"India consumes approximately 1,000 tonnes of gold a year — about a third of the world’s supply — according to India’s Gem Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC). This appetite has been exported with its diaspora; the 2011 UK census had 2.99m people of South Asian origin. In the UK, Asians spend more than £220m a year on 22-carat gold and diamonds, says Pravin Pattni, a former chairman of the National Association of Jewellers and the first person of Indian origin to hold the position.
According to Mr Pattni, the average South Asian family spends between £20,000 and £25,000 on a woman’s wedding jewellery — but now assimilation into British culture is changing this.
Mr Pattni says that ethnic Asians arriving in Britain during the 1960s and 1970s from east Africa, where their ancestors were taken as indentured labourers, clung to the idea of gold as insurance — a safe investment in a strange land. “First-generation Indians came here and bought lots and lots of gold and gave it to their children so they wouldn’t need a plan B.”
In Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, once the heart of Britain’s jewel trade, shopkeeper Ken Taylor smiles knowingly. “That’s the way Asians see it,” he says. “Gold is gold if you can sell it any day of the week.”
But as the price of gold rises, Mr Pattni says it will become less affordable to buy 22 carat, the Asian staple, and even stalwarts will move to lower quality gold, silver and platinum.
He grins as he acknowledges the wisdom of forebears who recommended the metal to him for investment purposes; at the time of our interview in February, gold had reached a one-year intraday trading high of $1,260 an ounce.
“With Indian jewellery there’s always going to be the independent store that people know of and go to, but we’re seeing a bit more in terms of brands.” Ms Rendle says even if shops close, Indian designs will survive and influence fusion trends in the mainstream.
Mr Pattni, however, says the direction of influence is the other way around: from the British population to the immigrant.
You can see the full Financial Times special report here
Credits (Financial Times Special Report)
Written by Aliya Ram
Photography by Neville Williams and Anna Gordon
Edited by Josh Spero
Graphics by Graham Parrish
Filming by Alan Knox
Production by Alan Knox, George Kyriakos and Josh Spero