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Thewa - The Indian Traditional Handcrafted Jewelry

Updated on February 15, 2016

Thewa art involves fusion of gold sheet with molten glass

Since prehistoric times, human beings have made efforts to decorate themselves with pieces of stones, shells and beads to look beautiful. "Jewelry" or "Jewellery" means "pieces of small decorative items worn for personal adornment". The word "jewelry" is derived from "jewel" that is an anglicized version of the french word "jouel" or, to be more precise, a Latin word "Jocal" that literally means "plaything".

The designs and shapes of jewelry vary according to the society, culture and ethnic origin. Goldsmiths from the ancient Indus valley civilization knew the art of moulding metals, especially gold, to make ornaments. With the development of newer tools, humans created methods to polish gold and silver, to give them an extra shine, and also found ways to extract semi precious stones from earth.

In India different types of jewelry has been patronized by different rulers and dynasties. The mughals favored use of precious stones and carving, while the rajput kings preferred enamel jewelry.

Uses of Jewelry

  1. To fix clothing or hair in place, as for example brooches, decorative head pins, clips, and combs.
  2. As a marker of affluence in the society.
  3. To signify affiliation to a particular ethnic background.
  4. Amulets to bring good luck or protect from harm.
  5. To depict personality, choice and an inclination towards art.

Thewa designs are inspired from Hindu mythology, and tales of courage of rajput kings

Thewa - the ancient Indian jewelry

In every society, owning lots of jewelry signifies a huge amount of wealth. As per Hindu mythology, gold and silver are believed to be sacred metals blessed by god. Gold signifies the warm sun and is believed to be a source of energy and well being, while silver denotes the cool moon, and represents tranquility, peace, and reduced aggression. Pure gold would not get rusted or degenerate with time and has been linked with immortality.

Rajasthan or "the land of kings" is famous in India and the world over for its diverse culture, arts and crafts. Many unique art forms have flourished here under the patronage of royal families. The kings used to gift huge pieces of land to the artisan families, that they would have enough income and concentrate on developing their respective art forms.

The word "thewa" has been derived from two words of a local dialect, "tharana" that means "colored glass", and "wada" that means "Silver wire". Combined together, thewa means "to set". This art involves fusing delicately carved gold leaves on colored glass and gemstones to create unique and magnificent pieces of jewelry.

The origin of this handicraft dates back to 400 years from now, when it evolved in the small town of Pratapgarh in south Rajasthan during the rule of Maharaja Samant Singh. It immediately got the liking and acceptance from princes, queens and others in the king's court and grew towards perfection and refinement.

Details of Thewa Jewelry

It is a craft mastered by only a few artisans, who specialize in the art of embossing filigreed gold foil on molten glass. The technique is a family secret. Fine details and intricacies of jewelry making are taught only to male members of the family by their fathers, uncles and grandfathers, so that the legacy is carried forward from father to son only, and it remains within the clan. Daughters and daughter-in-laws are kept away from it, else the could leak out the details in their respective homes.

This technique has been used to create not only personal jewelry items like pendants, earrings, brooches and necklaces, but also to make unique and delicate jewelry boxes, plates, belts, flower vases, chandeliers, coasters, wine glasses and lamp shades.

The entire process of designing and carving exquisite motifs on gold plates is done by skilled craftsmen

Traditionally red, blue and green colored glass and precious stones have been used in thewa

Source

Making of thewa

Only pure gold sheets are used for the process of jewelry making. Solid gold is initially heated to remove the impurities, and is then rolled into sheets and cut in required sizes. The entire process is lengthy, time consuming and exhaustive. It takes more than a month's time to create a single piece of thewa jewelry. From making the design, to preparing the mold and actually shaping the ornament, all the steps are in hands of skilled goldsmiths, most of whom do not have any formal degree in jewelry making.

The actual process :

  • Initially pieces of unglazed brownish-red pottery (terracotta) are ground into a fine powder that is mixed with certain other chemicals and processing oils to make a thick batter.
  • This batter is then spread on a wooden board that serves as a base. The canvas is thus prepared.
  • Now a pure 23-24 carat gold foil of 40 gauze thickness is spread on the mixture to which it easily sticks as the mixture dries up.
  • The basic design is then stenciled on the gold leaf.
  • A black paint is applied to the gold foil to highlight the design that has to be further worked upon.
  • Now further refinement depends on the imagination and creativity of the craftsman, who further carves different patterns, removing excess gold and creating exquisite motifs.
  • Once carving is done, then the terracotta base is heated and the gold leaf is peeled off gently. This has to be done carefully, as overheating can break the foil or melt it.
  • This foil is now washed in mild acid to remove extra substances, black paint and the terracotta stuck on it.
  • A piece of colored glass of the same size as the gold sheet, is chosen. This is treated with a special solution to impart a glittering effect. This glass piece is heated and encased in a silver frame or a silver wire.
  • Filigreed gold sheet is then fixed to the silver border. The rim of silver and gold film are delicately slipped over the edge and pressed onto the surface of hot molten glass so that gold sheet and glass are firmly fitted together.
  • Finally a thin plain silver leaf is fixed on the other side of the glass to provide a final finish.

Initially only gold sheets were used in thewa, but now, in order to match with the latest fashion trends, silver, white gold and copper are also being used. Some designs are simple and the detailing is minimal to cater the modern youth, while others bear more complicated designs.

It takes more than a month to create a single piece of Thewa Jewelry

Thewa handicrafts are priceless

As the work requires lots of carving and the fusion of gold on glass base, wastage is high. Overheating can break the glass or melt the gold. If not heated properly, the gold leaf would not fuse with glass and soon come off.

Value of a thewa piece comes not from the market price or amount of gold put in it, but from the intricacy and skill involved in carving it. The final piece is a translucent see through thing that reflects light to create a three dimensional effect.

Traditionally only red, blue and green colored glass pieces, along with pearls, rubies, emeralds and diamonds are used in thewa jewelry. Though the art has evolved with time, its backbone remains the same. Many artisans use Belgian glass from window panes of old houses and buildings as the base for gold plating. But with urbanization, as new sky scrapers have come up, this source has got exhausted and it is getting difficult to find such pieces of glass. So a new range of colored glass pieces such as lemon, black and white have come in use in thewa.

Thewa jewelry is a mirror image of the rich and vibrant cultural heritage of Rajasthan. These jewelry pieces are worn on special occasions to impart a traditional and ethnic look. Many Indian film actresses have flaunted the jewelry in their movies and red carpet events.

New Trends

Thewa, along with kundan jewelry and meena work, occupies a special place in Indian luxury jewelry. Motifs in thewa art are inspired from Hindu mythology depicting lord Rama and Krishna (the Hindu gods), mughal court scenes, images from the battlefields, Indian rulers, scenes from nature and forests, showing flowers, creepers, deer and elephants. modern designs bear an influence of kundan art and European designs, giving a new dimension to the original thewa.

India government has come up with a postage stamp to encourage this unique art form. This art has bagged various national and international awards. Some of the finest pieces of this craft have been put for display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other international museums.

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    • shraddhachawla profile image
      Author

      Metreye 2 years ago

      Thank you for your feedback aesta 1.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      What a beautiful jewelry design. I have seen these in India when I was there and they're stunning.

    • shraddhachawla profile image
      Author

      Metreye 3 years ago

      Thanks for the compliments Say Yes To Life. Thewa handicrafts are indeed unique and very beautiful. and you would certainly get one such piece for yourself. Have a wonderful day.

    • Say Yes To Life profile image

      Yoleen Lucas 3 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      This is INCREDIBLE! I hope to own such a piece someday (I'll bet it's outrageously expensive!).

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