Social media—with Instagram being the main culprit of this—would have us convinced that we live in a prospering country with a thriving economy where Pakistanis are happily spending millions on extravagant weddings. The bombardment of extravagant wedding content that is uploaded and shared by dozens of makeup artists, fashion designers, wedding photographers, and fashion bloggers seemingly every day is a representation of merely a tiny sliver of the country’s population. But this visual culture is what drives trends. From lavishly decked out wedding venues, sprawling tables of catered food, to luxury designer bridal wear, everything is extravagant and appears to be the best that the family of the bride or groom can buy. And of course, jewelry is no exception when it comes to this culture of opulence and excessive spending on the occasion of a family wedding.

Grams upon grams of gold, polki diamonds, cut diamonds, other precious stones, and semi-precious gems can be seen adorning the necks, wrists, and hands of brides on almost every wedding content related account you’ll browse through on Instagram. In recent years, the archetypal regal bridal look has come to consist of the classic red designer jora accompanied by extremely heavy, statement jewelry pieces either made entirely in gold or crafted from gold and then encrusted with rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and cut or uncut diamonds. This archetype most likely emerged from the Bollywood wedding aesthetic, as well as the collective public documentation of celebrity and elite weddings on social media. This is what has become the aspirational bridal look.

However, there is a significant roadblock to achieving this aesthetic: the rising and ever-increasing prices of gold in Pakistan, that make it prohibitively expensive for most Pakistanis. While gold prices tend to vary depending upon the purity of the gold alloy used, bridal jewelry sets in Pakistan are mostly crafted from the purest gold available in the market, that is, either 21 karat or 22 karat gold. The price of gold has more than doubled in the last three years, owing to a number of factors including inflation and market volatility.

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Minal Khan wearing pearl and emerald jewels by Embellish by Saigals

Although gold prices have increased astronomically in the past few years, people’s purchasing power has not, and even in the cases where it has, the increase has been disproportionate to the rising rates of luxury items like gold/high jewelry. This is one of the main reasons why we have seen several online jewelry stores and small, mostly women-led, jewelry businesses enter the mainstream bridal jewelry market recently. Silver and gold-plated jewelry decorated with lower-quality gems, zircons, and other semi-precious stones sold by these businesses is rapidly becoming a favored alternative to high/gold jewelry whose costs originate in the six-figure range and quickly exceed that as more weight is added to the scale.

Whereas before, brides, wedding goers, and jewelry lovers alike only had the option of shopping for non-gold jewelry at bazaars such as Liberty Market in Lahore, now they have a variety of online stores and businesses that they can choose to shop well-designed and high quality yet affordable jewelry pieces from. These neo-jewelry brands merchandise products that are often innovative in design, and not simply renditions of the same blueprints making their rounds through local markets, which already sets them apart from the non-gold jewelry that was sold in Pakistan previously. What further differentiates them from local marketplace jewelry vendors is the good-quality craftsmanship that is promised with each piece sold.

Brands like Tesoro, Jaipur and Co., Opal by Madiha Ihsan, Shafaq Habib Jewelry, Hamna Amir jewelry, and Embellish by Saigals (to name a few) are producing and selling high-quality bridal and wedding jewelry that’s either made in silver or other pliable metals and then plated with gold. Their most appealing selling point is the affordable and wide price range within which they offer customers a wide variety of jewelry items of varying shapes, types, forms, and designs. Their bridal sets, complete with a necklace and matching earrings, start from the Rs 40,000 mark and cap at around Rs 100,000 regardless of the weight and intricacy of the design. They also provide the option for add-ons like a matching tika, jhoomar, or ring for an additional fee. While some of these brands have existed for years, they have experienced a significant spike in social media visibility, popularity, and sales in recent years. This is because they are providing handcrafted, statement jewelry pieces—often modeled after the best-selling and highly-coveted designs of other gold and diamond merchants that have established themselves in the market as legacy jewelry businesses—in a fraction of the price that would be quoted to a customer upon walking into any of the high-end gold jewelry stores.

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Sarah Khan wore a mix of coloured jewels by Hamna Amir on her Baraat

items that would be categorized as costume jewelry, they can be easily shipped to both local and overseas addresses without there being a risk of theft or damage that naturally accompanies any transaction involving luxuries like gold or diamonds. On the flip side, all the high and fine jewelry businesses in Pakistan that retail products made from gold, diamonds, and other precious stones operate through brick-and-mortar stores or other physical spaces including pop-up shops, exhibitions, or multi-brand stores, while their online platforms are mostly relegated to the realm of advertising, answering customer queries, or posting marketing and promotional content. Affordability coupled with this aspect of ease of access is what distinguishes these jewelry businesses from those that have been around for decades and are gradually losing their appeal in a natural reaction to the rising prices of gold, platinum, diamonds, and precious stones.

Even though we see names like Farhat Ali Jewelers, Damas, Hanif Jewelers, Gold by Reama Malik, Neemar Jewels, and Waseem Jewellers frequently flash across our phone screens as we are browsing through a myriad of wedding posts on social media, we are increasingly seeing other affordable, imitation jewelry brands being tagged more often now under posts too. In South-Asian contexts, the act of gifting gold jewelry to a bride at her wedding is a tradition that has existed for centuries now. On a superficial level, this tradition appears to be one that is meant to display wealth, but in fact, means much more. Families feel the need to provide new brides with a safety net, a means of acquiring money of their own if the need ever arises, since most women in our society do not have independent income. Since the value of gold only increases with time, it is considered a great investment that can be cashed in on and relied upon during difficult times.

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Sarah Khan Hamna Amir Jewellery on her Mehndi. The set consisted of a pair of long, pearlescent jhumkas and a matching layered necklace

This sociological factor compounds the stigma attached to the idea of a woman wearing “fake”, “imitation”, or “artificial” jewelry on her wedding days. The mere fact that any non-gold jewelry is commonly referred to as “artificial”, “imitation”, or “fake” jewelry demonstrates what the predominant attitude is towards bridal jewelry whose creation cannot be traced back to a gold souk or a widely-known and well-reputed fine jewelry store. These descriptors have such strong negative connotations attached to them that most of the relatively high-end online jewelry stores and businesses that trade in silver and gold-plated jewelry steer clear of them. For instance, Jaipur and Co. describe themselves as a business that merchandises “polki and diamond style jewelry” that they create using “silver-based metals and stones.” Similarly, Embellish by Saigals describe their products as “statement jewelry”, “designer jewelry”, and “statement pieces” that they craft from inexpensive materials like “gold plated” metals, “silver”, and “kundan polki.” Despite this stigma and the negativity surrounding non-traditional, non-gold jewelry, there’s no denying that it is rapidly taking form as the more viable bridal jewelry option in this current era of economic instability, ever-escalating inflation rates, and the resulting rising rates of gold. In the near future, more such businesses will emerge and experience growth as more and more women begin to see value in their highly-curated and well-crafted inventories and decide to opt for premium, albeit budget-friendly, jewelry options that cocoon them from the exorbitant rates of gold in Pakistan.

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Minal Khan wore customized jewellery by Embellish on her engagement ceremony

Sana Tahir is a journalist, editor, and writer based in Lahore, Pakistan. She enjoys writing about culture, fashion, social media trends, innovations in technology, and issues of social justice. When she's not busy with her 9-5, she dedicates time to her writing and fashion commentary blog on Instagram. You can find her @sanateewrites_s.

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