What is kundan, what does it mean?
Kundan, in Hindi, simply means the purest form of gold - that is 24 karat gold.
More broadly, when you hear people speaking about 'kundan jewellery' it is referring to the way the gemstones have been set, specifically, within a piece of jewellery.
Before the introduction of claw setting in the 19th century, most Indian jewellery was kundan-set and it is deemed the oldest form of gem setting in India.
"In other countries the [gemstones] are secured in the sockets [bezels] made for them... but in Hindustan, it is effected with kundan which is gold made pure and ductile."
(From A'in-i Akhari, 1590, as quoted by Oppi Untracht)
The pieces below, from our fine gold collection, showcase kundan-set diamonds and rubies. The gemstones are held in place by the pure kundan that encases them.
The kundan process
Small pieces of pure gold are hammered into paper-thin sheets. These sheets are further heated to anneal and purify the metal until maximum gold purity is obtained and, moreover, the optimum malleability of pure gold is achieved.
Pure gold is soft and pliable enough to be worked without being heated and so the gold can be skilfully pressed into place around the stone with no need to solder. Pure gold can be welded at room temperature through pressure alone. The kundan ribbons of gold are therefore hand-worked around the stone to create a solid wedge and setting.
Using kundan work to inset gemstones
The image below shows earrings from our latest collection where kundan work has been used to set gemstones within a 'host' gemstone.
The process is roughly thus:
- the host gemstone is engraved to create an indent/ setting area for the decorative gemstones to be set into. The surface design is firstly drawn in lines on the stone and then ground out to accommodate the decorative gemstones.
- grooves are created for the gold kundan inlay - usually about half the thickness of the gemstone to be set.
- the engraved indent is often filled with wax to position the gemstone [for setting and to hold it in place]
- the gemstone is placed within the indent and on top of the wax 'cushion' and the pure gold kundan is worked into the groove depressions around the gemstones and over the gemstones to create a wedge and setting.
- it is standard practice to use polished gold or silver foil to back a gemstone used in this setting process. The reflective foil surface improves the gem's appearance by providing a shiny surface from which light passing through the stone is reflected. This is needed as kundan setting completely encloses the lower part of the gemstone - as opposed to open Western settings that let the light enter the gemstone from all directions.
- the kundan surrounding a stone may be left plain or an ornamental pattern can be added.
Unique feature of kundan
The great benefit of kundan setting is that it gets rid of the need of making a bezel or setting frame for each stone, which is a time consuming and laborious process.
The kundan can be worked around stones of all shapes and sizes. The goldsmiths can use stones that are unusual shapes and that are not a regular size or uniformity.
Main kundan centres:
Kundan work is popular all over India but no more so that in its place of origin, Rajasthan. Kundan work originated in the Rajasthan royal court and then flourished, under royal patronage, during the Mughal Era.
The main centres for this work are Jaipur and Bikaner.