When Pakistani Bling Is Family Business

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Why you should care

Because centuries of tradition and generational skills are behind Pakistani bling.

In South Asia, few traditions have a longer legacy than jewelry craftsmanship. For over 5,000 years, the people of the Indus Valley (present-day Pakistan and northwestern India) have made gold earrings, bangles and necklaces, and they continue to do so today.

“My father and his grandfather dealt in gold in India during the rule of the British, and before that my family did the same during the reign of the Moghuls; my great-grandfather used to work in the palaces of the Moghul kings,” says Muhammad Ilyas, a gold manufacturer and jeweler in Karachi, Pakistan. “Now we are also doing the same work.”

Like many of Karachi’s jewelers, Ilyas learned his trade from his father, who passed down the craft from his father, and so on. And his gold jewelry business remains family-run. “We do not have to go to any institute, because it exists in our households,” Ilyas explains. “If we were to give the gold to someone else, we would not get it back.”

In Pakistan and much of South Asia, jewelry is not simply for aesthetic beauty; it is also viewed as an important status symbol and safe investment. Jewelry accounts for almost $40 billion of the South Asian bridal fashion market, which is worth about $100 billion overall. At any Pakistani wedding, the bride will be adorned with several pieces of heavy gold jewelry. This bridal jewelry is usually purchased by the groom’s family from a special jewelry bazaar or market where vendors are trained in the making of traditional jewelry. Every city and most small towns in Pakistan have a jewelry bazaar.

The best-known jewelry bazaar in Karachi can be found in the city’s bustling downtown Saddar district. During business hours, Saddar is a vibrant scene with street hawkers and belligerent drivers competing for the attention of passersby. In stark contrast, the jewelers’ storefronts that line the streets seem serene with neat displays of diamonds, necklaces and pendants in their windows. Ilyas’ workshop, located several floors up a nondescript building, is a quiet oasis that feels like a world away from the chaos.

Despite recent economic and political problems, tradition has ensured that Pakistan remains one of the biggest consumers of gold in the world. “There is a strong tradition of giving jewelry in Pakistan and also among Arabs,” Ilyas says. “They think that it is better to give jewelry than cash.”

Ilyas is confident the jewelry business still has a future.

“After all, my family has been in this business for over 200 years,” he says.

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