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Jewelry Shopping in India

January 29, 2014

While on tours, some travelers resent being brought to factories or warehouses to see how goods are made. Tour guides have usually made deals and receive kickbacks if anyone buys anything. I’ve never found these merchants to be overly pushy and, as an artist, I appreciate craftsmen and tend to enjoy demonstrations showing how goods are made. Last year on our trip to India we were visiting the desert city of Bikaner when our guide Devander informed us we’d be making a stop at a local factory specializing in the production of silver jewelry. Bikaner, we learned, had been producing silver jewelry for a thousand years, although most of the silver now came from neighboring Pakistan.


Our bus pulled in front of a modest house, opulent by Indian standards, and we were ushered into a windowless back room with couches placed against the walls. I was surprised when we were asked to remove our shoes. Tea and other refreshments were served while the head of the factory explained the history of Indian jewelry, and then to my amazement people appeared with boxes of jewelry which they dumped at our feet. Before long, the floor was no longer visible. (In this picture you can still see the floor, but eventually it disappeared beneath a glittery mound of rings, brooches, necklaces and earrings.)


I was startled. Having managed a jewelry store in Oregon for eight years, I was all about presentation, making the product look its best, appear more expensive than what was being charged. I relied on velvet pads and special lighting to accent the qualities of the treasures we sold. Jewelry dumped on our feet to be walked on or crawled over was at times painful, and seemed blasphemous.




My feelings weren’t shared by many of the ladies on our tour. One woman, the inveterate shopper of our group, sank to her knees and proclaimed she’d finally made it to heaven. At first, Mrs. Chatterbox wasn’t particularly interested since she prefers gold to silver, but eventually she caught the fever and began combing through the heaps. She finally found an earring she liked but the mate was nowhere to be found. Too bad because we both really liked it. Finding the mate seemed an impossible task but the owner of the factory shrugged and said they’d find it and deliver the set to our hotel. The price was so cheap (approx. $35.00) that it seemed impossible he could make any money from the deal, but we agreed.


In the end, we purchased two pairs of silver earrings, one featuring green malachite and the other red carnelian. The missing mate was delivered to our hotel and Mrs. C. now has fine examples of Indian jewelry to wear. I love seeing them on her, but pretty as they are when I see them sparkling on her ears I swear I can smell the faint odor of feet.





That does seem like a disrespectful way to do it. It's like a farmer slopping the hogs. I just hope they don't do that with everything.
By: PT Dilloway on January 29, 2014
I have bought some terrific jewelry from India online. The price and quality have both been great, and I would have loved to have experienced what you all did.
By: Shelly on January 29, 2014
How to seem civilized and uncivilized at the same time! By the way, your second picture does not show up on my computer?
By: The Broad on January 29, 2014
Actually, it's the third and final picture!
By: The Broad on January 29, 2014
they are beautiful! but too funny on the aroma-memory. :)
By: TexWisGirl on January 29, 2014
A unique method of display, to be sure, but maybe they were using the "greed of dragons" method, you know, the more there, the more you want to look at? (heh) And boy, you have a great story to tell about the jewelry. (Did you know these were meant to be toe rings?) Cat
By: Cat on January 29, 2014
Fancy display floor.
By: Daniel LaFrance on January 29, 2014
Sweaty ear-rings? That must be a first!
By: Bryan Jones on January 29, 2014
oh my stars......I would have thought I had died too. I don't do gold but I love silver. We used to have a tribal store here that sold Indian and Pakistani jewelry. It was run by two old hippies and I would go and ponder what SM was going to buy me for Christmas, buy it and then give it to him to give to me. Mine never smelled like feet though just incense and old hippies.
By: Oma Linda on January 29, 2014
In our land, it would be blasphemous. To them, it's just how to do business. It's one of those things that makes travel what it is, different. And i would have loved having silver to look at in mounds.
By: mimi on January 29, 2014
What an interesting--& certainly different--way to display their wares!!
By: fishducky on January 29, 2014
I went shopping with my partner for an expensive watch. I wasn't taken in at all by the velvet cushions, the clever lighting and the guy holding the watches wearing white gloves.. but my partner was.
By: LL Cool Joe on January 29, 2014
I never minded these unabashed pitches for our business. I loved watching how they worked their magic and, more times than not, purchased something. Which is how I ended up with that Iranian rug. Oops, probably shouldn't have written that. Forget this conversation ever happened.
By: Al Penwasser on January 29, 2014
Pretty jewelry, although it doesn't look too sanitary. But then the whole country doesn't look too sanitary, so....
By: Scott Cody Park on January 29, 2014
Nice ... The only thing I've done even remotely like that was when I visited Amsterdam many years ago and went to the Heineken beer factory and got a free sample, or two or three.
By: tom sightings on January 29, 2014
It's just so interesting how different cultures approach things. That doesn't seem like the most appealing approach but the fact that you bought some things, it must work at least on a portion of the visitors to that factory. I do like the earrings by the way...very pretty. I guess there is something to be said for their method. Those earrings put into a pretty case in the U.S. wouldn't of been anywhere near $35.00.
By: Cheryl P. on January 29, 2014
I can't believe you didn't get anything for me. I am a whore for jewelry. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on January 29, 2014
amazing story Stephen, i love silver jewellery. amazing too that they found the earring mate and bought them to your hotel. both are beautiful. in bali they have towns for silver, wood, stone, fabric or whatever and the silver jewellery is wonderful. the contrast of a jewellery shop here and there is great
By: Fran on January 29, 2014
Now that was a unique way of presenting jewlery...however perhaps they sell more that way! I appreciate a shoes off home- and I figure they keep the floors cleaner that way...lord knows what you were stepping in outside in India. Years ago my 15 year old son and I went to Egypt. What a treat and adventure. I hired a guide and driver for the 5 full days we were there and it was a huge benefit- yes they took us to their friends shops and restaurants- BUT we saw farmore than we would have on our own and more safely too. This was back in the early 80's when Beirut was being bombed and things were a bit tense. Neverthiless- we had a wonderful time. Thanks for sharing your travels!
By: Kathe W. on January 29, 2014
I love your story and how you told it, but I have to admit that jewelry leaves me cold. I wouldn't have bought a thing... My kind of jewelry involves a strap around a neck that has a camera dangling from it.
By: Pixel Peeper on January 29, 2014
when you're unprepared for something like this it can really take you by surprise. With your background in marketing this would be a bigger shock than ever. Have these people ever heard of theft?
By: red on January 29, 2014
I would have found this practice quite shocking, except that I've seen a couple episodes of Gem Hunt on The Travel Channel. Now I am merely flabbergasted. The way we imagine jewels being found and turned into jewelry and sold is quite different than how it actually happens in other countries.
By: Val on January 29, 2014
Really enjoyed this novel approach to selling jewelry. The earrings are stunning. Your last line cracked me up.
By: Akansas Patti on January 30, 2014
I think my wife must have bought something there too, then - just saying...
By: Glen on January 30, 2014
Amazing ear rings..I am not a fan of jewelry, but these look great! 35$ a pair is not cheap because USD in was around 55 INR. So, it's a good price tag considering u didnt buy it at an expensive showroom :)
By: Manju on January 30, 2014
Green malachite is one of my favorites. Those are exotic pairs of earrings - perfect souvenirs. I think I'd love that shopping experience, whether or not I purchased anything. xoRobyn
By: Robyn Engel on January 30, 2014
Lovely lookinh Jewellry. It must be tough if the manufacturer treats it so roughly.
By: John on January 30, 2014
Those earrings are beautiful... despite the smell of feet.
By: Mitchell is Moving on January 31, 2014

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