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Diamond weddings

Indian women are adding sparkle to their bridal jewels.

By Zainab Morbiwala

Traditionally, an Indian bride’s parents would begin saving for her jewelry from the day she was born. And until recently, on her wedding day — and of course, at the pre- and post-wedding festivities — the bride was adorned in gold from head to toe. Times have changed. While jewelry still tops the bride’s shopping list — in terms of both priority and budget — plain but intricately fashioned gold is fast being replaced by diamonds and other precious stones, especially in northern India.

“Jewelry has always played an important role in Indian society, not simply from an investment angle, but from an emotional angle as well,” says Vijay Jain, CEO and director of gold and diamond jewelry brand ORRA. “On their wedding day, women still prefer to look the part of the quintessential Indian bride, with a preference for traditional jewelry in the form of gold or polki [jewelry featuring uncut diamonds].”

It is at the pre-wedding events — such as mehendi, a ceremony where henna art is applied to the bride’s hands; sangeet, a music and dance party; and haldi, applying a turmeric paste to the bride’s and groom’s skin — where Jain has seen the largest jump in demand for diamond jewelry. ORRA expects to see approximately 10% growth this year, after a 20% to 25% improvement in the past three years, according to Jain.

While gold makes up 70% of the Indian jewelry market, says Jain, this figure jumps to 85% in rural areas. “At present, ORRA has more than half of its overall sales in diamond jewelry. Typical price points are in the range of INR 200,000 to INR 500,000 [$3,064 to $7,660, for gold bridal jewelry] and INR 500,000 to INR 700,000 [$7,660 to $10,724, for diamond bridal jewelry].”

Current fashions

Another strong trend is multipurpose jewelry. Tanvi Shah, head of production and design at Mumbai’s Anokkhi Diamonds and Jadau, points out that there is growing demand for smaller pieces that can be worn more often. “The demand for detachable and changeable colored stones has been increasing due to their ability to be mixed and matched with different outfits,” she says.

Solitaires are becoming a more common choice for urban brides, adds Shehzad Zaveri, creative director at the Mumbai-based Minawala jewelry label. “Big pieces are trending. This is an important look achieved by illusion-setting in jewelry,” he says.

Zaveri sees more Indian brides choosing wedding sets featuring rose-cut diamonds, which give a substantial look at affordable prices. “[Some] modern brides-to-be opt for a combination of fancy yellow and white diamonds for their wedding ensembles,” he continues. “Checkered-look jewelry designs combined with paisleys, rounds, squares and circles of cleverly placed diamond motifs — trying to cover as many square inches of skin possible — are in vogue for the millennial bride. The magic is that the look is more valuable than the price!”

Shah says there is a lot of experimentation with fusion jewelry, such as polki with diamonds, rose cuts with pearls, and precious and semiprecious stones with silver.

A new style in the past two years, according to Zaveri, is using several lines of diamonds to create a layered neckpiece. “They look very good and bring the cost down. Wedding necklaces and earring sets with a combination of either red or green and even blue gemstones with diamonds can be seen in the market.”

Stiff necklaces, he reports, have been replaced with flowing necklaces that offer movement and comfort. Free-flowing earrings are also popular.

Brides and their families visit five or six stores before they buy jewelry, says Shah. “Clients today like smaller sizes on the neck and bigger, longer earrings,” she notes. “Modular jewelry [and] detachable necklaces are preferred so that they can be used as a pendant or two lines in future. So for the pheras [traditional Indian wedding ritual], polki or antique gold are a common choice; for the sangeet, ethnic diamonds; and for the cocktail, fusion or trendy diamonds, or polki works well.”

Growth opportunities

The rise of branded jewelry has had a strong influence on the demand for diamonds. “Highly professional business practices create trust by offering detailed price breakdowns, timely exchange, and repair and return policies,” Shah explains. “Clients are pampered with good services and discounts. Celebrity ad campaigns are executed by chain stores to create hype around diamond jewelry.”

Traditionally, family elders chose the jewelry, viewing it as an investment they could fall back on during hard times. However, as women increasingly work in the corporate sector, brides are opting for a more elegant look rather than heavy gold jewelry. Jain points to rising disposable income, urbanization and a trend for nuclear families to live separately from their extended families as factors contributing to growth.

“The most significant shift has been from locker jewelry [kept in a safety deposit box] to lightweight jewelry,” he says. “Rising awareness coupled with transparency of the provenance of the stones has added to the trust factor.”

Leshna Shah, founder and creative head of Aurelle by Leshna Shah, agrees. “The modern bride is a smart bride. She looks for contemporary taste with a touch of tradition that portrays her roots,” she says. “She is looking for the likes of modular jewelry, which can be worn in many different ways on multiple occasions so that her precious jewels do not lie locked up in a cubbyhole.”

Customization and regional differences

Given the high cost, when opting for diamond jewelry, brides — especially wealthy ones — prefer custom designs.

Tanvi Shah says diamonds are preferred in northern India, with larger sizes and lower clarity being popular, while gold jewelry is favored in the south. She believes versatility is key to the increasing demand for diamonds.

“[Customers] want to…fit into the budget along with getting a size that suits their appearance. Sometimes fancy cuts are replaced with static rounds and vice versa. There is not much that you can play with gold as compared to diamonds that come in various shapes and sizes, and with the ever-changing trends in the market there is a lot more scope for customization,” she says.

However, in Jain’s experience, most customers can’t afford to customize. “Other than the elite and the super elite, most other customers prefer jewelry that is ready to pick up and serves the purpose of instant gratification,” he states.

He believes gold wedding jewelry will remain a favorite with local brides. “The bridal attire in India is far more attuned to hues, which is where gold becomes a preferred choice. Furthermore, traditionally, gold has been seen as a sign of prosperity, which is why the preference for diamond jewelry as part of the overall bridal look is still lower. [Yet] while we have a long way to go in terms of replacing a category completely, diamonds are making steady inroads.”

Image: Shutterstock

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - June 2018. To subscribe click here.

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