When Ahmedabad-based Aditi Amin launched her jewellery brand, Uncut, in 2019, she wanted to fill the market gap for prêt polki and let the craft move beyond the tag of occasion wear. The raw beauty of the polki, which is essentially an uncut diamond, continues to be a traditional treasure trove, with intricately layered necklaces, ornate chokers, maang tikas, bangles and earrings. But Amin believed the Indian customer, influenced by trends in the West, was ready for designs that could be worn on a regular basis.
Her eclectic pieces, from earrings, studs and danglers to necklaces, bracelets, cuffs and rings that use traditional jadau techniques—all priced under ₹1 lakh—slowly started finding customers. Having actor Soha Ali Khan as the muse helped.
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“Many Indian women own heirloom polki. They hardly get worn a few times over a lifetime,” says Amin. “In today’s fast-paced life, everyone is looking for quick gratification and functionality. We noticed this a lot post-lockdown. More people started reaching out, especially in the absence of travel, looking for practical jewellery.”
More brands have entered the market since to offer everyday jewellery pieces. These contemporary designs can be teamed with formal wear to create a wedding or a festive look, or be worn as statement pieces with casual wear, fusion resort wear or western wear.
A new serving of tradition
The heritage of polki and its craft can be traced back to the Mughal era. The crafting technique reached new heights under the patronage of the Rajputs and went on to be adopted by royal families across the subcontinent. It has found its niche in trousseaus and for festive occasions.
The shift towards modern pieces has forced innovation. “Polki diamonds are synonymous with elegance and regalia rooted in our culture and tradition. It represents people’s roots. A minimal take on elaborate polki jewellery is a reflection of transient fashion trends. People are looking to make bold statements without compromising on comfort,” explains Jaipur-based Abhishek Raniwala, co-founder and creative director of Raniwala 1881, a jewellery brand that offers contemporary polki pieces. Reimagining polki in a daily-wear line without undermining its true essence and shine, and coming up with a minimally designed ring, charm pendant or stud, is difficult but not impossible, he says.
Like Amin, he too is seeing a rise in millennial and Gen Z customers, especially brides, who know exactly what they want. “The versatility, individuality has done the trick—a sari, a little black dress or fusion wear with a minimal polki ring, pendant, earrings and bracelet of choice have morphed into everyday wear and are still considered classics,” Raniwala says.
This reflects the growing desire to live in the moment and wear what you have rather than just keep it safe in a locker, believes Aavriti R. Jain, founder of Dhora India, another jewellery brand seeing a rise in the number of customers for contemporary polki designs.
Growing up in a family of jewellers, Jain would see people buying polki and kundan when there was a wedding in the house. “Eventually, they would either look for a jeweller to break the heavy sets into simpler pieces or wait for another wedding to wear them again,” she says. “People don’t have the time to do that any more.”
Jain wants people to appreciate jewellery for its craftsmanship and not limit it to the kind, and value, of the metal used. “The process of working with polki and meena started last year in the lockdown. I wanted to make use of surplus charms, metals, polki and old tukris from factories and manufacturing units,” she says.
“It’s difficult to drive end-to-end sustainability in jewellery making but I want to be as conscious as possible,” she adds, noting, “We are based out of Jaipur and also procure surplus polki, kundan and meena from all parts of the country.”
Her recent collections, Sukoon and Mehfil, were made entirely with surplus kundan, meena and upcycled metal from factories. “I stick to old designs and charms—chand, sitara, keri—and hang them around simple chains or pearl strings or make them into pendants. The framework is kept minimal around these designs,” she says.
For Raniwala, working with polki is a tribute to Rajasthan’s “heirloom treasure” and Indian architecture. Drawing design inspiration from architecture, his collection Polki Stories, for instance, has studs, chandelier earrings, pendants, charms and bracelets depicting details of a mahal’s mihrabs and engraved pillars. Prices start from ₹15,400.
If the authenticity of polki karigari (workmanship) is to be retained, it’s clear that artisans will need to be involved. So whether or not minimal, functional jewellery is a passing trend, it’s reassuring to see brands finding ways to reinvent traditional crafts and jewellery.
The writer is a freelance journalist.