By Indranil Halder
For many thousands of years, men’s jewellery has been part of West Bengal heritage like rest of India(Painting of Vasco da Gama of Portugal’s Brass No Match For the Ruler of Calicut’s Gold, 1498). Bengal artisans have a high quality of craftsmanship. Such as Biswajit Manna, Kali Manna and Pravat Ghosh associated with Ramgopal Paul from New Rupasree Jewellers, Kolkata, India who keep creating extraordinary men’s jewellery pieces.
Heritage of Men’s Jewellery in Bengal:
Terracotta statues from 2300 year old Chandraketugarh, West Bengal, India, highlighted the concept of men wearing jewellery. Two such statues are: Yaksha( Male Nature Spirit, 1st century BC, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) and Rattled in the shape of Kubera (Leader of Yaksha, c.200 BCE, Honolulu Academy of Arts) with earrings. Those earrings are called “mrishtakundala” or bright polished earrings by Indian museologist, art historian, epigraphist and Sanskrit scholar, C.Sivaramamurti.
While statues from another 2300 year old site named Mahasthanagar in Bangladesh is equally important for history of Men’s Jewellery in Bengal. Chinese monk Hiueng Tsang who visited Mahasthanagar(7th century CE ), mentioned about 100 Dev temples with Hindu male gods. Today, ancient statues found in Bangladesh,show male gods wearing exquisite jewellery such as bust of Vishnu (Hindu God, 5th–6th century, Metropolitan Museum, New York collection). A true reflection of fashion statement and personal expression of the time. In Bengal, this tradition of men wearing jewellery with precious metals, beads and stones( precision & semi precious) continued through the periods of Hindu Raja, Sultanate and Mughal eras. Gold remains the most precious metal in India to be used in cultural celebration , food and jewellery.
In 1757, after the Battle of Plassey in Bengal, Admiral Charles Watson was presented with a typical Murshidabad court fashion turban Jewel or sarpech (Victoria & Albert Museum, London)in enamelled gold set with diamonds, rubies, emeralds, a sapphire, and a pendent pearl. The cover of the book, The Last Prince of Bengal , His Royal Highness, the last Nawab Nizam of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa , Mansour Ali Khan ( born in 1830) can be seen wearing a sarpech too. Traditional Indian heritage of men decorating their turbans with jewellery is mentioned in Kumarasambhava ( a poem by Indian Sanskrit poet Kalidash, 5th CE).
In 19th century Bengal, the story of entrepreneur and merchant prince Dawarakanath Tagore wearing a diamond jewellery in his shoe is well known. Bengal gold artisans kept creating exquisite men’s jewellery like kurta buttons(Set of ‘Guinea’ Studs by A Sarkar & Co Jewellers) rings and chains for Bengali men. In 21st century, the concept of men’s jewellery has almost vanished in West Bengal. Conservative mindset and lack of interesting approach to masculinity are to be blamed.
*Bengal includes West Bengal and Bangladesh till 1947
Today, across the globe , there is a stronger cultural shift in the codes governing masculinity. Men in West, have started wearing simple but significant pieces of jewellery. Different to English monarch Henry VIII( Hans Holbein’s famous portrait of Tudor monarch in gold, precious stones and pearls )or Sir Bhupinder Singh , the Indian Maharaja of Patialia(wearing the single largest diamond necklace commission ever made by Cartier).
For GQ magazine, singer Pharrell wore necklace by Chanel and ring by Lorraine Schwartz. Actor Timothée Chalamet attended events wearing bracelets, necklaces, and glittering Louis Vuitton harness. Singer Harry Styles is known for being a lover of men’s jewellery. In recent time, Buccellati (Italy), Konstantino (Greece) and Georg Jensen( Denmark) are amongst the favourites in men’s jewellery designers catering for men with rings, watches , chain, neckpieces , cufflinks, lapel pins , bracelets and earrings while Tomasz Donocik is constantly creating new pieces for market in Japan and China. It is a renaissance in global men’s jewelley market.
Bengal Karigars to the globe :
Today, according to India’s The Economic Times, there are more than 650,000 gold artisans or karigars in and from West Bengal who are working across India and overseas. They create masterpieces in many Indian gold hubs such as Mumbai, Jaipur and Hyderabad. Sort after by Indian jewellery houses -Malabar Gold & Diamonds, Senco Gold and Diamonds and Tanishq. They are also present in gold souks of Dubai.
Ashok Bengani from Ankurhati Gems and Jewelley Park, Howrah, West Bengal, recently told, The Economic Time, that states across India are looking for skilled artisans from Bengal their quality of craftsmanship and dedications. Even then, these highly skilled artisans are still working in unhealthy work environments in Surat diamond factories or Kerela gold factories or other Indian jewellery hubs. Till today, they do not have an association to bargain for better remuneration and welfare.
It is great time for West Bengal to utilise this century old traditional craftsmanship and keep developing these high quality gold artisans for global men’s jewellery market. To achieve such august position, Bengal artisans need free workshops, national initiatives and international importers too. State and federal governments should work together with private sectors to reshaped employment opportunities. Focus should be on innovative acceptance, policies and job oriented trainings.
With multilateral thinking, West Bengal’s capital Kolkata also has the capacity to become the gold hub of India and supplier of skilled human capital for global gold men’s jewellery industry. Just like Kolkata International Book Fair, Gold & Bengal Artisans Expo needs to be promoted far and wide. Bengali men like Bapi Lahiri(Bollywood music director ,singer) keep wearing heavy gold men’s jewellery and promote Bengal artisans. Designers like Sabyasachi Mukerjee should create more jewellery by Bengal artisans for his The Tropic of Calcutta Fine Jewellery Collection for men too. Non resident Indians (NRI) should commission trendy men’s jewellery to support artisans too. It is time for Bengal artisans to enter the greatly untapped global market for men’s jewellery and increasing their buyers base simentaously. With increased global demand for men’s jewellery, gold artisans can make West Bengal the next gold tourism destination with a much awaited ‘global jewellery artisans’ identity.’
*Artisans from West Bengal are referred as Bengal artisans