Our Very Own Jewel City

Updated: May 18 2003, 05:30am hrs
As you walk past the narrow bylanes in the interior of the city that has time and again witnessed communal frenzy, fear grips you for a moment. But nothing is amiss. There are men at work in dimly lit shanties that barely have space enough to sit and spread their legs. Shoulders bent and eyes fixed onto a piece of dull metal, so tiny that you cannot even see it. On closer examination, you come to know it is a piece of gold that is being transformed into jewellery.

The Sarrafa Bazaar, in the city of Meerut in Uttar Pradesh, 60 km from Delhi, is one of the largest jewellery markets in Asia, though no specific data is available anywhere, says Sarvesh Kumar, secretary, Meerut Bullion Traders Association.

Chitai, meenakari, jadau, filigreeyou name it and it is there. With approximately 25,000 artisans working in the dark, dingy and claustrophobic cubicles, the market sees an everyday business in the range of Rs two crore. During the recent Iraq war, gold prices plummeted all of a sudden. But war or no war, this market is not affected.

Buying and selling here goes on as usual as the market relies upon turnover and works on a minimum profit basis. The jewellery market in Meerut developed after Amritsar which was one of the biggest places for the gold jewellery manufacturers. It lost out due to terrorist related problems.

Also Meeruts proximity to Delhi was an added advantage too. A very unique feature of this market is that it never refuses a good artisan. A craftsman maybe from anywhere in the world, he is welcome here if his work is good, says Vivek Shekhar of Manohar Lal & Sons, known for their exquisite quality and designs.

As a result, the market is flooded with the best talent from all over India be it Maharashtra, Bengal, or Jaipur. You can call it mini India, beams Mr Shekhar, and adds There is unity in diversity. You would get all kinds of jewellerytraditional and modern. Also, the relationship between manufacturers and artisans is excellent because the two work in tandem, giving each the space to work openly.

Since the market boasts of people from various cultures and religion, the variations in design are tremendous and the creativity of the artisans results in good stuff in pure gold, stone work and diamonds.

Sarrafa is flooded with all kinds of jewellerybangles, rings, earrings, chains, bracelets, anklets, in short, anything and everything in gold. But amongst the local population, the chitai work is very popular. Batmi, bridge work and kundan are also popular, says Mr Kumar. Batmi involves very delicate designing with the help of a thin wire. Plain gold jewellery sells the most as also the ethnic one, explains Mr Shekhar.

The market has sets ranging from 100-300 gram to heavier ones but the former are more in demand than the latter. Baalis are more popular with the local population though western designs have yet to gain market here. Jewellery that is not antique but made to look like antique has a great market here, explains Sudhir Shekhar, Viveks younger brother. Bangles in insets of twos and fours ranging from 20-200 gram are very much in demand here.

Traders in Sarrafa bazaar say that there is an enormous influx of gold into the market. Though the sources are not known to them, yet the market caters to the needs of the entire rich surrounding districts of Baraut, Baghpat, Saharanpur, Ghaziabad, Muzaffarnagar, Bulandshahar, Aligarh, Moradabad and several thousands of villages around these.

Coloured stones (also called birth stones) are sold in good quantity. Rubies, emeralds, pearls, blue, yellow sapphire and topaz are all used in the manufacturing of jewellery. The market is purity conscious and you get the best in terms of authenticity, design and prices. And there is no fraudulent dealing, asserts Mr Kumar. This is the only market throughout Uttar Pradesh where you get certified diamonds approved by the International Gemological Institute, says Prabhat Shekhar, the youngest of the Shekhar brothers.

The people in business here have a direct link with them. Hence, the quality is the best and diamonds are much sought after here, says Prabhat. However, the diamond market has gained momentum in the last two years. Earlier, only the upper class bought diamonds but now, the middle class clientele is increasing despite the fact that 80 per cent of them do not have any idea of its purity, reiterates Amit Goel of Bombay Diamond Palace. But business in Sarrafa bazzar is mostly done on the basis of trust and honest dealing. However, the corruption and law and order situation in Uttar Pradesh has left certain loopholes in the trade at Sarrafa.

Suprisingly, Sarrafa does not have an export market despite providing the best in quality and design. The gold traders face a constant threat to their lives. This is a major cause of concern and prevents the market from expanding its horizon even as the government plans to make it the Jewel City.