A New York City-based wedding planner for the Indian-American community talks to JCK about the custom of families giving jewelry as a gift.
It’s not uncommon for a bride in New York City to wear a big engagement ring,
but it is unusual if the ring isn’t a gift from her fiancé. This was the case
two years ago, when a client of wedding planner Sonal Shah got married in a 13
ct. t.w. diamond engagement ring given to her by her parents. The scenario
makes a little more sense, though, if you consider that the family was Indian
American, and that giving jewelry to celebrate a wedding is an important custom
in that culture.
“Indian brides can receive upwards of 15 sets of earrings, necklaces, and
bracelets from family members for their weddings,” says Shah, the owner of
Sonal J. Shah Event Consultants in Manhattan. For seven years, Shah has planned
mostly Indian wedding ceremonies for couples in the Northeast.
Indian families can spend small fortunes on jewelry gifts for the bride and her
family, as well as the groom’s kin. And the wealthier the families, the more
jewelry is given.
“When a daughter leaves home, the parents often give jewelry as a means of safe
keeping, something to fall back on in an emergency,” explains Shah.
Nowadays, these gifts among Indian families aren’t limited to rich karat gold
styles (though most wedding-day jewelry is made in the classic Indian Kundan or
Polki style). Those traditional looks are heavy, notes Shah, and have fallen
out of favor with some modern brides. To coordinate with outfits, some brides
will wear white-metal jewels made of platinum or even sterling silver.
Sometimes, however, the gifts aren’t, technically, jewelry.
“I’ve seen uncles give sets of loose diamonds,” says Shah.
For Shah’s own wedding, her parents travelled to Dubai to shop for jewelry and
also took their daughter to India, where she obtained a current favorite: a
custom-made 22k gold cuff bracelet with more than 15 cts. t.w. diamonds. “It
will be one of the pieces in my collection that I treasure forever,” she says.
After the ceremony, wedding-day jewelry goes into the bank, not to be worn
again, save for the occasional family party. “You wouldn’t wear it to someone
else’s formal affair,” she says, with her own wedding jewels in mind (she wore
hers a second time only to her dad’s 70th birthday party).
But not to fret: some everyday jewelry is part of the gift mix. “For when my
brother gets married, my family has already bought [his bride] five sets of
jewelry, including a necklace, bracelets, and earrings, for his bride” says
On the day of the wedding, the Indian bride traditionally wears a lot of
jewelry—a necklace, earrings, bracelets, rings, Maang Tikka (jewel on the
forhead), and more. “You’ll stand out—that’s how people know you’re the bride,”
says Shah. There’s also a presentation of gifts—typically in decorative
baskets—between the families before the ceremony.
“Gift giving is a big deal in the Indian community,” she explains. “The more
traditional gift to give is jewelry.”
Wedding jewelry in 22k gold features uncut diamonds as well as rubies,
emeralds, fluorite, and pearls. The earrings and necklace retail for $13,467.