Kundan jewellery is nothing less than an art. Every woman wants to own one; every mother wants one in her daughter’s bridal trousseau collection. Kundan keshri, as it is less popularly known, is the art of setting precious stones and gems with a gold foil between them and the mount. The process is laborious to say the least and it can take up to months to complete one elaborate necklace. Also, it is not just one artisan or goldsmith who works on a piece of kundan jewellery. An entire team of people with varied skill sets are required to work on each different aspect of the ornament till it is completed. The final look, it must be said, is like a waterfall of lightly shimmering gems. Pure elegance, sheer confidence—it’s all embodied in a kundan set.
Kundan jewellery is one of the oldest forms of jewellery native to India, dating back to the Mughal era. The technique probably developed as a result of artisans trying to fit uncut stone into handmade jewellery. One must remember that those were the days when stone cutting and setting were yet unheard of. The name, kundan, means ‘refined gold’ as it uses the purest form of molten gold for the foils used to set the stones. This style, of using gold foil instead of clasps and rims to set the stones, is also known as jadau. The kundan style is believed to have originated in North India—in Delhi—and flourished under the royal patronage of the Mughals. From the Mughal royal dynasty, the style spread to Rajasthan and Gujarat. Today, it is known world over and Rajasthan is considered to be the centre for the best kundankari workmanship.
There are many styles and variations in Kundan work, with the meena kundan being considered the most traditional. In this style, the stones are encrusted on one side and the reverse is decorated with elaborate enamel or meenakari work. It is said that the meenakari was a way of adding to the beauty of the kundan jewellery. But overtime it came to be as much admired as the kundan itself.
Traditional kundan jewellery comes as a full set of an ornate necklace, matching bangles or bracelet and earrings. There are even kundan rings and hair adornments. However, nowadays these can be bought separately as well. Kundan jewellery is available in all styles—as rani haars and necklaces, as a pendant at the end of a chain of precious stones or pearls, with just precious stone setting or gems and polka (the diamond stones used in the kundan style). The bangles and earrings too can be quite the statement pieces in themselves. With kundan jewellery, even the smallest piece is elaborate. It definitely can’t be termed as light jewellery. So it calls for a special occasion to bring out that kundan set.