through before it comes into yours …

‘Naqaash’ – the designer, ‘Sonar’ – the goldsmith, ‘Qualam kaar’ – the engraver, ‘Meena kaar’ – the enamellist, ‘Gholne wala’ – the polisher, ‘Kundan saaz’ – the stone setter, and finally ‘Patua’ – the stringer.
Kundan jewelry received great patronage during the Mughal era and the most beautiful pieces were created in those times. “In the migratory movement of craftsmen after the demise of the Mughal empire, in the early 18th century, artists carried their technology and skills across geographical boundaries. In this flux, designs and forms of Mughal origin find an echo across the length and breadth of India. “


The process...

The purest, softest gold is hammered into very fine sheets and a “khol”, or mold is made in 22 karat gold. The mold looks like a thin box. Once the metal is shaped by the goldsmith, the piece is inset with gemstones such as diamonds, rubies, emeralds, as well as semi precious stones. Natural lac is used to hold the gemstones in place. The edges of the mold are gently pressed onto the boundaries of the diamond or gem. Ribbons of kundan in 23 karat gold then encase the gemstones. Designs are etched into this border of gold.

In Kundan , light strikes the precious stones only from above, dulling their shine. To provide depth and refraction a piece of silver or gold foil is placed under the stone making it glow. Foil is also used to enhance the natural color of the stone.

The façade of the piece is undoubtedly beautiful but the reverse is equally stunning… “It seems as if the garden of paradise has been captured into all the leaves and flowers to form a design, covering the entire back with enamel.”

This is called Meenakari. Finally, after the work of the goldsmith, an engraver goes to work. The jewel is then enameled on the reverse in the Champleve technique used by the engraver to create grooves that will take the enamel. A steady and precise hand is required, for the engraving stage is both practical and aesthetic. After engraving, the Meenakar or enameler fills and paints the vitreous paste, mixed with a mineral oxide for color, on the lowered metal surfaces, thereby evening the surface and fusing it to the gold with repeated firings.. Colors have different melting points and so are usually fired separately; the more colors, the more firings. The hardest enamel, white, requires a high firing temperature and so is fired first. Red, which has the lowest firing temperature , is last. The sequence is carefully planned to ensure that colors already successfully fused do not melt in subsequent firings. Cooling is as important as heating. The red Meena of Jaipur is applied only to a high karat gold.

Lastly, the individual pieces of finished jewelry are strung together using pearls, rubies, emeralds and yards of gold wire. The skill and ingenuity of the "patua" is  remarkable. He twists and turns and knots the gold wire with painstaking precision. Sitting upright on a floor cushion – his hours upon hours of back bending work are measured one bead at a time.

One who owns a piece of Kundan jewelry invests in a true labor of love and in a moment of history.



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