Nov 23, 2009
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Flashy Indian brides struggle with high gold prices

Nov 23, 2009

NEW DELHI, Nov 22, 2009 (AFP) - For Indian brides buying jewellery, the bigger the better is the general rule, but record gold prices during this year's wedding season are forcing many to compromise.

Photo: AFP/File/Prakash Singh

India is the world's biggest consumer of gold, so the rise of local prices to records above 1,000 dollars an ounce is keenly felt here -- and nowhere more so than in the jewellery shops, an obligatory stop before any ceremony.

While few women are prepared to trade down on the size of their purchases, some are turning to new designs that retain the bulk and glitz but have reduced content of the precious metal.

Leading gold retailers in New Delhi and Mumbai say they are flooded with requests by clients for cheaper necklaces, rings, earrings, bangles or armbands.

"Clients come, select the design and tell us to make it with less gold," a store manager at Mehrasons, a leading gold shop in New Delhi, told AFP, asking not to be named because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

Gold has cultural and religious significance for Indians -- considered auspicious and a sign of wealth and prosperity.

Traditionally, daughters from the majority Hindu population are given gold ornaments at the time of their marriage.

The gold is known as "streedhan", or women's wealth, and most families will spend as much as they can afford.

"Big pieces of jewellery mean high gold content, but that is no longer affordable," said Prabhu Thakkar, a gold trader based in Mumbai's Jhaveri Bazaar, a wholesale market for gold and silver.

"Indians are never happy with small delicate designs. They need glossy, thick jewellery," he said.

"For Indians, big is beautiful."

One solution is to buy big pieces but designed differently with lower gold content.

Some jewellery manufacturers are importing technology and alloys from Europe to make ornaments using hollowing techniques that help them reduce gold content by up to 50 percent.

Using the modern techniques, goldsmiths are trained to flatten 22-carat gold and then stuff it with an alloy that is a mix of copper and silver to make the ornament heavy.

"I have purchased Italian machinery and hired foreign designers to work on Indian designs using electroforming and hollow techniques," Ritesh Jain, of Aurogold, a manufacturing and retailer in Mumbai, told AFP.

"People in India are always keen to buy gold but they cannot afford huge quantities these days. We have found new methods to move our stock quickly," Jain said.

His company is investing over 100,000 dollars to buy and install the new machinery.

Calvin John, a brand manager of Tanisq, a gold retail chain owned by the Tata conglomerate, said the trend of using gold in smaller quantities picked up after 2004, when the price of the precious metal began rising.

"We have to surprise people by showing them big pieces come with a low price tag," he said.

Local prices of gold, which have accelerated to highs in line with international prices, rose by 9.0 percent in the third quarter of this year, the World Gold Council said in a report released Thursday 19 November.

The report said that retail investment in India -- investment in gold bars or coins -- fell 67 percent over 12 months to 26 tonnes in the third quarter to September as high prices and a poor monsoon dented consumer sentiment.

Jewellery demand fell 42 percent to 111.6 tonnes, while total demand, which comprises jewellery and retail investment demand, fell 49 percent to 137.6 tonnes, the report said.

India usually imports between 700 and 800 tonnes of the metal every year and accounts for about 20 percent of global demand.

In recent weeks, international gold prices have blazed a record-breaking trail on concerns about the declining strength of the dollar as the world's reserve currency.

For brides-to-be shopping during India's ongoing wedding season, which runs from November to the end of January, the high prices are a headache.

"We have to wear a lot of jewellery. The bride should always look special and show off her new ornaments," said Nupur Varshney, a 25-year-old teacher who will be tying the knot in January.

Nupur said she planned to buy some new gold ornaments and a diamond bracelet that looked flashy -- but will have very little gold content.by Rupam Jain Nair

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