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Getting the shine back on synthetic gemstones

Snatched from the dragon:T. Rajasekar and C. Karthikeyan at their gem cutting workshop in Tiruchi.M. MoorthyM_Moorthy

Could the 3-millimetre machine-made cubic zirconia stones twinkling on a tray hold the key to a revival of Tiruchi’s once-thriving synthetic gems industry? Manufacturer T. Rajasekhar certainly hopes so.

With 58 years of experience as a synthetic gem cutter and polisher, Mr. Rajasekhar has decided to live up to the idiom ‘if you can’t beat them, join them.’

“Though many people ask us why our business is down, nobody really wants to take any remedial action. Tiruchi’s synthetic gems industry has declined not just because of cheaper imports from China, but also due to our own fear of innovation,” Mr.R ajasekhar told The Hindu at his residence in the Tiruchi suburb of Karumandapam.

Synthetic gemstones are an eco-friendly alternative (with the same chemical compositions and crystal structures) to precious and semi-precious stones that rely on quarrying.

Created by fusion and crystallisation under high pressure of certain chemicals, artificial gems are more common than we think – not just in jewels, clothing, plastic and leather goods, but also in industrial tools and like engraving blades, thread guides for the textile industry, in optics and so on.

The industry, which once employed at least three lakh people in Tiruchi – manufacturers, traders and rural workers - at its peak in the mid-1990s, now has less than a thousand players.

The most common reason cited is the availability of Chinese imports that sell for as low as Rs. 1 to 80 paise per stone, compared to the local, handmade ones costing Rs. 5-6.

After making several trips to China, where automated synthetic gem production is concentrated mainly in Wuzhou city in Guangxi province, Mr. Rajasekhar decided to raise funds by mortgaging his home and invested in a Chinese machine.

“This is the best in its class, there,” said Mr. Rajasekhar, who spent Rs. 24 lakh on the unit, and Rs. 4 lakh on buying spares in anticipation of potential repair work.

Buying the machine was the only way to learn how to operate it, said Mr. Rajasekhar.

“Nobody was willing to teach us on their already-running units, so I first had to buy the equipment, and install it in a rented premise in Wuzhou. I sent my nephew C. Karthikeyan to be trained by a local professional (for a fee of Rs. 2 lakh), for two months there.”

The machine was then dismantled and shipped to Chennai from Guangzhou shipyard via Hong Kong. Installed in a shed where once a small garden bloomed at Mr. Rajasekhar’s residence, the unit has been running to full capacity for the past three months.

“In the older method, we’d consider it an achievement if we produced 100 stones in a day, with several workers. Today, one worker can get 15,000 ready in fewer steps,” he said.

Machine-driven cartridges help to churn out 100 synthetic stones in 2 minutes, as Mr. Rajasekhar times the process on his mobile phone.

The small pile of rejected stones on his tray shows that the process isn’t foolproof. “At least 10% of the stones aren’t usable,” says Mr. Rajasekhar, who sorts through the final production everyday with his wife Shanthi. “But those who respect quality will definitely seek synthetic gemstones from Tiruchi,” he affirms confidently.

In the older method, we’d consider it an achievement if we produced 100 stones in a day, with several workers. Today, one worker can get 15,000 ready

T. Rajasekhar



1 comment

Grace Olivia said...

It's really good. Thanks for shared about jewelry collection with us. It's always give us a attractive look. aaa cubic zirconia

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