A small pearl shop-owner at the magnificent Charminar, a landmark monument of the old city of Hyderabad, has been selling pearls for the last 40 years. Khan sahib, a pan-chewing, typical Hyderabadi of around 60 years of age, says he has been selling different kinds of pearls of various shapes and sizes. There were days, two decades ago, when he used to get a profit of R50 a month, which gradually increased to R150 per month. However, after 1990s, his business started going downstream. He realised that the City of Pearls, Hyderabad, had started losing its sheen and market momentum, thanks to the advent of Chinese pearls, which could either be cultured or fake.
Hyderabad pearls have had a very long history with the erstwhile Nizams of Hyderabad patronising pearl trade. Once upon a time, Chandanpet, just outside Hyderabad, was popularly known for its expertise in the delicate art of pearl drilling. Around 200 years ago, the trade flourished in the city. Dealers from Persia used to come here to trade and made good money. The city got its name from this trade as the volume of business was huge. Later, the market started to concentrate at other places across the country.
“The once famous Hyderabad pearls, patronised by the Nizams for over 200 years, are losing lustre and sheen. It is very expensive to procure natural pearls. So there is a shift for cheaper ones due to affordability,” says a leading jeweller from the city. Pearls from Japan, Australia, Indonesia, Burma, Venezuela and Tahiti are also coming to the market. Incidentally, pearls from Basra (Iraq) were in huge demand and the city was once a leading producer of natural pearls. But, after the war, production stopped, as most of the oysters died due to excess oil exploration.
Another interesting reason seems to be about the ongoing shift in the customers’ preference and the evolving fashion trends which has seen many traders and jewellers change the preferences to precious stones instead of pearls. Says Satish Agarwal, MD, Kundan Jewellers and Exporters, “There is a change in the fashion, and trends have shrunk the market both in terms of quantity and value over the years. In the last 10 years, sales have decreased by 5%. In fact, it is a gradual falling decade of pearls,” he says with regret.
“Over the last 5 to 10 years, prices of pearls have seen a downfall by 10-20%