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Indian Jewelry Making and the Colonial Era

Posted on February 15 2023

Indian Jewelry Making and the Colonial Era

The Indian Jewelry making tradition has a rich history that spans centuries, passed down through generations of skilled craftspeople. But the arrival of the colonial powers brought about lasting changes to the traditional techniques, materials, and styles of Indian jewelry.


In this article, we will discover the impact of the colonial era on the Indian jewelry-making industry, exploring how it has shaped the luxury jewelry market today. Join us as we uncover how Indian jewelry-making adapted to the influences of the colonial era while still maintaining its rich tradition and unique handcrafted luxury.

The Impact of Colonialism on Indian Jewelry Making

The arrival of European colonizers in India profoundly impacted the country’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, including the ancient art of Indian jewelry-making.


Beginning in the 15th century, European powers exerted themselves through conquest and trade. Vasco da Gama from Portugal became the first European to re-establish direct trade links with India since Roman times. In the 17th century, the Dutch Republic, England, France, and Denmark-Norway were the next to arrive. Trading rivalries began, establishing trading posts along the coastal areas and political control over the subcontinent. When the Mughal Empire disintegrated in the early 18th century, Great Britain and France struggled for dominance. The British gained control from France over almost all of India by the middle of the 18th century. Still, it took several more years of territorial expansion and military conquest until Britain had direct control over the entire Indian subcontinent British India was known as “the jewel in the British crown.”


One of the most significant changes brought by the colonizers was the introduction of new materials and techniques in Indian jewelry-making. The British, having the most powerful influence, brought with them advanced machinery and tools that allowed for the mass production of jewelry, making it more affordable and accessible to a broader audience. This shift from handcrafted to machine-made jewelry impacted the industry significantly, as traditional artisans struggled to compete with the new, cheaper products flooding the market.


Colonialism also had a significant impact on the design of Indian jewelry. Heavily influenced by Western fashion, the British introduced new styles, such as using diamonds and other precious gemstones. These unique designs and materials were quickly adopted by Indian jewelers, who sought to appeal to the tastes of their colonial masters and affluent Indian clients.


The impact of colonialism on Indian jewelry also extended to how it was marketed and sold. The British, who controlled India’s economy, established a monopoly on the trade of precious gems and metals, significantly impacting the prices and availability of these materials. This, in turn, had a ripple effect on the entire jewelry industry, making it difficult for traditional artisans to compete and survive.


The Introduction of Western Techniques in Indian Jewelry Making

The introduction of Western techniques in Indian jewelry-making marked a significant shift in the country’s traditional craftsmanship, leading to a fusion of traditional Indian techniques with Western methods. This resulted in a unique blend of styles that can still be seen in Indian jewelry today.


These new techniques allowed for greater precision and efficiency in jewelry production and opened up new possibilities for jewelry design. The use of machinery made it possible to create intricate filigree work and other delicate designs that would have been impossible to achieve using traditional methods. It also led to a greater emphasis on mass production and commercialization of jewelry as the British sought to capitalize on the growing market for Indian jewelry. However, this shift towards mass production also meant a decline in the quality and craftsmanship of traditional Indian jewelry.


Additionally, the British introduced new materials such as glass, plastic, and synthetic gems, which were cheaper and more easily accessible than natural gemstones making it possible for more people to afford luxury-looking jewelry.

The Legacy of Colonialism on Indian Jewelry Making Today

With the introduction of new materials (i.e., diamonds and pearls) and techniques (i.e., filigree and engraving) to the Indian jewelry-making tradition, these elements were seamlessly integrated with traditional Indian designs, creating a unique and dynamic style seen in today’s pieces.


Another impact on the Indian jewelry market was the introduction by the British to the concept of luxury jewelry, including their demand for precious gemstones. This led to the establishment of large-scale diamond-cutting and polishing industries in India. Today, 90% of all gemstones are cut and polished in India, mainly in Jaipur, making India a major player in the global jewelry market.


However, it is essential to note that colonialism also negatively affected Indian jewelry making, particularly in traditional craftsmanship and the role of women in the industry. Many indigenous techniques and designs were lost or suppressed, and the exploitation of women, resources, and labor was rampant. Despite this, Indian jewelry-making has continued to thrive and evolve, preserving its rich cultural heritage and embracing new influences.


The blend of traditional and contemporary elements in Indian jewelry-making today is a testament to the resilience and adaptability of the Indian jewelry-making tradition. Be sure to shop our selection of modern and traditional Indian jewelry today!


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