02 Mar 2017
Tell us a bit about yourself and Sawansukha Jewellers...
I am Siddharthaa Sawansukha, a seventh generation jeweller. We have been in the trade for 220 years and have been always into jewellery. Currently we operate from Kolkata. We have four retail outlets here and a wholesale sector, which is a different segment altogether. So I start with a backward to a forward integration to the jewellery sector, that is, manufacturing, design house, production, exports, retail, wholesale and institution. When I talk about institution, it's all about gems and jewellery institute that teaches people how to be a successful jeweller.
Give us a brief history about Sawansukha Jewellers. What makes it so special?
As I rightly said, we will be completing 220 years this year, so, good decades that we are talking about. Retailing had been Sawansukha's passion, but moreover was manufacturing. So we just thought one fine day, what is the way we can go ahead with manufacturing still being the integral part of it. We chose the hand manufacturing process. When the whole world is moving towards non artisans, it's more about CAD (computer aided design), it's about bulk production, there is where the forte lies for people outside Kolkata. In Kolkata, it's absolutely hand crafted, artisans who are live and who knows the skill around. Much like the Durga Puja, where you have new themes every year, jewellery too has the same thing. You come up with new designs.
A jewellery has been a very intricate part in understanding. It's a long procedure of somebody thinking about it, somebody designing it and the guy who's going to manufacture it is somebody else. It is just like a baby, to be given into three laps, where all of them act as mothers. This is nowhere possible apart from Kolkata. We are proud to say that we are Bengalis and Bengal still carry that forte with them.
As you mentioned that it has been 220 years and you also spoke about the artisans, tell me, do you retain the artisans? Do their family continue with Sawansukha?
The artisans have also been legacies. It is not that somebody has been created fortnightly. It isn't going to happen. There's no institution where you will do a course for six months and you'll become an artisan. That doesn't happen. It has to be inculcated in your blood. There are so many karigars (artisans/workers) that we find whose children are no more interested in this. They do not have the skills. So what do we do then? We stick to people who have passion for it. The age doesn't matter for me. They can be young or old. It's like a wine, as it grows older, it starts becoming more expensive.
What's the present workforce like?
At the moment we have close to 1200 people in the hand manufacturing department. All Bengalis. Not a single person who's non-Bengali.
Is there a specific reason as to why you do not have a single non-Bengali artisan?
There is no specific reason. In clothing we couldn't find anyone apart from Muslims. Similarly in jewellery we couldn't find one single person who was inculcated with non-Bengali blood. We are yet to find him.
So the hunt is on?
Yeah. The hunt is on and that'll not die tie I die.
Talk us through the Sawansukha legacy
We started off as jewellers way back in Bikaner, a township in Rajasthan. Now Bikaner is a township where Jadau was originated. So I am lucky enough to have been involved in both the sectors where it had the origin. Jadau is a fantastic Meenakari stuff, with Poliki in the front, which is equal to a diamond. Not too many people know about it. You see the brides wearing jadau with a garment that is extravagantly beautiful, an then you have a big piece of chunky jewellery around the neck. That is called Jadau. We have a workforce for Jadau in Bikaner. Now, the Bikaneri people work in a very different style, that particular stuff cannot be copied in Kolkata. Similarly, Kolkata stuff cannot be copied in Rajasthan. But both of them are fantastic in their own workmanship. We started off 7-8 generations ago and we used to serve the Maharajas there. As there were too many people in the family, someone had to go out. So dad thought that let's fly down to somewhere where we can find skills and Kolkata is where he landed. That was close to 45 years ago.
The Sawansukha name got established in 1995 September, in Kolkata. Before that we had been retailing in a very different manner. We had that old 'gaddi' style of retailing. We had both a good and tough time. I came into the picture in 2001-2002. I took it over in 2003.
Siddharthaa, were you always interested in the jewellery business?
I never wanted to work, so this is not my cup of tea...what I am doing at the moment. But, one fine day I had to go to the US. There's a gemology class which happens there and that is world's finest. So i said US...fly...what more do you want? You want to work, you work. You don't want to work, you don't. I had no clue where I was going. So in 2001 I flew down to US and in 2002 I was a graduate. I was the only graduate from West Bengal (in gemology), a golden medallist. I'm a senior designer and a graduate gemologist. So a graduate gemologist is a guy who knows close to 800 stones, basically all colour stones that you can ever see around the world, can be judged and told by us about its origin. In US I though i would have fun...but it was one of the most strict facility I had been to.
So that's changed your outlook...
(Cuts me short)...So the whole personality changed after that. When I understood that this is a generation that has to be passed on to either me or to somebody who I don't know, I took up the challenge.
You have this heritage of honouring your artisans. Whose brainchild was it?
After coming back from California, I started off the institution. I started it because of the lack of it. Nobody gave the right knowledge. The notion was 'Jeweller ek doosre Jeweller kyun paida karega?' No one would give out the trade secret. That's when I understood that there's a big question mark on jewellers. People had very little clue about it, so I though of sharing the secret.
For the next couple of years, the challenge for the institution was job placements. Everyone who came in asked about it. And this led to a change in strategy. We started producing entrepreneurs. So what happened is, I would be employing one entrepreneur...who in turn would be employing 10. Now our institution is one of the brightest and the biggest in the eastern region. Now, getting back to your question...this honouring thing started when I started 'pranic healing'. It came into my picture four years ago. They taught me one thing...you need to give back to the source. The giving back process was already on by means of the institution, but I added the personal touch. So I started 'Amar Paribaar' seven years ago. I get a kick if it's for my family. I do not work for money, I work for passion.
You have had Sharmila Tagore endorse your brand. How was it like?
Sharmila ji one of the finest celebrity till date that I have worked with. Pure blue blood. That's what I could understand. Humble, sweet and understands what the logics are. We have been lucky enough to receive close to 26 National Awards, and all for designing.
What lies ahead in front of Sawansukha, in terms of challenges?
The lake is still to be seen...Have only played within my comfort zone up until now, so I believe there's lot to do in it.
Do you think with Joyalukkas and Kalyan Jewellers coming in to Kolkata to ply their trade here poses a challenge for Sawansukha?
Of course. Anybody growing next to you would definitely be a challenge for the industry...They are for masses.
But isn't it a blessing in disguise too?
If you are alone, you'll never grow. It does beautifully help. It keeps you up at night (laughs).
What are you future plans?
As I said earlier, there are few brands that'll come in. the first brand that we are going to launch would be Sona. It'll be out by another one and a half months. Sona (Gold) again as you know comes from a Bengali word. We wanted to start a complete gold jewellery sector, a gold retail showroom.
So you spoke about Jadau and heavy jewellery, but the modern trend has changed. People are more into light stuffs. Does that scare you?
You are absolutely right. That's the change in fashion and you have to keep up. It doesn't worry me at all. We need to change. You cannot stick to one thing and be with it forever.
But if you have to sell heavy jewellery, how do you do it now?
So there's a market for it too. Wedding jewellery has a niche market. There you can play very safely. So when you are trying to brand it, you know whom to target.
I overheard this Oscar connection. Please elaborate a bit.
Yes...The Oscar connection...so we have been doing it for three years now (our jewellery being worn by the Oscar celebrities on the big night) . This year is our third entry. We are lucky enough that wherever we went to pan India, only three people were selected to be worn by the Oscar celebrities. This year again...keeping our fingers crossed.
(Images by Subhodeep Sardar)
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