Bengali heritage of royal jewellery maker: Sohini Roy

By Indranil Halder

Recently my trip to Van Cleef & Arpels (Castlereagh St ,Sydney) made me realise that there are hardly any Burmese rubies left in the jewellery world to make new piece of jewellery. While Bengal Jewellery from Kolkata, West Bengal, India is still making Burmese Ruby ‘Konthi’ or Choker for Bengali a royal family. Sohini Roy from Bengal Jewellery says, “I believe Bengali royal jewellery heritage has largely remained unexplored but can rival any jewellery houses across the globe with its collection of precision stones and craftsmanship.”

Sohini Roy & Bengal Jewelley:

Sohini Roy is a member of the distinguished jewellery house in Kolkata , the Bengal Jewellery. It stands for heritage, sophistication and exquisite pieces. In 2022, Bengal Jewellery is stepping into 100th year of successful jewellery business. The Roy family is also known as the Bengal Jewellery Parivar is excited with celebrations.  Rahul Singh (whose late grandmother Rajmata Rupamanjari Debi of Jhargram was a very close friend of  Late Maharani Sunity Tagore in Pathuriaghata and he, himself

met Sreedip Roy and his family in the palace of Late Maharani Sunity Tagore and also knew Late Shri Ashok Roy as a very avid collector of royal jewellery and antiques), stated,” Most of the jewellery of Jhargram royal family came from Roy Cousin & Co. Kolkata’s  Sindhi jewellers like Satramdas & DV Lilaram also became popular amongst royals. Satramdas Dhalamal sold to be the likes of Cooch Behar and other princely states of Orissa. In the 70’s Ram Lakshma & Co in New Market became the go to jeweller for the Nepaleese Royal Family. Thakurlal Hiralal was another jeweller catering to royal families from Kolkata. They have now relocated to Mumbai,  while DV Lilaram had closed its door.” It is said that Kolkata Jewellers remain favourites to royal families  of Darbhanga, Bihar and Burdwan, West Bengal.

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In 1811, Bengal Jewellery started as Roy Cousin & Co. Jewellers, 4 Dalhousie Square, Kolkata. In 1924, after a split in the joint family, Bengal Jewellery was formed under the able guidance of late Sambhunath Roy. Over the past century, the house of Bengal Jewellery served as court jewellers to the many of 562 princely states across India.

Today,  Bengal Jewellery remains one of the revered jewellery houses in India. The Jewellery house celebrates traditional practices of Indian jewellery making with precious metals such as gold and silver and precious or semi precious stones. As a jewellery maker, Bengal Jewellery creates, recreates  brilliant pieces with a combination of modern and old designs.

Specialises  in old jewellery repairing. Established business ventures with United States for the last 20 years and have  four outlets in Kolkata. They have outlets in Girish Park (HO), Gariahat, Kankurgachi and City Centre in West Bengal.

Celebrating Bengal’s Royal Jewellery heritage:

Sohini with her family, is proud to be in possession of the heritage jewellery book named Monimala (on precious stones). It is the magnum opus of the jewellery world. In the Indian subcontinental tradition, royals from Maharajas to Nawab Nizams believe stones possessed magical powers and had jewellery such as sarpech or jighas made of precious stones. Monimala highlights such traditional thinking around precious stones. The book was written by Raja SourindroMohun Tagore in 1879. According to Sohini, “Monimala is the grandfather of all books written all over the world on stones.” And each stone is explained in three languages – Bengali, English and Sanskrit.

From the very beginning, Bengal Jewelley has been associated with Raja Sourindro Mohun Tagore family of Pathuriaghata as family jeweller.

The company has provided their services to creating heritage jewellery for Tagore family’s engagement, marriage, baby shower, puja or religious festivals or any smallest of occasions.

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Sohini’s father-in-Law late Asok Roy acquired Tipu Sultan’s father Haider Ali’s Takti or Tabeez ( Muslims wear on neck). It was sold by him to someone (not to mention the name) in 1995. In 2017, while Sohini was on holiday, a jewellery exhibition was organised by the Al Thani Collection of Qatar in Grand Palais, Paris. That ‘takti’ was displayed there. Seeing the ‘takti’ filled her heart with joy. While her mother-in -laws’ father late Bhaben Krishna Roy was also a jeweller. He was the founder of Bangiyo Shikaar Samity (Bengal Hunting Association) in undivided Bengal. Under late BhabenKrishna Roy, 200 hands or 100 artisans worked for the prestigious Hamilton & Co, Kolkata and Sohini is proud of their achievements. And Bengal Jewelley also repair age old coronation crown, that was being used by many Indian royals even today.

In fact, Bengal Jewellery had made jewelleries of many princely states of india and Bengal itself. In Bengal, the royal families of Mayurbhanj, Kalahandi, Hetampur, CoochBehar, Cossimbazar,

Lalgola , Mahishadal, Nuddia , Jaisalmer and Nepal are few of their clients. The late Maharani Suhriti Tagore, the late Maharani Tusharika Roy of Nuddia and Rajmata Pranati Roy, Lalgola House (whose maternal grandmother was Maharani Jyotirmoyee Devi of Nuddia and mother was Jyotsnamoyee Devi of Hetampur), the late Rajmata Bharati Rajya Lakshmi Devi Bhanjdeoof Mayurbhanj (only daughter of King Tribhuvan) are some of their upper crust clients.

Sohini’s family also did few jewellery for the Darbhanga Royal family from Bihar and Burdwan royal family in West Bengal. Saday Chand( the younger brother of last Maharaja of Burdawan, Uday Chanda , study in London, settled in Mumbai with apartments along Queens Necklace) had jewellery made by Bengal Jewellery.

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Rajmata Pranati Roy of Lalgola House is proud of her trusted jeweller , Bengal Jewellery. Her family has been using jewellery from the same company for five generations. Sitting in her Merlin Park, Kolkata mansion, she recalled during one of her daughter’s wedding in 1985, she was surprised to receive a Burmese ruby ‘Konthi’ or choker from Bengal Jewellery even when they suffer from personal tragedy.

With this trust, Bengal Jewellery, has developed their business of heritage jewellery that many cannot claim. Sohini, herself believes heritage jewellery never loses its charms and she loves to wear her ‘kanbaala’ (which belonged to an Indian royal family) and is made of polki diamond, emeralds and basara pearls. She makes sure in the day to day business, her ‘karigar’ or craftsmen keep creating unique pieces of Bengali style jewellery such as Shelly (mostly made of basara pearl), Sitahar , Konkon, satlohori (Rani haar), Baank (hand wear), Jhapta, Kaanbala, Komorpata and Nupur. With her family and craftsmen she passionately works with Columbian emerald, Basara pearls, Burmese ruby (mogok mine), Ceylon yellow sapphire , Kashmir blue saffire and Golconda diamond (type 2A) and Navoratna jewellery stones.

The annual festive Durga pujo celebration is a perfect time, when she likes to showcase Bengal’s jewellery heritage. For 2022, she has already collaborated with Pathuriaghata(Notunbazar) Thakurbari or Prasad in Kolkata not only to highlight age old Bengali heritage of jewellery but also highlight the utmost principles of Bengali values, culture and beliefs. A true revival of Bengali sophistication.

It is time for all of us to celebrate the heritage of Bengal Jewellery and its connection to Indian royal heritage as the world is more knowledgeable about jewellery for Maharaja, Raja, Rai Bahadur ,Zamindar , Baboos and princes with inter exhibitions.