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Kerala’s home-spun gold jewellery chains bracing to take on the world

In the long line of those astonished by all the gold in Kerala that seems as common as karimeen curry, one of the early ones was the Venetian traveller Marco Polo.

Taken aback by the riches in Malabar, he wrote, “There is in this kingdom a great quantity of pepper and ginger, and cinnamon and turbot, and of nuts of India”, and that ships from the east bring gold and silver and cloth and exchange them for the products of Malabar.

Things haven’t much changed since the late 13th century. If Polo were to return, he would find the Alapatts, Alukkas, Atlases, Bhimas, Chemmanurs, Joscos, Kalyans and Malabar Gold chains not only dotting the Kerala landscape with their retail outlets, but even taking on the Arabs at their trading game by setting up gold souks across the Persian Gulf.

For sure, the Malayali penchant for gold is distinctly different from the rest of the country. “The singular feature that distinguishes Malayali gold buyers from their counterparts elsewhere, is the level of their awareness about the caratage, hallmarking and price,” says Babu Antony Alapatt, MD of Alapatt Gold.

Gold On the Hour

Such is the fascination for gold in the state that news channels provide hourly updates on prices, as if that were the one information all Keralites must have at the tip of their gold-studded fingers at all times.

Keralites may not rank high in entrepreneurship, but the yellow metal trade proves the golden exception. Having established well-entrenched retail chains in the state, Kerala’s gold jewellery brands are replicating the act abroad, for reasons more than just the large population of expatriate Keralites.

“Kerala jewellery brands have always been the most aggressive in the domestic market, and the comparative ease in getting approvals and licences has prompted them to expand their footprint abroad,” says Malabar Gold and Diamonds group chairman M P Ahamed.
Joy Alukkas, chairman of Joy Alukkas Group, feels it is the disciplined business style that gives Kerala jewellers an edge: “Kerala-based jewellery chains are very systematic, giving proper attention to marketing, training, billing and accounts, customer service and other key business aspects. You can’t survive internationally without these skills,” says he. He would know: the group has 55 showrooms abroad besides 30 in India, and employs 5,500 of whom 99% are Keralites.

Expanding abroad seems to be second nature to Kerala jewellers. Says Boby Chemmanur, chairman of Chemmanur International Jewellers: “From Kerala we have expanded to other states and the next step is to open more outlets outside the country.” The group has 25 outlets in India, besides one each in Dubai and Singapore.

Viswakarmas Lose Shine

Social scientist and vice-chancellor of Kannur University, Michael Tharakan, sees significant social changes associated with gold trade in recent decades. “Gold is seen in Kerala not only as solid possession, but also as a very liquid asset, which can easily be mortgaged for cash. This, in turn, has spawned business houses like the Manappurams and the Muthoots,” says he.

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Posted by on May 16 2012. Filed under Kerala News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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