Amidst a Hall of Gold
So, I’ve always wondered what the inside of a jewelry store was like. Nah, not the shopping-for-wedding kind of curiosity. There you’re pretty much bombarded by everything they’re trying to throw at you, or gawping so hard at bling so obviously out of your range (for me, that is), that there’s no time to take in anything else. What I mean is what goes on behind scenes, sort of. It isn’t to be expected that you, as a total stranger, will be shown the whole caboodle, but you can ask, right?
I decided that I’d ask the GRT Thangamaligai store people to let me have a peek inside their machinery. After about a dozen phone calls and rescheduling of appointments, it finally did happen. I met the big guys. On their own turf, so to speak.
These gems have life in them: their colours speak, say what words fail of.
It’s a woman’s dream.
Racks and racks of gold bangles hang on stands behind glass cases; gleaming strands of necklaces swing heavily from the hands of soft-spoken salespeople. Platinum earrings gleam palely, watched by the careful eyes of those in-charge, while diamonds sparkle from velvety soft busts.
I am within the sacred precincts of the GR Thangamaligai jewellery showroom, Chennai – and feel like a kid let loose in a candy store. Hundreds of customers mill about me, looking at every stand the sore has to offer, purchasing the requirements for weddings, births, special occasions, or even no-occasions. It’s a thiruvizha all hours of the day, and all days of the year.
I traipse up and down entire floors that are devoted to lovingly crafted gold, to mellifluously wrought silver, dazzling creations of platinum, brilliant confections of diamond that cost Lakhs of rupees and slither in your hand like the finest silk, and costume jewellery that seems to be a collection put together entirely of colours, light and stars. Established in 1963, GR Thangamaligai is among the largest of jewellery showrooms in South India – and they also hold the singular honour of being the largest Hallmark jewellers. “Purity without a Premium,” states their proud legend.
Not surprisingly, security people throng the halls too. When I tell one of them that I’m here to see the store’s high-ups, they’re suspicious. Notes after notes pass through their hand, and after three calls, I’m escorted to plush, AC-humming hallways, where I wait in a ochre-painted room. Finally, I’m met by the man behind GRT – who’s surprisingly down-to-earth and easy to talk to.
“I suppose, as we grew up, the store grew along with us,” says G R Radhakrishnan, Managing Director, of his father G Rajendran’s pioneering efforts in establishing the store. What was originally a small shop measuring around 500 – 600 sq ft, is now a gigantic enterprise standing four floors tall in its primary location on North Usman Road, T Nagar, along with another showroom of three floors, devoted entirely to silverware and other artefacts. The main showroom, in the meantime, houses every other metal and stone that adorns the best jewellery.
I’m captivated by the hustle and bustle on each floor, as I’m shown all the workings by a very nice young man called Thamizh. He walks barefoot, skipping nimbly though each floor, being accosted by people working there. Curious customers look at my camera questioningly. An asari works on jewelry in a corner, looking jaded, probably, with all the minute work.
One of the reasons for GRT’s immense popularity is its dual approach to the customer’s fashion sense: they cater both to the quintessentially traditionally inclined, as well as the needs of the modern woman. “We work on jewellery for Temples as well – ethnic work is our speciality,” asserts Radhakrishnan. “Name any of the large temples today: Thirupathi, the Thirumalai Thiruppathi Devasthanam on Venkatnarayana Road, and Lord Parthsararathy of Triplicane – all have jewel-work done by us. That, in fact, has acted a s assort of inspiration for our vintage collection: small sets of jewellery that costs anywhere from around Rs 30,000, and are intended to be worn for parties and marriage receptions.” Indeed, the collection is crafted in a stunning variety of designs that lean heavily towards traditional wear, but designed with a marvellous synchronicity: rubies and emeralds are in profusion, in collusion with modern conceptions of jewellery. There is also the completely bindaas costume jewellery collection that suits modern office-goers excellently.
The diamond collection occupies an entire section by itself, nestling with the Dewdrop Platinum Collection. Intricately woven strands of every girl’s delight dangle tantalizingly, wrought in intriguing designs. “We prize talent always,” says Radhakrishnan, as an employee handles the necklace with something very like devotion. “Our designers are not always in-house, neither are they restricted to well-known designing houses. In our opinion, creativity and originality come to the fore,” he says, displaying gleaming golden and silver pooja vessels that cost anywhere from 1 Lakh to 10 Lakhs. A ghee lamp alone, around 8 grams, is valued at Rs 8000.
The Fire and Earth Collection occupies another especial pride of place, along with the Featherlight Collection, composed of feathery chains and necklaces that almost float on thin air . “We believe in re-inventing ourselves – for this is a fluid world, and we need to stay on top of things.” Small wonder that the showroom has won the Best Diamond Showroom Award, and the Best Platinum Showroom Award recently, for their professionalism and creative approach.
On top of the list of achievements, however, is clearly the Silversmith showroom, containing the Natya Collection.
Designed especially keeping dancers and dance schools in mind, the collection features a mind-blowing collection of anklets, Muthumalas, headsets, bangles, maatal for the ears, necklaces, and rakodis. “Long ago, Temple dancers wore these jewels made of pure gold embroidered with precious stones. Today, Bharathanatyam and Kuchipudi dancers wear temple jewellery. Also known as the Kemp set, these ornaments are made of silver, dipped in gold with intricate stone gem-work adorning them. This form of jewellery is a favourite among South Indian Classical dancers, as it provides a very ethnic feel and makes the dancer look even more engaging,” says Radhakrishnan. “We brought the Natya Collection to the dancers and dance schools themselves, campaigning to them about its merits. I must say, the response has been wonderful. Our collections are handpicked designs inspired from the deities that adorn the South Indian temples. Our Natya Collection has the entire range to garb any professional dancer from head to toe.”
There’s also general artifacts, like Thanjavur paintngs and crystal showpieces.
How does he think jewellery trends have changed from the 60s to now?
“In those days, women were much more concerned with locking up their jewels in lockboxes – accumulation of wealth was the primary criterion,” smiled Radhakrishnan. “These days, a woman wants to use her jewellery. No more does a bride wish to lock up her jewels that she’s worn to her Reception – even her marriage jewels need to be usable in everyday life.” He pauses. “These days, women wish to make the best of everything, and jewellery is no exception.”
Spoken like a true jewelsmith.