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How India’s Long-Neglected Karigars Can Rejuvenate The Jewellery Industry

It’s a win-win for the artisans and industry.

13/09/2017 8:33 AM IST | Updated 13/09/2017 8:33 AM IST
Rupak De Chowdhuri / Reuters

Over the last few years we have witnessed remarkable dynamics in design. These changes have happened in architecture, technology, fashion, jewellery, in many other sectors. According to McKinsey, "The trends that have unfolded in the apparel sector over the last three decades appear to be playing out in the jewellery sector, but at a much faster pace." Consumer demand for jewellery witnessed a dip due global recession, but it now appears more voracious than ever. Aside from an increasing appetite, consequential changes are also under way, both in consumer behaviour as well as in the industry. It is vital for the jewellery industry to unceasingly be alert and responsive to these important trends and developments.

Gold jewellery featuring traditional elements, but expressed in a contemporary form, is rapidly gaining space in the modern woman's jewellery collection. And it is here that karigars can play a central role.

When it comes to luxury products in this space, the present situation shows a growing desire among consumers, especially women, for functionality and suitability of jewellery. Gone are the days when wearing jewellery was restricted to weddings and social occasions. It is now an integral part of formal ensembles as well. Diversity in product design, therefore, is integral to giving companies in this industry a competitive edge. Uniquely designed jewellery with fine detailing is in vogue. Consumers seek jewellery that stands out beautifully, honours tradition and is good for everyday use. Interestingly, there is also a growing desire for the story value and inspiration behind the collection they buy into.

Gold jewellery featuring traditional elements, but expressed in a contemporary form, is rapidly gaining space in the modern woman's jewellery collection. And it is here that India's traditional craftspeople or karigars can play a central role. They are the link between designers and traditions. India has several highly skilled and trained artisans, and it is the lifestyle industry's responsibility to further boost their livelihood prospects.

It is imperative for jewellery companies to tap into this vast homegrown talent pool that has been significantly underutilised, for the last few decades. With more women asking for wearable jewellery, companies are making the shift from creating ethnic jewellery made purely out of gold, to attractive contemporary pieces using diamonds, polki, coloured gemstones as well as techniques like kundan and nakashi.

The jewellery industry could create 3.59 million jobs by 2022, in addition to the 2.5-3 million existing workers in the industry.

Karigars are talented individuals who breathe life into these designs, infusing the traditional element into modern designer jewellery when directed right. Their handiwork could be the perfect solution to creating jewellery that skillfully combines traditional design elements with new.

While advancements in design making and automation in manufacturing units are welcome, empowering of Indian craftspeople should be an equal focus as it ultimately helps companies differentiate themselves from the rest of the crowd both in the domestic and international markets.

Jewellery companies should thus take up the task of training karigars in the philosophy of what design means for the country today. They should also be sensitised about the importance and demand for their skill. A joint study by the National Skill Development Corporation and KPMG has estimated that the jewellery industry could create 3.59 million jobs by 2022, in addition to the 2.5-3 million existing workers in the industry. Training craftspeople would not only empower them professionally, but also help companies make a meaningful contribution to generating employment in the sector.

Coaching karigars by providing dedicated workstations, replacing rudimentary tools with modern ones, educating them on the dynamic demands of the industry and using safe technology and equipment and working conditions will make an enormous difference. In addition, they should be given a fixed salary and employee-related benefits, such as medical insurance and periodic health check-ups. Companies could even go the extra mile to arrange financial aid in the form of loans for karigars. With such benefits, these talented artisans, who would usually retire by the age of 40 when working in small workshops, would be able to continue developing artful jewellery for a much longer period.

[Promoting karigars] makes sense for the industry, both from a sustainability and financial perspective. After all, jewellery making is all about creativity, talent and some human touch.

Every jewellery manufacturer wants to employ designers who are skilled experts in creating unique pieces according to the highest standards. It is equally important to give something back to the trade by uplifting the lives of karigars—something which will eventually help raise industry standards. Hence, roping in and training karigars as full-time professionals is a win-win situation. Promoting a safe work and living environment for karigars will make a world of difference not only to the skillful hands crafting precious pieces, but also to the companies that invest in their well being. It makes sense for the industry, both from a sustainability and financial perspective. After all, jewellery making is all about creativity, talent and some human touch.

Hrithik Roshan's House

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