Published: 11th January 2019
Kerala's first ever female silversmith Chanchu George talks about the journey behind mastering the art
Kerala's first female silversmith, Chanchu George, talks about the art and the process behind creating each piece of jewellery
If anyone is under the impression that the ancient art of silversmithing is easy to master, they must read this insight into the life and work of Chanchu George. She has an office of her own hidden in a corner of her spacious apartment that rests in the heart of Kochi. Hunched at her desk, she grips onto her solder gun like a sailor would with their ship's wheel. Bandaids and Burnol are always handy in this small room that always smells like burning metal. Chanchu is Kerala's first and only female silversmith and she's got the stories to prove it.
"It's a dying art, actually," she tells me. "What a silversmith creates is completely done by hand and it's not something that is really done in our part of the world. It's not something that you can teach yourself by watching a few youtube tutorials or reading about it. It is actually based on experience. I am not a self-taught person, this is a skill-based craft. I've been doing this for about 8 years now."
METAL HEAD: Chanchu's signature brand is called Abharna Petite
When she moved back home to Kerala from Bengaluru and resigned from her IT job to be around family, Chanchu remembers that she was stuck at home. At the time, she would visit jewellery stores and see different kinds of ornaments but would never be attracted to the whole thing. She explains, "There would be something about each piece that attracted me. What I used to do is, I used to buy a couple of them and put it together how I wanted to."
When she created her final pieces, people took notice of their unique style and requested the same for themselves. This was when the idea of a business first struck Chanchu. "It was never intentional," she says. "I made my pieces for myself out of necessity and interest. Just to match what I wanted. I began attending these one-day workshops and classes abroad. That is how I got into this." At the time, she was unaware of where the beads in her work were sourced from. So she began trying to trace back to their origin. When she learnt that they came from the North, she started getting the materials herself and putting them together.
What a silversmith creates is completely done by hand and it’s not something that is really done in our part of the world. It’s not something that you can teach yourself by watching a few YouTube tutorials. It is actually based on experience
Chanchu George, Silversmith
"These designs are one of a kind. People began to ask me why I hadn't started to work with silver officially. So I decided to do it," she remembers. "I used to collect the pieces and put them together, then I started to sketch my design ideas. During my travels, I met a silversmith in Jaipur and he used to help me a lot with the creative process. There were also many silversmithing platforms online. Many people do this abroad. They cut the stones the way they want, buy the rock and set it in silver. And I thought, if they could do it, so could I."
Chanchu realised that the materials and equipment weren't as easily available in India as for her counterparts online. "My silversmith in Jaipur saw my passion so he taught me everything. Everyone found it strange for a woman to be doing this. The fact that I could have a high paying job and yet I chose to do this was beyond their understanding. They told me that they wouldn't have done it if their income didn't depend on it. These silversmiths I met had been doing it since the age of 6. It takes a long time and a lot of effort to create that a single piece. And people ask us why they cost so much." In April 2018, her training concluded. You need to know about the metal about all that silver represents.
GRAND DESIGNS: The process behind creating the jewellery includes a number of gruelling steps
Chanchu buys silver bars and gets them rolled in Ahmedabad where her silversmith currently resides. Then, she heats it up according to the melting point until it becomes soft. Then, the material is passed a rolling mill to attain the thickness she wants depending on her desired end product. Following this, she draws her designs and transfers them onto the sheets. These are then sawed out. This final product is a single piece and it is attached to a hook, given a certain texture and polished up.
As she demonstrates the working of the solder gun, Chanchu says, "A little more heat can end up with the whole thing become one huge chunk of silver. Once, I was attaching the last piece to a piece of work that I had worked on for hours and the whole thing overheated and became a giant ball of silver." No, silversmithing is no easy art to master. But Chanchu makes it seem like it as she quietly adjusts the heating on her trusted gun.