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Retail chains cracking Indian jewelry market

Deepika Padukone in Tanishq

Bollywood superstar Deepika Padukone in Tanishq jewelry.

May 19, 2014 — When one thinks of India, jewelry often jumps to mind. Mental images of the place shimmer and sparkle — and seeing it for real doesn’t disappoint. Even women of modest means can be found bedecked by Western standards — with bindis and bangles, décolletage dripping and hair cascading with bling. And forget about the American three-months-salary rule of thumb for a measly diamond solitaire — Indian parents might spend a large percentage of their life savings on bridal gems.

India is the world’s largest market for gold — much of it worn rather than stashed away. The Indian jewelry market — by some estimates as large as $25 billion a year — is dominated by small, mom-and-pop retailers. But large chains and brand names have begun to change that.

Tanishq, India’s largest national jewelry chain, is a joint venture between Tata Group, the country’s largest conglomerate, and the Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation, a government agency. Tata’s sprawling operations range from steel to tea to hotels. Tanishq was launched in 1994, but took off in earnest around 2007 — revenue has been growing 40 percent a year on average since then.

As India becomes more affluent and its middle class continues to explode in size, there’s a growing change in the perception of jewelry — it’s being viewed less as a savings vehicle and more as a fashion statement. And the old family jeweler might not be as trendy as the latest chain store that carries popular new brands. Women want to look more like chic, modern Indian movie star Deepika Padukone, who donned a Tanishq collection in the recent slick Bollywood hit, Race 2. Indian women also want stylish understatement to wear to the office, where Western attire is often the norm.

Additionally, there’s a comfort factor in buying from an established jeweler with a national reputation, as opposed to a local market vendor, who may be selling goods of dubious quality. Tanishq, which now has about 150 stores and has cracked into double-digit market share, is a division of Tata’s Titan Company Ltd., the largest designer and manufacturer of watches in India and the fifth-largest in the world.

Titan watches are known for their extreme slimness. Titan brands include Fastrack and Raga. Its slimmest brand — the slimmest in the world — is the Titan Edge, with a total thickness of 3.5 mm and a movement of 1.15 mm.

Titan makes other jewelry as well and exports to more than 35 countries, including, as of last year, the United States, the largest watch market in the world. But for now, the company’s wheelhouse is India, where it has a 60 percent share of the country’s watch market.