Episode 10- The British Asian Jewellery Industry

Posted by Anisha Parmar on

In the final episode, I speak to British Asian jewellery industry professionals;
Jayant Raniga, CEO of Pure Jewels by Bhanji Gokaldas, who comes from over nine generations of jewellers.  His Grandfather Bhanji Gokaldas and sons Ramnik, Dinesh and Harish established East London’s first British Asian jewellery showroom in 1975. In 1987 the family and store moved to Green Street where they have been located since. Their designs reflects the rich cultural heritage and brand journey, which traces its historic roots to India and east Africa. Jayant has been our 'gold expert' throughout this series where we hear his professional voice to provide context and history to some of our discussions. 
I also speak to Shalini Gupta Patel, founder of Red Dot Jewels established in 2011. A UK based Indian luxury costume jewellery brand offering handcrafted Indian-inspired silver & semi precious jewellery where their concept is to provide UK women with an alternative to fine jewellery without compromising on style and design whilst at an affordable price.
We hear about both sides of the industry, the signature British Asian fine gold jewellery store as we know it, how its developed and morphed through generations in the family and how the tradition of building gold has developed. Contrastingly,  the contemporary high end, luxury bridal costume jewellery side where today the over all aesthetic of a bride's look is deemed more important than the monetary value of her jewels. 
Jayant, talks about what it means to be a family jeweller and how the trust was built by the shared migrant experience they had with their customers;
"We've migrated with our core customer, if you think about who our customers were. They were people from the South Asian diaspora who had travelled to East Africa from India, a well trodden path. They sailed on ship for 21 days, Cooking dal together on the deck.  When my dad and my uncles and my grandfather first came into this country in the 70s they were designer makers, they had a workshop we were the first South Asian origin jewellers in the whole of East London, in 75. The basement was our workshop, and I grew up in that workshop. He had his client base, and he used to make drawings."
 
I ask Jayant, why does he feel gold is so inherent in South Asian culture;
"If you look at it from a spiritual point of view, having gold come into your house on auspicious occasions, is about prosperity,  it's about celebrating the goddess Lakshmi. And so there's a, there's a deep spiritual reason why gold is celebrated that way because it's the purest form of any commodity. It becomes part of your wealth. So I think that's where the tradition for gold has come, obviously those values have changed the ideas have changed. But people could always rely on their gold, because it was so transportable, they could use it as liquid currency."
Since costume jewellery and the overall aesthetic for the bride is now at time more important,  I was interested in knowing who was buying gold now and if it was still bought to mark a special occasion, and is the gold industry being affected by the rise of brides buying costume jewellery. 
 "I can talk to you all day about costume jewellery as well as precious metals. So costume jewellery isn't a threat to precious jewellery. It's complimentary. It's the same customer that buys both products.  And so there is space in the industry for both. If anything the consumption consumer market for jewellery as a result has expanded. So, where people may start off with, with costume jewellery. Eventually, that's going to have be a gateway into precious"
old stampings/moulds and designs made by Jayant's grandfather 
 We speak about the traditions of dowry, and gold jewellery being bought by parents' for their daughters as security through out the series and I asked Jayant how are the buying traditions of gold changing;
"And I think there's going to be is women buying jewellery for themselves, that by far, is our fastest fastest growing market, self purchase. I think that's amazing how the community has evolved. If I was to look at our focus as a company over the next five years and how we're designing we're now not designing for men to buy jewellery, but for the Independent women who are coming in and buying pieces for themselves."
I then speak to Shalini about the what informs a British Asian Bride's style choices today;
"let's look at what British Asian brides are wearing. I felt, because a lot of people my age, as a first generation born outside of India. They had this mixed wardrobe, your western clothes, you've got your Indian clothes. And actually, how fashionable you are with your Indian clothes, really depends on how connected you are to India. So I was seeing that not many South Asians have that link back to India, So the Indian fashion and jewellery trends here was always about five years behind, and that's where I saw a gap in the market."
We then talk about the how the change in perceptions, traditional and essential who British Asian women consumers;
"British Asian women today, are professionals, they're working, they're educated, they're spending their money on designer brands are the things that are important to them. They don't think so much about the value, you know we're much more of a consumer society we're not thinking about that like our parents' did; 'Let's have two kilos of gold in a safe at home' and the other thing I hear a lot is 'oh well, it's only going to be in the safe. I'm never going to wear it again' So I always say to my brides, if your parents are going to buy you a precious piece, choose a classic piece of jewellery that you'll wear often, even if it's a pair of studs. We've seen plenty of weddings in the 80s with the bright yellow gold necklace, and it's just disconnected from what's going on with your outfit. I think, the red dot bride appreciate the regal heritage look. They want the over all aesthetic."
We go to talk about the Bridal experience in store, where I visited the store for the first time it's almost like you're going into a Rajasthan dressing room. And as a bride are sat in front of this ornate mirror, you've got your wedding blouse and dupatta on and then Shalini and her team advising you and helping you pick your jewellery pieces. You've got a table in the middle with your family sat around it and they're watching you getting adorned. I see it almost like ceremony, it's a ritual you're going there mainly with the women in your family, and you're there with your wedding outfit and you're imagining what you're going to look like on the day.

"I love talking to my brides about is the pieces, they're buying from us, they are pieces they can wear over and over again. They're usually separate  pieces so often I have a choker, and londer necklace that will be separate. And so many of our brides tell us like if they come in a year later with their sister or cousin or friend getting married, how many times they got to wear their pieces again and that brings me joy, as there is still longevity in my piece even though they aren't necessarily made of gold."
You can really see how costume jewellery plays a part within this whole industry of British Asian jewellery and how diaspora brides are really focused on that overall look in recent years being that ultimate regal/royal look bride has become more and more popular and affordable thanks to luxury costume jewellers. And I think Red Dot Draws offers that in the best way possible. But like Jayant from PureJewels said,  The same women, who are power independent women, making their own money, who are their own security are coming into his shop and buying  everyday wearable pieces that they can cherish and love forever. 
Both sides of the industry compliment and contrast each other, connecting the independent British Asian women of today to their root culture through traditional design and craftsmanship, within the ever evolving female reclamation South Asian patriarchal traditions where we women know exactly what we want and how to get it. 

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