In Goa all that glitters is not only gold but Marcassite as well. A phone call from a family friend in Baroda requests us to inquire about the price of Marcassite jewellery and although not interested in precious metals, I find myself in a joalharia, along with my parents. During the inquiry my mother makes a passing mention that such jewellery is unique to Goa and is found nowhere else in India. My curiosity leads me to Mr. Ashok Lotlikar of S. R. Lotlikar Jewellers in Margao. He is the third generation owner following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Mr. Raghuvir Vassudev Lotlikar and his father Mr. Shripathrao Raghuvir Lotlikar.
Mr. Ashok Lotlikar greets me as I enter his pristine shop lined with showcases displaying myriad intricately crafted jewellery pieces in gold and silver. The red velvet cushions in the brightly illuminated showcases, gives the gold an added touch of royalty. My eyes search for the pieces I have come searching for and I find quite a few. Comfortably seated, I start asking questions. Mr. Ashok Lotlikar talks passionately about his work and craft.
He informs me that the Marcassite jewellery came to Goa during the Portuguese time. “I don’t know exactly how old this art is. My grandfather and my father made such jewellery, so it should be at least three hundred years old,” he says. He finds questions like whether the Marcassite jewellery reached the Goan shores immediately after the Portuguese conquest or much later difficult to answer because not much is known about this jewellery which many believe is unique to Goa.
The Marcassite jewellery crafted in Goa is chiefly made of gold and silver metals. Zinc is used to harden silver. This hardened silver is then oxidized to give it the black colour, which is the hallmark of this jewellery. The metal is oxidized for about an hour and this process is repeated thrice with a gap of a few hours. This oxidized silver is locally known as ‘platinum’ but the actual metal is never used in the making of the jewellery. The stones used for Marcassite jewellery in Goa come from Switzerland and they are manually fixed by craftsmen. A large set takes at least three weeks to complete.
As far as the designs are concerned, the earliest craftsmen might have been inspired by the samples brought from Europe. This legacy was continued along with some original additions, Mr. Ashok Lotlikar disclosed. In Goa, Marcassite jewellery always has a base of gold unlike in foreign countries where a silver base is used. Elsewhere in India such jewellery is not crafted. Marcassite is hand-crafted and delicately worked upon and hence the big jewellery companies, who focus on machine and heavy work, may not have been interested in such jewellery, opines Mr. Ashok Lotlikar.
Marcassite jewellery is popular with the Catholics as such jewellery is given to a bride at the time of her marriage. The black colour of the set forms a stunning contrast with her white bridal gown. But since the last 10-15 years, according to Mr. Ashok Lotlikar, this jewellery has gained some popularity among the Hindus as well.
Mr. Ashok Lotlikar also proudly draws my attention to another unique type of Goan craftsmanship: the filigree work. By using finely drawn wires of gold, lace-like patterns are produced. This, like the Marcassite jewellery, has no rival in the whole of India.
I wonder why the Marcassite and the filigree type of jewellery are not popular despite their uniqueness. Mr. Ashok Lotlikar explains that this art is dying. It requires great patience, a virtue not compatible with the youngsters of the day. Mr. Ashok Lotlikar once had 7-8 workers, but today he has only two. “But they are good workers,” he hastens to add. Since such jewellery is unique to a particular geographical location, I ask whether the Marcassite and filigree jewellery deserve the much coveted Geographical Indication so that more popularity and encouragement will come its way. “Definitely,” he agrees. After all, should we not ask for what we rightfully deserve?
Mr. Ashok Lotlikar narrated an interesting story about people from north India, especially Punjab, purchasing Marcassite jewellery. Wives of army men, who were posted in Goa, purchased this unique and expensive jewellery. When they went home (or elsewhere) their friends and family members were fascinated by this jewellery and nursed a desire to possess a similar Marcassite set. This word-of-mouth publicity has led Mr. Ashok Lotlikar to send many sets of Marcassite jewellery to north India.
Marcassite jewellery is very expensive. Has the rising prices of gold affected the sales in any way, I ask. “Lok ghevpa asat tê ghetatuch. [People buy irrespective of the prices] The Indian mentality is such that it needs (at least) a minimum amount of gold on the occasion of a marriage. Gold always appreciates and people see the purchase of gold as an investment,’ Mr. Ashok Lotlikar tells me.
The smallest Marcassite set (pendant and earrings), without the gold chain, will cost anything between Rs. 18,000-20,000 and the purchase of a larger set will entirely depend on the depth of one’s pockets!
(A Version of this article appeared on Gomantak Times, dt: May 28, 2010)