Redefining Silverware

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Jaipur is a fantasy in pink, and the division of the walled old city into nine gridiron-pattern sectors with wide roads are hallmarks of a rigorous town planning. Surprisingly, its blueprints hark back to founder Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, who wanted to identify the city as not only a political and sacred centre but also a commercial one. For this, he sent personal invitations to noted merchants of the time, offering them tax concessions and gifts of land on which to build houses, if they agreed to settle in Jaipur. And that is how the city became a centre of banking and capital intensive industries such as gem trading, I am told by Anant Chordia. Anant and his elder brother Avant hail from one of the oldest resident families of Jaipur and are the founders of Chordia’s Inc, a name synonymous with exceptional silverware and objets d’art. It was established in 2003.

How it all began
When Jaipur was founded in 1727, Chordias’ ancestors, who traded in emeralds, were invited by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II to make the city their home, whereupon they shifted base from their native Bikaner and set up shop in Jaipur, while working at the maharaja’s court.

One ancestor, Suganchandji Chordia, even went down in history for helping the emerald trade become self-sufficient and teaching young traders how to identify and evaluate rough emeralds and manufacture precious gems.
As family businesses go, passing them on to the next generation is a means of preserving the family heritage, and together with it, the business ethics and cultural values inculcated painstakingly down the generations. For the Chordias, this was especially so and centuries of deep-rooted values and expertise are to be found in the family even today; or for that matter, in the ateliers of Chordia’s Inc. A desire to present the ancient silversmithing skills of Jaipur, in the finest quality possible, had the brothers branch out from their father’s traditional business (conducted through Abhay Trading Corporation), to deal in silverware. In this endeavour, it is not just business ethics and values of yore that have been embraced by them. “Chordia’s hopes to rekindle age-old, forgotten techniques of handcrafted silverware from the golden days of the royal durbar and bring to fore Jaipur’s artistic heritage, especially depicting the flora and fauna of Rajasthan,” says Anant. The brand employs mostly artisans who trace their lineage seven generations back to master silversmiths who were patronised by the Maharaja of Jaipur.

Knowledge and skills
Both brothers have a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Switzerland. Anant, in addition, has interned in the jewellery department of Christie’s auction house and also pursued courses on diamond grading, pearl grading and gemstone identification from the Gemological Institute of America. These apart, he has studied privately under master silversmith Valentin Vokov in New York and learned about nineteenth and twentieth-century decorative arts from Sotheby’s auction house.

The Chordias’ 3,000 sq ft boutique showroom is housed within a two-storeyed, quaint bungalow owned by the family and located at the Takht-é-Shahi Road in Jaipur. The brand handcrafts heritage artefacts and period furniture using mostly sterling silver (silver of 92.5 per cent purity). A visit to the boutique is possible by prior appointment only, and except for bulk orders, they do not manufacture more than 12 pieces per design. Chordia’s impressive list of clients are discerning and range from royalty to noted industrial families such as Prince Charles, Shobhana Bhartia of Hindustan Times Group, Usha Mittal (wife of steel tycoon L N Mittal) and the royal families of Kotah and Bharatpur.

Silverware to die for
As I step through the glass panelled doors, an elegant three-dimensional silver elephant greets me at the entrance. Anant beckons me inside, the sheer excitement and pride of unveiling his brainchild evident on his face.
I marvel at a pair of nearly three-foot high Gwalior elephants, adorned with ear danglers, a richly embellished head-plate, necklace and pajeb (anklets). “The maharajas of Jaipur customarily gave a ceremonial welcome to visiting dignitaries, and on such occasions, elephants, horses and camels were dressed up in bright colours,” says Anant. These elephants took two years to be manufactured, I am told—right from conceptualising the design to creating full-length wooden prototypes to working with the silver to designing the adornments and polishing the finished figurines to a lustrous shine. But the most challenging task supposedly was designing the intricately beautiful pajebs with ghungroo bells. Inspired by the zenana (the women of royal family), the pajebs were designed on the lines of a 90-year-old specimen that Anant had sourced from an antique dealer. “Since the original version had been interwoven with ghungroos, in a style seldom seen today, the antique dealer challenged me that I wouldn’t be able to replicate the piece. I took up the challenge. While the first three karigars weren’t successful, the fourth one romped home.”

A 24×24 inch silver Mayur chowki (or low stool) catches my eye. The piece is devoid of any wooden base and is made of 99.9 per cent pure silver. Anant says, “It weighs approximately 21 kg and took nearly four months to manufacture.” But why fine silver? “Fine silver is purest and is fairly soft, which makes it easier for my karigars to create the intricate leaf and floral work.”

The glass shelves are laden with tea-sets, dinnerware, arti thalis, boxes with floral designs, a set of potli-shaped containers adorned with amethyst, miniature figurines including baby elephants sitting on a green aventurine base and an exquisite napkin ring fashioned into the shape of a parrot, sitting on a branch of brass, with leaves of green aventurine and flowers of rose quartz stones. The other half of the main showroom is occupied by hand-carved furniture and gigantic figurines of elephants, one of which, complete with a mahout (rider), features a secret compartment not easily visible to the naked eye. Right across the elephants is a Kiwad Jodi door propped against the wall, partially gilded in gold and featuring more than 32 different styles of flowers from the Mughal era. The paintings have been made using natural stone colours, and for it, the brothers got on board Shammi Bannu Sharma, the renowned seventh generation miniature artist from Jaipur, whose family had worked as court painters during the rule of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II. It becomes obvious to me that the brand not only creates masterpieces from silver but also commissions artists to create other works of art, including natural stone paintings.

Sprawling interiors
A door leads off from the main showroom area into a library. I ask Anant how passionate he is about reading. “I love reading books on the art, history and culture of Rajasthan. I have more than 1,500 books, 100 of which are rare, out-of-print editions, which I sourced from antique shops across Jaipur, Udaipur and Jodhpur,” he says. We then proceed to the first floor, which houses the warehouse and packaging unit, and then to the second floor, which is where all the action takes place—this is where the craftsmen work. Anant tells me they invited a jewellery consultant from Germany to visit Jaipur and help set up the workshop, source machinery and hand tools and train karigars in modern techniques of silversmithing.

I ask Avant whether they plan to extend their reach to other metro cities and he replies, “We are planning to launch a store in Mumbai by 2016 and another outlet in Hyderabad later.”

The extensive tour makes it clear to me that Chordia’s not only creates masterpieces in silver that have everlasting value, but that also each silverware is an exquisite dream, a perfect example of the Chordias’ passion for their heritage. Little surprise then that the brand targets illustrious customers with a taste for life, passion, art and quality!

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