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Pachchikam Jewellery


Pachchikam jewellery is back in fashion. Crafted in Gujarat and Kutch centuries ago, this style of jewellery is being revived by the contemporary jewellery designers. Exclusive and artistic, this designer jewellery is replacing the traditional gold ornaments.

In the world of fashion and design there is an all round revival of styles of the lost eras in garments as well as jewellery. One of the most popular revivals in the world of ornaments is Pachchikam jewellery which dated back to the 18th and 19th centuries in India. There are several contemporary designers who have made a concentrated attempt at returning the beauty of this jewellery to lovers of this lost art. Designers like Asha Kamal modi of Art karat in Delhi and Niru Rajeev Kumar of Niru’s jewellery in Bombay have devoted a lot of time in creating an awareness for this jewellery.

“Pachchikam jewellery is a kind of jewellery crafted in Gujarat and Kutch centuries ago. It was popular at that time and then went out of fashion till its revival ten years ago,” explains Asha Kamal Modi of Art karat whose love for traditional jewellery has persuaded her to delve deeper into the art from. My objective is to wean women from their infatuation with gold and turn to traditional designer jewellery like Pachchikam.” Asha travels to Gujarat and Kutch working with the original craftsmen of this jewellery and instructs on new designs.

Little is known of the history of Pachchikam and yet its beginning can be traced to early European designs worn by the nobility in the 16th century. Although it has a strong ethnic background, on closer observation on notices an affinity to the type of jewellery seen in portraits of British dignitaries in India. It was with the exchange of trade and commerce that the intricacy of the art reached the shores of India, where Indian craftsmen added their style to change it into works of Indian art. There are several definitions for the word Pachchikam or Panchchkkam as it is sometimes known. It could be a derivation of pachchigar (which means goldsmith of jewellery) or it could also mean five fingers (panch) since most of the jewellery is handcrafted. “Or there is another definition that explains that Pachchikam in Hindi means peeche or back since this type of jewellery had gold on the rear and silver in front,” feels Asha. The Pachchikam setting is easily identifiable from other Indian jewellery like Kundan jewellery of Jaipur and Tadtar, though at times it is mistaken for it, from a distance. But on close scrutiny one can notice that at times the setting is crude because the work is done by hand. In spite of that Pachchikam jewellery is fragile compared to Kundan or Tadtar which makes the latter look like rough country cousins. Gold was replaced by silver later since the former made the jewellery unaffordable to many. It could be that in that era the financial conditions of most of the nobility of those times was unsteady and brought Pachchikam jewellery within their reach when made in silver. Research has also shown that this jewellery was worn by children.

Another reason for opting for silver as the base metal is that it is highly malleable and also it closely resembles platinum, the metal used in Europe. Pachchikam jewellery is far from ethnic in appearance. It is very flashy and can be worn on formal occasions. “Today most Pachchikam jewellery is made in silver and often gold plated to give it the appearance of real gold jewellery” says Asha.

The setting of Pachchikam jewellery encases uncut semi-precious stones and glasswork in simulated open claw workmanship. Fabrication for this jewellery takes place in Kutch and Gujarat by families who specialize in the art that has been handed down from father to son. “Each piece takes a minimum of a month or two to be made. And a course there are climatic constraints that make it difficult” says Niru. The actual process starts with the stone being inserted in a silver case, the edge of which is pressed onto the stone with the finger and grooves then filed on it. A closer look shows a setting which is crude in its execution but it is in his quality that its aesthetical charm lies making connoisseurs to beauty appreciate it. There is also a slight departure from European styling which Indian craftsmen have replaced with their own indigenous touches. It is a gentle blend of the western genre as well as Indian ethnic charm. The workmanship involves a very laborious process which takes time in finishing the piece. Niru traveled extensively in Gujarat and Rajasthan to track down the best sources and craftsmen. She now works with just two who know her mode of working quite well. “I send them sketches of pictures from old manuals and they follow them quite well. Of course, the first piece may take over a month” she explains. “But after that it is quite easy when there are repeats.” Only about three or four pieces are made by Niru and a popular style like a choker may go into six or seven. Niru operates from her residence while Asha has an outlet in Delhi and holds regular exhibitions. “An inexpensive set could cost as little as Rs. 350/- but a set with clusters of tiny Hyderabadi rice pearls could take nearly six months and could cost Rs. 3000/- to 4000/-” The main colours of stones are green, red, blue and white glass with white rice pearls as the popular accompaniment.

The jewellery is not very expensive and prices could range from as low as Rs. 330/- to 19,000/- or sets. The advantage of Pachchikam jewellery is that it cannot be mass produced. The piece is more or less an exclusive. The craftsmen for this jewellery are very simple, traditional folk in their lifestyle and manners and do not believe in leaving their villages. They are also very conservative in their design sense and prefer to stick to certain set designs instead of experimenting with new styles. But they are very skilled and proud of their aptitude. The speed of the modern business world has nor yet caught up with them.

Most designers have to convince these traditional craftsmen that they are truly interested in their craft and in promoting it and will not take them for a ride. Once a strong working relationship is established it is very easy to communicate with them and encourage them to try variations in their craftsmanship. But they are unable to understand modern jargon like delivery deadlines and there could be a certain amount of allowance that one may have to make to acquire production on time.

Pachchikam jewellery means a variety of bracelets, bangles, necklaces, earning, rings, chokers, jhumkas etc.

“One of the most important points to remember about Pachchikam jewellery is that it fills a vacuum in the field of classy ethnic Indian jewellery which can be a perfect accessory for evening wear. It is exclusive and artistic and less expensive than gold. It is also the kind of jewellery that people can fearlessly travel with,” remarks Asha. Besides reviving old styles, designers also adapt and modify styles from periodicals, manuals and museums. Rough designs are made initially which are worked on in silver by the craftsmen in their villages. More than ten necklaces could be made over a period of three to four months, but it is not quantity that most designers aim for, but quality.

Today the revival of Pachchikam jewellery has also brought in an interest from the west for export. It seems that Pachchikam jewellery is all set for a relaunch in India with designers making an all out bid to popularize it.