For Amina Abbas, this is an exciting time in life. She recently got engaged and will be getting married in a few months’ time in the traditional Pakistani way.
That means arranging the perfect wedding dress, ordering elaborate clothes from Pakistan to be tailored, booking a makeup artist and choosing a venue. But most importantly, it means getting lots of gold jewelry made.
This is where the excitement could turn into tension, though. Amina and other soon-to-be brides are being forced to cut back on the amount of jewelry they buy for their wedding because gold prices in the US have never been higher. Today, the price of an ounce of gold is $1344 compared to five years ago when it cost just under $500.
Gold jewelry for the bride is an integral part of Pakistani weddings. Parents save up and prepare gold jewelry for weddings since the time their daughters are very young. Although Amina admits she is not that “crazy” about gold jewelry – owing it to her American bred tastes – for her wedding she would still need at least one gold set with a heavy necklace, earrings and a ring, one or two smaller sets, and a half a dozen to a dozen bangles.
“It’s the older people who give more importance to how much gold a bride brings with her,” says Amina. “They may even ask how much you got at your wedding!”
Pressure from relatives and in-laws, and the parents’ desire to provide their daughters with a strong foothold before sending her off to a new home forces people to buy more and more gold for their daughters “even if they have to get in debt for it,” tells Zafar Iqbal, owner of Kangan Jewellers, a jewelry shop on Coney Island Avenue.
An average Pakistani may prepare at least two to three gold sets on a wedding. Some families are not comprising on the number of gold sets they prepare but due to the high gold prices they are buying jewelry that weighs much lighter, said jeweler Iqbal.
While artificial jewelry has not been able to create a market for prospective brides, it is becoming increasingly popular with the hundreds of people who are invited at a typical Pakistani wedding; and its sales have reportedly increased over the years. Workers at Zoque, a clothing and artificial jewelry shop on Coney Island Avenue, have seen sales of imitation gold jewelry go up especially for party and wedding guests. Brides, however, draw the line at buying artificial jewelry for the wedding day, according to Meena, owner of Meena Jewelers who has yet to see a bride go for the fake gold for their wedding day.
It is just not wedding jewelry that has seen a decline in purchases in the past five or so years. Sales of smaller items have also been severely affected. “Before the rapid price increase, women used to come here regularly, even buying simple rings on the way back from grocery trips,” explains Irum Shireen, who also works at Kangan. “Now, only those people by gold for whom it’s absolutely necessary.”
A customer at the same shop, Naila Sagheer, who was getting some jewelry items repaired, talked about old times. “Previously, we used to give gold gifts to even distant relatives at their weddings,” she said. “Now, I only buy gold for myself, my daughters and my daughter-in-law.”