Pearls melt in the city of Nizams as slowdown casts shadow

Written by Kavitha Venkatraman | BV Mahalakshmi | Hyderabad, Nov 22 | Updated: Nov 23 2008, 06:31am hrs
The ongoing financial gloom across the globe has a rather unusual victim. While Hyderabad, or often called Cyberabad, is reeling under the threats of job cuts in the IT industry, pearls, patronised by the Nizams for over 200 years, is losing sheen.

A shift in the customers preference and evolving fashion trends have seen many traders and jewellers change their business models to sustain in the long run. They have moved to other precious stones, like diamond, instead of pearls.

Change in fashion and trends have shrunk the market both in terms of quantity and value over the years. Over the past 10 years, the reduction in price of pearl is to the tune of 90%. There are no takers for pearls in the market. In fact, there is no resale value for the product. For example, Tahiti black pearls, which is supposed to be very costly after Persian pearls, has also seen a downtrend. Today, good quality Tahiti black pearls are available for Rs 50,000 to Rs 1,00,000 per strand. This used to be three times more five years ago, jewellers say. Also, the high-value pearls that are seen in the market are only the old stock that are getting circulated.

Diminishing demand for pearls has forced many jewellers to change their loyalty to other precious stones, especially diamonds. In fact, in the case of certain jewellers, the contribution of pearls to the overall turnover has come down to less than 1%.

According to jewellers, pearls in Hyderabad have a very long history. Around 200 years ago, the trade flourished in the city during the Nizams time. Dealers from Persia used to come here to trade and made good money. Although production, processing or stringing of pearls were not done in Hyderabad those days, the city earned the name Pearl City purely because of trade. The volume of business, done during those days, were huge. Later, the market started to concentrate on other places such as Mumbai and Kolkata as other maharajas in the country extended their patronage for pearls.

After Persia stopped production, it was the Japanese who started pearl cultivation in salt water. Pearls from Japan were of good quality and were very heavily priced. Then came the Chinese, who learnt tricks of trade, mastered the art and started culturing pearls in fresh waters. In fact, traders from Hyderabad, Mumbai and other cities used to go to China and Hong Kong and buy pearls in huge quantities in auctions. Then they would drill, process the pearls and sell them. For example, at Chandanpet village, which is little away from Hyderabad, almost the entire population was engaged in the delicate art of drilling pearls. But today, because of the dying market, there is not even a handful that practice this art, said Satish Agarwal of Kundan Jewellers and Exporters in Hyderabad.