...A sparkling legacy
For over a century, Vummudi Bangaru Jewellers have been blending tradition and modernity, gilding...
CHENNAI: Anyone can be a trader but not everyone can be a jeweller. There’s a fine line between the two. A trader is someone who can invest in gold and start a business if he has the capital. A jeweller is someone who knows what goes behind every piece that sells out of his store — right from the production and manufacturing to creative designs in trend. We are the latter,” says Amarendran Vummidi, managing partner of Vummidi Bangaru Jewellers that celebrated its 120th anniversary this month.
CE recently visited VBJ’s creative centre for diamond and gold. Located a street away, behind the 10,000-sq-ft jewellery showroom parallel to Gemini signal, the centre is where all the magic happens — designs are created and manufactured here. Today, the business is being carried forward by the fourth-generation of siblings Jithendra Vummidi and Amarendran Vummidi, who were trained in gemology in Belgium, under the guidance of their father, Raghunath Vummidi.
The brothers have grown up listening to the story of how it all came to be from their father. The foundation stone was laid by their great grandfather Vummidi Bangaru Chetty in 1900. He hailed from a small town, Gudiyatham in Vellore, between Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. There were two temples — Pallikonnda Perumal temple and an Amman temple — near his house.He’d put a stall on all auspicious days, selling small jewellery pieces. Nose and ear piercings were a common affair and affordable at that time. The business would be for 10 days and the rest of the days, he would be engaged in the making of the jewellery. There was no proper shop, only a box with these jewellery items. Their grandfather V Anjaneyulu would carry it on his head and follow the footsteps of their great grandfather.
“My great grandfather’s business acumen was always ahead of time. He did not train in business. He decided to move to then Madras to expand and develop the business. It was common for merchants to move to the city for their livelihood by setting up either jewellery, groceries, clothes or hardware stalls. He opened a shop at Govindappa Naickan Street in George Town in the 1900s. Within seven to eight years, he started manufacturing and selling under his name. It was common for shops to be named after the owners for easy recall, followed by a small subtitle of what their business was. Thus began the journey,” reminisces Amarendran.
Ahead of time
With time, Chetty built a reputation. The showroom was attached to his house and there was a manufacturing unit at the rear end. They moved to NSC Bose Road in the 1940s. “Our eldest uncle used to say that we used mica for constructing counters and plywoods for furniture. It was expensive and a big deal back then,” shares Amarendran. The next showroom was launched in Panagal Park, the first jewellery store in the area, around the 1950s. “He did not want to lose out on his loyal patrons. Out of six grounds, he used four grounds for parking and two for the shop since we were catering to big names who’d come for shopping in cars.
The showroom was near the station and bus stand, so it had good connectivity. Landscaping was done at the entrance with a small pond. My father used to say that the lush green Panagal Park, back then, was visible from the showroom,” he says. The third shop was opened outside Spencer Plaza. Chetty was meticulous with material management, staff training, HR and purchase that he centralised all departments. “He ensured we knew what we sold. He learned everything on field. Earlier, even diamond cutting used to be done but not anymore since it’s a big industry of its own,” he adds.
Work is worship
Their father Raghunath Vummidi launched the latest showroom at Anna Salai in 1980. Jithendra Vummidi, his elder son, joined in 1995 followed by Amarendran in 1999. The brothers are proud of the ethos and values the brand continues to follow.“Although we were the next generation to take up the business, we had to earn respect with our ideas and hard work. Jewellery is always a topic of discussion at home and it runs in our blood. Our staff members have been there with us for many years. Some have even seen my father grow up. We lost our oldest staff, an 88-year-old, who had been with us for 60 years. Our clientele is also multi-generational. There’s a huge responsibility on our shoulders,” shares Amarendran.
The brothers believe in constant upgradation to international standards to stand the test of time. They have a third party certification from the Gemological Institute of America to release a VBJ Guarantee Card on diamonds. They won bronze in the International World Skills forum in the Global Skill Challenge Australia, 2019, under the category Jewellery Designing and Manufacturing, at Khazan, Russia, as part of the National Skills Development Corporation (NSDC).
“We were the pioneers to bring in SynthDetect to India — the only technology to identify artificial diamonds against natural ones. We’ve also been taking part in exhibitions in the US. We were privileged to recently design platinum jewellery for Lord Balaji in Tirupati. There’s a dedicated section for temple deities in our creative centre,” says Amarendran. The brand has seen a gamut of ups and downs — the World War 1, World War 2, Gold Control Act and what not. “Gold control Act, when the business took a hit, was a turning point as many jewellers shut their shops and disappeared from the market. We’ve stuck around since then. We will always be jewellers and the next generation will continue in the same field. There’s no stopping us,” beams Amarendran with pride.
The brand launched its first-ever Platinum collection — The Gingko Leaf and Buddha Pod — at the prestigious Lakme India Fashion Week 2019, Mumbai. For the past two years, it has also custom designed jewellery for The Academy Awards and exclusive red carpet events.