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De-Mystifying Kundal Polki

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De-Mystifying Kundal Polki

FOR THE LONGEST TIME, I used to think that “kundan” was the name given to costume jewellery that mimicked polki-jadau creations. I discovered later in life that kundan actually refers to the style of setting diamond slices or polkis. This begs the question, what is polki-kundan jewellery? How is it valued? What should one look for when considering a big purchase? How does it appreciate in comparison to conventional jewellery set with diamonds, emeralds, rubies and sapphires?

A romantic parrot ring by Munnu Gem Palace

A romantic parrot ring by Munnu Gem Palace

An example of Partash work. This style uses more gold and retains its look longer

An example of Partash work. This style uses more gold and retains its look longer

But before we attempt to answer these questions, let’s first understand the primary components that form the valuation matrix of polki-kundan jewellery.

Polkis are very thin, flat-cut, slices of diamonds (almost like contact lenses), and gold is used to set polkis and construct the piece. The value of the polki is determined by its quality and whether it is treated or untreated.

A Colombian emerald set in kundan style by Munnu Gem Palace

A Colombian emerald set in kundan style by Munnu Gem Palace

Cuff bracelet in diamonds, rubies and emeralds using traditional techniques

Cuff bracelet in diamonds, rubies and emeralds using traditional techniques

The high-quality material is categorised as ‘Syndicate’, a phrase that in the ’60s and ’70s meant material coming from De Beers. Now, the industry uses the term to describe top-grade polki.

The next grade is called ‘Zimbabwe’, simply defined as material coming from the namesake country in Africa. The third, which is the lowest grade, is termed as ‘khilwas’. These categorisations are done to describe the fundamental quality of the material.

Exquisite enamel work by Amrapali on the reverse of the earrings

Exquisite enamel work by Amrapali on the reverse of the earrings

Close up of polki kundan work by Gem Art Fine Jewels. They are known for using 30% more gold for their pieces

Close up of polki kundan work by Gem Art Fine Jewels.
They are known for using 30% more gold for their pieces

The second most important aspect to consider is treatment. Like gemstones, polki slices are also treated to improve their appearance. Usually, fillers are inserted in the slices to improve clarity and colour. The fillings are typically, 30%, 60% and 80%. Khilwas-Polki is always treated because it otherwise looks quite unattractive and would be difficult to use. Large pieces in necklaces are almost always set with ‘Khilwas’.

Carved tanzanite set with kundan work and polki by Jewels of Jaipur

Carved tanzanite set with kundan work and polki by Jewels of Jaipur

Ruby and polki diamond earrings by Amrapali

Ruby and polki diamond earrings by Amrapali

It’s important to note, Syndicate Polki also comes in treated and untreated categories and the price varies accordingly. For example, the price difference between Khilwas-Polki with 80% filling and untreated Syndicate-Polki can be 100% to 150%!

SETTING WITH GOLD

The next point is the quantity of gold used for setting and more importantly, the man-hours spent in crafting the piece. The most crucial aspect is how carefully the diamond slice is encased by the silver cell and the edges sealed with gold leaf work (Kundan) so it is air tight. To properly finish only one cell in a large necklace from start to finish, can take 5 to 7 days. If a polki is set in a rush, or if not enough gold leaf is used, the slices, over time, will turn grey due to moisture in the air oxidising the silver.

Thirty to forty years ago, craftsmen would spend 6-8 months creating a single necklace. Now, they are expected to churn out that same piece, using an identical method, in a few weeks. It is impossible to do this without compromising on some part of the creative process.

Like a painting, polki-kundan jewellery also requires restoration work. Its worth lies not in its intrinsic value, but in the quality of craftsmanship, technique and the brand of the artist.

THE MEENA ELEMENT

This brings us to the third element in our valuation matrix – the enamel work or meenakari. The uniqueness of the colour combinations, the finesse of the enamel work, the creativity of the design are all elements that enhance value. As painters and sculptors are regarded for their unique style, similarly brands like Amrapali, Umrao, The Gem Palace and Jewels of Jaipur are sought by collectors for their distinctive artisanship. So, go ahead and delve into the history and grandeur that can only come from this ancient jewelled art, secure in the knowledge that you are acquiring a piece of history for the next generation.

1. Loose polkis

1. Loose polkis

2. Single polki piece

2. Single polki piece

3. Polki set in a silver casing. Notice the edges of the silver casing that need to be overlapped on the polki

3. Polki set in a silver casing. Notice the edges of the silver casing
that need to be overlapped on the polki

4. Stage 1 - preparing the template with flat gold strips

4. Stage 1 – preparing the template with flat gold strips

5. Sealing the polki cell with gold leaf or kundan work

5. Sealing the polki cell with gold leaf or kundan work

6. Final stage of setting each casing in the gold template

6. Final stage of setting each casing in the gold template

7. Applying enamel or meena

7. Applying enamel or meena

8. Enamel work

8. Enamel work

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