Perhaps the most instantly recognisable regional style of Indian silverwork is that produced in Kutch (Gujarat), in the late 19th/early 20th century. With its deep, tightly scrolled foliate motifs it was also the style most favoured by the silversmith’s clientele.
Designs were produced through a laborious process whereby the vessel or flat item was filled with molten wax and resin which when it hardened helped absorb the shock of the silversmith’s hammers and punches. Using a series of blunt edged tools the designs were painstakingly hammered into the surface of the object after which the wax was removed by heating. This was often repeated numerous times to achieve the desired effect. (Three vessels in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London show this process in all its stages).
The most renowned of the sixty or so silversmith families in Kutch at the end of the 19th century was Oomersi Mawji, court silversmith to the rulers of Kutch (Maharao) whose inventive designs inspired many of his contemporaries and who can be said to have almost single-handedly stoked the desire for Kutch silverware both within and outside of India.
Thanks in part to O.M. Kutch silver gained immense popularity in the second half of the 19th century. The tenacious marketing of Kutch silver by the Rao’s ensured that it was featured in exhibitions such as the Great Exhibition of 1851 at the Crystal Palace and such was its popularity it was even retailed at Liberty & Co. in London.
One reason for it’s widespread appeal may have been that the deep crisp lines and lack of obvious ethnic specificity appealed to the market more than other regional styles such as Swami silver produced in Madras.
The piece illustrated above, although unmarked, is a fine example of late 19th century Kutch silverware. This large tray (54 oz) is decorated with a blank oval surrounded by intricate floral scroll-work that in turn is surrounded by a band of pierced fretwork. (For more information on Kutch silverware see Wynyard RT Wilkinson, Indian Silver 1858–1947, London, 1999).