The history of Indian Costume Jewelry

I have been very busy with my teaching assignments lately that I havent really had the time to think of or write interesting blog posts. But I have been doing so research on the history of Costume jewelry for my Jewelry design class which I thought I will share with all of you.
If you google history of Costume Jewelry, most articles will claim that  the practise of wearing Costume Jewelry is about 300 years old, which is grave mistake. Maybe there was no organised sector for Costume Jewelry as such before that or maybe it wasnt popular in the western world, but  Bead enthusiasts and archeologists have found beads dating back thousands of years at excavation sites in Asia and Africa.
Indians have had an extremely long affair with Costume Jewelry- It is as old as time and man. Here is my attempt to construct some evidence of the history of Costume Jewelry in India (till the 20th century)

  • Glass beads were freely worn interspersed with pearls and other semi precious stones In the ancient kingdoms
  •  Flower jewelry was in vogue – there are detailed descriptions in Abhijñānaśākuntalam (a well know Sanskrit play by Kavi Kalidasa) about Shakuntala’s flower jewelry
  • Rama Sita and Lakshman are said to worn wooden jewelry and rudraksh beads when on their exile
  • The Stone bead culture is said to have originated in India, though you can hardly find stone beads here today 
  •  Anteater claws and tiger tooth were worn by kings to show off their valour and ivory to show their wealth. In Many Rajasthani tribes, women wore a stack of 52 ivory bangles till their upper arm
  •  amulets were extremely popular  ( The ancient ones were made from natural materials and then slowly transitioned into silver) and were amber beads or Strings of red coral beads – worn to ward off cold and for protection
  • Later times saw Pachikkam in the west  (Uncut precious stones and glass with silver) and Vadassery Kemp (colored glass with gold plated copper or silver) in the south emerging as indigenous India costume jewelry styles, before being influenced by western trend  

  • At Papanaidupet, near Arikamedu Tiny black seed beads were produced for jewelry purposes since 2nd century BC up until a few years ago
  • Sandalwood and rudraksh mala are worn by sadhus and priests till date
  I am sure that if we look into history of any country or civilisation that is older than 1000 years,  we might find, similar examples.  Jewelry from the Middle East and traditional eastern Europe seem to share many commonalities  with Indian Jewelery. I intend to keep this post as an open article, adding ot it whenever I find more time and information. Please contribute to it, if possible.

I hope you find it interesting

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  1. Great info Divya.. yes we have the story abignanashakuntalam in sanskrit ..i slightly remember the story.. pics shows the beauty of flower Jewllery :)

  2. thanks yaar, please add to it if you know anything

  3. I have always loved indian jewerly. As a kid we'd vacation in all the national parks in the mid/west and they always had indian jewlery and I would beg for something every place we went. Only got a necklace once! But I treasured that for years and years! Their work is absolutely fabulous and amazing. folowed you from Pin It linky!

  4. Good to know more about jewelry history and India is one of culture center on this earth. Thanks for wrote this Divya =)

  5. This is so interesting! I love reading about the history of jewelry in different cultures. And what beautiful jewelry has come from India! Thank you for this history lesson!

    1. Thanks Sarah, I just wanted to chase the myth of costume jewelry being just 300 years old away


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