No need for precious gold when you can have silver
Bob Marley is famous for many of his quotes and one of those is, “don’t gain the world and lose your soul; wisdom is better than silver or gold.” His words may be valuable than any precious metal but a collection of teensy tiny trinkets is a dream for most Indian women.
Mahesh Gupta, owner of 226 years old Shri Ram Hari Ram showroom in Dariba Kalan, Chandni Chowk, sits at the entrance of the showroom where he carefully looks at all jewellery pieces through his loupe –suggesting the rate one may get based on its quality.
While the effect of gold and silver are starkly different on various skin tones, silver in contemporary designs is finding its sweet spot in every woman’s jewellery reserve. At Gupta’s shop, even the guard sports his selection of silverware on his fingers. And the oldest shop in the market that started retailing silver jewellery, the showroom even serves water to visitors in silver glasses.
The shiny white metal which is currently retailing at Rs 40,000 per kilogram at Shri Ram Hari’s with an official rate of Rs 47,000 per kilogram is an easy steal for a society that has been obsessed with gold for the longest. The increasing crime rates related to snatching and burglary are another factor that helps push the case of the silver in the Indian market.
Gupta who has been working at the shop for the last 65 years introduces himself as a servant at the shop. “When I started, I used to serve water, now I often drink it myself”, he explains. With a huge staff that is stationed at various corners of the double-storey building, Gupta only ends up meeting his old clients and listening to their special requirements.
He says, ‘It is usually the upper-middle class who indulge in gold or diamonds. But silver is something everyone buys for its beauty and of course affordability.” He adds that it is often the young girls who splurge on silver jewellery.
India has a scarce availability of silver, while sometimes procured from Madhya Pradesh, it is Russia and Africa were a lot of the metal comes from for the store.
A little walk inside the store and Preeti Jain (name changed) – dressed in a blue floral printed saree like the rest of the female staff there—shows us a selection of silver rings from their collection. Traditional yet intricate shapes are a commonality in most ring designs. The price range for these rings starts from Rs 800 and goes up to Rs 5000 and even more based on the design.
Jain greets her customers as if they are her friends. That is the nature of the relationship between the staff and clients here. According to her, there has been a 50% slowdown in the market and the speed in which the stock has been moving.
While the lane that starts with a famous jalebi shop, it is filled with silverware shops in every nook and corner, another store young shoppers go to is Jain Silver Art Jewellery. This caters to those looking for contemporary designs that are more minimalist and less intricate in nature.
Dariba Kalan, which is known for its retail businesses is in fact very close to Kucha Mahajani, also in Chandni Chowk. It is a wholesale market for all precious metal wares and the biggest gold and silver trading hub in the city. The market has about 1,100 businessmen who form The Bullion And Jewellers’ Association, a national organisation that promotes trade opportunities among the shopkeepers and also maintains security within the market.
The Market is busy as it is on most days with little shops set up even under the staircases. A shopkeeper who did not want to be named believes that after food, clothing and shelter, people want to buy jewellery as an investment they can pass on to their children. This tradition is among all classes of society. And while gold is expensive with a rate of Rs 39 lakhs for a kilogram, the business for both gold and silver is the same. As per his understanding, the wholesale market does a business of a thousand crores yearly.
Several studies, backed scientifically, say there are health benefits of silver as it is a powerful antimicrobial agent fighting infection and aiding in cold and flu prevention, wound healing, and more.
Even so, the cold metal known to regulate body temperature, legend says must be worn below the belly button; whereas gold is supposed to be worn above it. This relationship of the human body with metal is an interesting study which shows how we connect with objects for adorning ourselves and at the same time is in synergy with our bodies.