The focus of this guide will be the jewellery of the Indian subcontinent.
Looking to buy any Asian jewellery in London from our showroom or online?
A good place to start is our 22ct gold jewellery collection.
History of Asian Jewellery
The wearing of jewellery has been present in the south Asian region for thousands of years. Originally jewellery was made of natural materials such as ivory, feathers, seeds and flowers. Later metals (eg. Bronze) and precious metals (eg. gold and silver) were used in the making of jewellery. Sculptures dating back to around 2000 BCE show the use of necklaces, pendants, earrings, anklets, armlets, bracelets, arm rings and bangles.
The ancient practice of pearl diving, alongside the wealth and variety of precious and semi-precious stones in the region, ensured an increase in the use and popularity of stone set jewellery.
During the 17th century, the Mughals brought Islamic influences to the art of jewellery in the region. The emperors wore luxurious pieces of jewellery adorned with magnificent gems and pearls.
Idealized Portrait of the Mughal Empress Nur Jahan (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)
Gold jewellery became a source of social and economic security in times of financial crisis, especially for women, as their gold jewellery was the only financial asset they were permitted to own. There was a time when the amount and grandeur of a woman's jewellery indicated her wealth and status in society - echoes of this are still seen today.
By the early 20th century, the introduction of synthetic gemstones quickly grew, which opened up traditional jewellery to a larger market at much more affordable prices.
Types of Asian Jewellery
Asian bridal jewellery
The main purpose of bridal jewellery is to adorn and compliment the bride's attire, and this tradition dates back thousands of years and continues to the present day.
The Solah Shringar, which means ‘16 bridal adornments’ in English is a Hindu cultural ritual which lists 16 different ways for a bride to decorate herself from head to toe and comprises several of the following bridal jewellery items.
The focal point of Asian bridal jewellery is this magnificent long gold necklace, often weighing more than 50 grams, which is usually embellished with precious or semi-precious gemstones.
22ct Gold Rani Haar Necklace with matching earrings (Minar Collection)
The Rani Haar (in Hindi), which translates as 'Queen's Necklace' in English, is also known as the Sita haar or Haram. What usually separates a Rani Haar from normal necklaces is the length, its signature pendant and the various layers of gold beads.
Matha Patti and Maang Tikka
A piece of jewellery worn on the head, traditionally by brides - the Matha Patti (meaning 'head band' in English) consists of a vertical central chain (known as a maang tikka) and one or more horizontal chains that sit on top of the hairline.
Matha Patti in 22ct Gold and embellished with red stones (canva)
The maang tikka can also be worn on its own as a separate piece. Both the matha patti (also known as the shingar patti or damini) and maang tikka are available in simple silver and gold designs and also more elaborate gem-studded designs.
Haath Phool or Poncha Bracelet
A fusion of a bracelet and ring, the haath phool or poncha is a type of hand harness that combines a normal bracelet or bangle with a ring which is connected with a gold chain or beaded strands.
Haath Phool or Poncha Bracelet in 22ct gold (Minar Collection)
The haath phool translates as a 'flower of the hand' and is a truly elegant and feminine piece of jewellery, it is often included as part of the jewellery worn by an Indian bride.
Another traditional item of jewellery, the nath is a nose ring worn by a bride during Asian weddings. It comes in an array of different sizes, shapes and colours and is popular across the south Asian region.
Nath nose ring (canva)
The nath can be worn in either nostril (depending on the region) and is usually connected to the ear with a gold chain. Historically it was the sign of a married woman.
Characterised by its dome-shaped drops, the jhumka earrings (also known as jhumki) have a long and ancient history, with their origins being traced back to south India around 300 BCE. Translating as 'bell' in English, the jhumka has become a popular piece in many jewellery collections across the south Asian region, especially during wedding season.
22ct Gold Jhumka Earrings (Minar Collection)
They come in a myriad of different sizes and designs and can be made entirely of gold or can be embellished with gemstones, pearls or diamonds.
Chandbali earrings are another type of earring from the Indian subcontinent, rich in history and dating back to the 17th century.
Chandbali Earrings (India), late 19th century (wikipedia)
Chandbali (translated as "moon earrings") have their origins in the Mughal and Nizam empires, along with a sizeable amount of Islamic influence - this can be seen in their signature crescent moon shape.
A type of necklace traditionally tied around the bride's neck by the groom during a ceremony called the 'Mangalya Dharanam' (which translates as ‘wearing the auspicious’ in English). The mangal sutra necklace acts as a symbol of marriage for women to wear.
Mangalsutra in 22ct gold set with Cubic Zirconias (Minar Collection)
The mangala sutra is usually made up of black beads (although other coloured beads are sometimes used) often with a pendant made from gold and sometimes set with diamonds.
A ring, which traditionally formed part of the Solah Shringar, worn on the bride's thumb and set with a mirror for the bride to catch a glimpse of the groom.
Arsi ring worn on the middle finger (canva)
The Aarsi or Arsi ring in its contemporary form can be worn on any finger (usually the thumb, middle or index) and is shaped like a flower, often with Kundan-style work in its centre (foil backing).
An ornamental waistband or chain traditionally worn by the bride and included in the Solah Shringar. Historically worn by both men and women as waist belts, today the Kamarband is a mainstay of ladies' fashion in the Indian subcontinent.
Also known as the Ananta, Angada or Vanki, the Bajuband is an armlet worn around the bicep area and is traditionally part of the Asian bridal jewellery collection.
22ct gold armlet or bajuband (Minar Collection)
It has a rich and royal history but was also worn by tribal people as a show of their courage.
The Choora is a traditional set of bangles worn by the bride at her wedding. Also known as Chura or Churi, they are traditionally red and white and were once made of Ivory, but now are usually made of plastic (with a decorated inlay)
Choora Bangles (canva)
A predominantly Punjabi tradition, the Choora are also worn in other parts of northern India - Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat.
The Bichiya is a toe ring usually worn on the second toe of each foot of the bride. Placed onto the bride’s toes by her husband during their wedding ceremony, it acts as a symbol of marriage.
A payal (or payaal, or payalak) is an item of jewellery worn around the ankle - and is the word for anklet in Hindi. Also known as jhanjar (Punjabi), nupur (Bengali), golusu, pattilu or paizeb, these anklets are sometimes worn on both ankles (especially in Sri Lanka) and have a close relationship to the medium of dance in the south Asian region.
Payal anklet in silver (canva)
When performing the classical Odissi dance, performers would traditionally wear payal anklets made with ghunghru (or salangai), these small sonorous bells which are attached to the links in the chain of the anklets make pleasing sounds during movement.
Payal anklets are often gifted to a child as their first item of jewellery and also to newly married women when they first arrive at their husband's home.
Also known as a mala chain or mara, the mala necklace is a string of beads (usually 108 beads) traditionally used as a focus aid during meditation. Introduced to India over 3000 years ago, and steeped in the history of Hinduism and Buddhism (but also more recently Christianity and Islam), the beads of the mala are counted as a way to help your mind focus during meditation.
Mala Necklace with Rudraksha beads (Minar Collection)
A mala can also be strung as a half mala necklace (54 beads) and also a mala bracelet worn on the wrist (27 beads)
A Kara or Kada is a religious metal bangle worn on the wrists of Sikh men and women in Punjab and by the Sikh diaspora around the world. Traditionally made of iron, the Kara is one of the five K's (or "kakars") that demonstrate a Sikh's commitment to their religious order.
Kara Bangle in 22ct gold (canva)
The Kara is also worn by non-Sikh people, especially in the north and west of India - Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan.
Kanser / Sahare
These are “ear chains”, usually made of gold, that connect earrings to the Matha Patti and Maang Tikka, and provide support to the ear when wearing heavy jhumka or chandbali earrings.
Kanser, also known as Sahare (ear chains in English) (canva)
Styles of Asian Jewellery
Traditional Asian jewellery, of south Indian origin, that features various forms of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Temple jewellery is traditionally made of gold or silver and more recently has been embellished with diamonds, rubies and pearls.
Temple Jewellery (canva)
The carvings, illustrations and sculptures from the temples of south India are often the inspiration for these beautifully made pieces.
Kundan and Polki Jewellery
This popular style of Asian jewellery (especially in the northern states of India and Pakistan) which is rich in history, features raw, uncut diamonds, known as Polki. These Polki have a silver or gold foiling on the back to reflect light, which is known as Kundan. Unlike most diamonds that are popular around the world, Polki diamonds are not processed or polished and instead are presented in their natural form.
An example of Polki style stones (canva)
Polki diamonds feature in many types of jewellery including earrings, necklaces, nose rings, pendants and rings. The term Kundan is also used to refer to jewellery set in the same way as Polki, but instead of the uncut diamonds, they are set with glass to reduce cost.
A style of Asian jewellery characterised by its latticed filigree designs, often in gold.
Jali style filigree earrings (Minar Collection)
The term jali (‘net’ in English) is often used to refer to the latticed screen or perforated stone designs which are common in Indian and Islamic architecture (mashrabiya).
Originating from the Mughal era of around the 17th-18th century, Thewa is a unique form of jewellery making involving the fusing of gold onto molten glass. Its manufacture is centred around the glass making of Pratapgarh, Rajasthan.
Meenakari (also known as enamelling) is an ancient form of jewellery making, using coloured enamels to embellish gold or silver jewellery pieces, which are then fired in a kiln.
Meenakari Style Necklace and Earring Set (Minar Collection)
Originating in the Jaipur region, it often includes the traditional Mughal colours of white, green and red.
Navratna (meaning nine gems) jewellery features nine different gemstones - ruby, natural pearl, red coral, emerald, yellow sapphire, diamond, blue sapphire, hessonite and cat’s eye.
Navratna ring in 18ct white gold (Minar Collection)
The ruby represents the Sun, and the other eight represent a different part of the solar system. Navratna jewellery has important cultural significance across the region and is seen as a symbol of status and wealth. They are also believed to benefit the wearer’s health and well-being.
With its origins in Gujarat, specifically Kutch - Pachchikam jewellery is an elaborate art form that looks similar to Kundan and often uses Polki diamonds shaped into aesthetic patterns. Each item of this exclusive jewellery is hand-crafted and has a unique charm.
Pachchikam style necklace and earring set in rouge coloured 22ct gold (Minar Collection)
Also known as Lac (lacquer in English), this type of jewellery is made from an insect resin known as Kerria lacca and originates from Rajasthan.
Lac Bangles (canva)
The Lac is often made into bangles, which can be found in the markets of Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur. It can also be made into earrings, necklaces and rings.
Materials found in Asian Jewellery
Historically, items of natural origin were used to make jewellery during ancient times - feathers, flowers, seeds, ivory and bone. It wasn't until later that gold and silver became the dominant material used in the making of Asian jewellery. Silver as a material for jewellery also has significance for Muslims - this is due to the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him) wearing a silver ring which bore his seal.
What gold is used for Asian jewellery?
By far the most dominant type of gold featured in Asian jewellery is 22ct gold, which is comprised of 91.6% gold purity and is also known as Indian gold or Pakistani gold.
Asian jewellery valuation
Many within the Asian community have amassed a sizeable jewellery collection, which may have been passed down through generations. Having an up-to-date valuation of that jewellery is an important step in understanding the true worth of those treasured pieces. Getting your jewellery valued can also ensure that you have adequate coverage in case of loss, damage or theft.
If you have had the chance to read this full article then you will have seen the sheer range and complexity of Asian jewellery. Therefore the valuation of Asian jewellery requires specialist knowledge and experience. Minar Jewellers has over thirty experience within the Asian jewellery industry in the UK, and we specialise in providing professional valuations from an IRV (Institute of Registered Valuers) Valuer.
The enduring influence of Asian Jewellery traditions
With its roots in the religions and rituals of the Indian subcontinent, Asian Jewellery still plays a significant role in the cultural identity of the region. Fashion now forms the main drive to wear jewellery, and this can be seen through the popularity of the latest trends from Bollywood and Lollywood. With the primary focus being on bridal jewellery, gold also has a strong presence as a form of financial security or investment.
The culture of the region demands that the men and women of the Indian subcontinent are among the most decorated in the world, and south Asian jewellery is among the most exquisite in history.