A Girl and Her Jewels

21 Mar

“Romance is divine, and I’m not one to knock it,
But diamonds are a girl’s best friend.
Romance is divine, yes, but where can you hock it?
When the flame is gone” – Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,

A friend of mine shared this article on facebook and it was like the author had gone into my head and was saying ‘Yes, you are doing the right thing’. To be honest, I didn’t really know the detailed history of how Madison Avenue and De Beers created the ‘Diamonds are Forever’ craze, but the sentiments expressed in the article are what I’ve always voiced.

Before I start seeming holier than thou, I must tell you that both the techie and I have diamond engagement rings (in India we exchange rings, double the sales for our jewellers). We choose them with great care and made his and her rings because it meant a lot to us to show that we were committed. It was diamonds by default, so I think De Beers has done a good job there, but it could have been any other supposedly valuable stone and we would have been happy. We wear these every day and now that we have put on a few post wedding kilos, they won’t come off, so I guess we were meant to be together for life.

Whenever my mom went jewellery shopping (which was an event saved and planned for over months), from the late 90’s onwards, my brother and I would always lecture her on not buying stones and buying more of gold, but gold that did not have too much of making charges as part of it’s cost. My mom would first try to explain that, yes, she understood where we were coming from but she was buying this to wear, or to give me or her future daughter in-law as gifts, and that she had no intention of ever selling them. My brother and I considering ourselves more worldwise than my housewife mom, not considering that she had run a household for years in a foreign country, told her that jewellery is too expensive to be an indulgence and always has to be thought of in terms of investment, so why doesn’t she just buy gold bars. At this point my mom would glare at us, turn her back on us and ignore us till we got home.

My mother was a typical Indian mother. Indian parents have always set aside money and collected jewellery for their daughter’s weddings. Sometimes, starting form the day the child is born (obviously depending on the families economic status and income levels). In my limited experience, I have seen this happen in families barely above the poverty line (yes, I know it’s unbelievable  but it’s true), as well as, the very, very rich. I understand the sentiment and the practicality of this habit, given the patriarchal society that most of India is governed by. Traditionally, the house and money go to the son, the daughter is given her share of the wealth (or non-wealth) at the time of marriage. Again we won’t go into the reasons for this difference, as that’s whole new ball game.

Anything that is given to the girl, right from a wardrobe to cash, is considered ‘dowry’ and the property of her new family, though it’s technically hers (and the word dowry is never openly). Giving a daughter jewellery carries some gurantee that she will have access to what is hers, over any other gifts. In a crunch the girl can depend on some amount of liquidity from the resale of her jewels or can raise some money against them. It’s the family’s way of giving their daughter some form of security and reducing her dependence for survival on her new family. It will also be preserved to be passed on to her children as family heirlooms from her side of the family. How much of this happens as expected is a discussion in itself which embraces most of the negatives against women in Indian society.

Given today’s ‘modern’ young Indian women, who work and support themselves and their families, the jewellery gifted to them by their birth family is cherished and pulled out to be worn at every major family function. It shows the world the her parents are still a part of her life, irrespective of her married status. She may even use these to start her own business with her parents blessings, though always working towards clearing any debt attached to them. Again, these are hopefully passed on to her children and treasured through generations.

Having explained a little bit of the Indian jewellery sentiment, I will now tell you that I received a good amount of jewellery from my parents when I got married. Some pieces where vintage, having been passed on from my mother’s trousseau, some where over 20 years old (the pieces my mom bought for me every year since the day I was born and some where new, having been bought by my mom to go with my wedding trousseau. Till today, I treasure these pieces and wear them as often as possible (I live in India and attend multiple traditional functions a year, so there is quite a bit of opportunity). Whenever, I wear these pieces, I lovingly explain the significance of each piece to my little daughter, who adores jewellery. And that’s where my relationship with jewellery ends.

To my mother’s distress, I have bought only one set of bangles (and these were gifted by my husband and in-laws when I was pregnant) since my wedding. I have got myself no other jewellery. For my daughter, we got the traditional must-haves at her birth (the two gradmoms put together can be formidable) and another set when she expressed delight at a similar set of mine for her birthday. By Indian, standards this is makes us highly irresponsible parents.

My friends invest in a piece of jewellery every Dante Ras or Diwali, at a minimum. My cousin, who has a son the same age as my daughter invests in two to three jewellery pieces every year after a lot of careful saving and planning. She’s a successful business woman, but loves her jewellery and wants to grow her collection over time. This is partly a personal choice and partly the effect of having grow-up in a family of women who have followed this tradition for generations and still do.

The techie and I have both been on the same page when it comes to our daughter’s upbringing and future. Though we want her to know all the traditions that are part of our lives and appreciate the history of our land, we also want to give her a chance to grow to be the person she wants to be. An independent young woman, who can knows who she is, what she wants to achieve and where she wants to go. For this we have directed all our resources – times, energy and money – towards giving her three gifts. The gift of education (we hope to be able to support her in whatever she chooses to specialize in), the gift or travel (because nothing broadens your understanding of the world as much) and a legacy (no I’m not pretending we royalty, I just mean something special for her to treasure and maybe carry on). This legacy may be the business we are currently struggling to build or something else that will add value to her life (we are fortunately not soothsayers).

To be truthful, again, I have never been a jewellery kind off girl, in the traditional Indian sense, and am a chartered accountant by profession, so it’s easy for me to hold this opinion. That being said, I love my shoes and bags and do plan to buy a few special pieces when I make my money, the only difference being I’ll never consider them as an investment. These purchases are like my mother’s jewellery purchases. She scrimps and saves to buy a special piece because she knows she will enjoy wearing the piece herself or gifting it to someone she loves. She is not thinking of resale value, liquidity or justifying her purchase as an alternative to saving money in the bank.    

The buying of jewellery by Indians, is a really complex topic of discussion  with a lot of history behind it. I don’t think I can actually do justice to it in one post, and I definitely can’t even begin to address the traditions and gender based reasoning that are such a large part of it. What I did what to touch on here was the economic aspect and how it doesn’t really work or apply in today’s world.

I understand if people want to buy jewellery because they derive some enjoyment from it, but buying jewellery today as an investment is not the best move. Yes, when our grandparents did it, gold was a fairly steady commodity, banking was not for everyone and stones where not such a common factor in jewellery unless they were special pieces. The making charges for the metal and the highly erratic and quickly depreciating value of gemstones today (though some are better than others) make jewellery an unreliable investment proposition. If you want to gift you child something, invest in blue chips shares and watch them grow in value as she becomes a young lady or take out a fixed deposit in his name and give him a little egg nest when he needs it. Yes, there are risks involved in any investment, but the ones that give come with a balance sheet or a statement of account, give you a chance to re-asses and change strategy, if required, and they don’t lose value the moment you hand over your hard earned money . If you do get a piece of jewellery buy it because you, or someone you love, will really enjoy it.

Photo Credit: Image 1


Posted by on March 21, 2013 in Family, Stereotypes, The Economics of Life


Tags: , , , , , , ,

10 responses to “A Girl and Her Jewels

  1. Sylvia Jordan

    March 22, 2013 at 9:52 pm

    Nice story. My husband’s parents, who are also Indians, usually exhibit a feeling of excitement and happiness when they’re buying jewellery antiques. I’m not really into jewellery, but if my husband gives me one, I’d surely accept it. The value of the jewellery, for me, is not in the stone or the metal but the thought of the giver.

    • nmaha

      March 22, 2013 at 10:14 pm

      Sylvia, I couldn’t agree more. If you view your jewellery as an accessory or a piece with sentimental value, then go ahead and get it. It’s just not a great investment. Antique jewellery valuation is even more crazy than new jewellery 🙂

  2. Aparna

    March 22, 2013 at 1:56 pm

    Great article and very lucid. I’m copying the foll words from an economist article that I always use to convince my gold-crazy friends (to no avail!): As an investment that does not produce income, its attraction lies solely in the hope that its value will rise or at least be maintained. As a metal, its main use is in jewellery. It defies logic, say the bears, that its price should remain so high without any fundamental change in the sources of demand or constraints on supply. Willem Buiter, a former professor at the London School of Economics who is now the chief economist of Citigroup, has called gold the subject of “the longest-lasting bubble in human history”. He says that he would not invest more than a sliver of his wealth “into something without intrinsic value, something whose positive value is based on nothing more than a set of self-confirming beliefs.”
    Enough said!

    • nmaha

      March 22, 2013 at 10:12 pm

      Aparna, that quote is perfect. The intrinsic value is what I was talking about when I said that a good investment has a balance sheet or statement of account to help us track it’s value.

  3. Deepa

    March 22, 2013 at 12:07 am

    A very well thought out and written piece. Helped explain certain things to me too!

    • nmaha

      March 22, 2013 at 10:13 pm

      Thanks Deepa. I suggest you read the original article, the concept of diamonds as non-wealth is beautifully explained there.

  4. Sanjana

    March 21, 2013 at 11:47 pm

    I don’t wear much jewelry and my parents are used to it, but relatives still ask me why I don’t wear anything or why what I’m wearing is “so thin”, cos for them, if a necklace doesn’t look like it’s thick and heavy ennough to choke you, it’s just not worth it.
    It’s almost like aesthetics don’t matter anymore!

    And you’re right of course, Indian society thrives on gold and festivals like Dhanteras is as much of a marketing gimmick as De Beers is. I never buy gold during those “auspicious” times, and I never buy jewelry as an investment, but I do think gold one of the easier investments to make for ignoramuses like ,e. Buying gold bars is so much easier than talking to investment consultants and figuring out stuff that I don’t really understand! I’ve been hounded by “wealth management” consultants, but never give in, cos I never know whom to trust!

    • nmaha

      March 22, 2013 at 10:17 pm

      I get that sentiment Sanjana, though asthetics are slowly getting a better rap here.:-)
      A small amount of investment in precious metals (not jewellery) is good, though for safety reasons I would suggest buying a financial instrument that derives it’s value from the metal rather than the metal itself.

  5. Aarthy

    March 21, 2013 at 8:45 pm

    Very interesting topic and perspectives.And I must say you write extremely well. Its such a pleasure to read your lucid writing.
    I really liked the three things that you have decided to give your daughter 🙂
    Keep writing!

    • nmaha

      March 21, 2013 at 11:32 pm

      Thanks Aarthy. Right now we are struggling to deliver on two of those three things. That’s life for you :-).


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