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Indians seduced by fake gold

Gold hit its all-time high dollar value on Wednesday, but Indians still cling to the bling.

The half-dozen women piecing together handmade jewelry in the attic above Mohan Iyer's shop use brass, copper, lead, plastic stones, crystals and sometimes nickel to make the jewelry shiny. Iyer himself wears a handful of (real) gold rings and a (fake) gold watch.

Young people "want more designs, so they go for imitation," Iyer said, adding that the imitation industry can be more creative since its costs are lower. He shows a set of two delicate fake gold bangles for 83 rupees (about $1.85). "And this lasts for six to eight months," he said to their credit. After that, he added, the lady can buy a new one and get a different style.

Though Iyer said that "people who can afford gold go for gold," he and other fake gold jewelers also say trends are shifting. More news reports of robbers tearing jewelry off women during the recession has made them afraid to wear real gold in public, they say, and women want to wear fashion jewelry both in their homes and to their service and desk jobs.

But imitation just isn't the same, says Madhumita Dutta, a spokesperson for the WGC in Mumbai, in an email. "The relevance and need of gold jewellery [sic] amongst Indian consumers are deep rooted emotionally and culturally and cannot be replaced."

India purchased about 100 tons less — a 19 percent drop — of real gold jewelery in 2009 compared to 2008, but the WGC also says that demand has picked up throughout 2009 and in the beginning of 2010.

"Nothing can take the luster away from gold, especially in the domain of Indian festivals and weddings. Historically and mythologically too gold is interlinked with Indian culture. Gold is sacred," she said.

But making the final selections for her May 15 wedding, Chaitali Thakker says it wasn't cost or value of the jewelry that brought her to the 10th-floor glassy showroom of the IJMIMA complex. She says it's about the style. "Not the price. ... I am a person who likes to wear something different than others," said the Hindu bride-to-be in bubblegum pink leggings and gold sandals.

"Day by day [the imitation market] is growing. ... Now you will be seeing lavish showrooms with imitation," said Pankaj Shah, manager of the glassy Alex International Jewellery World showroom, where a low-hanging chandelier greets guests and oxford-clad assistants help Thakker and a friend look at studded rings.

The quiet and polite Shah says his growing business exports to the Gulf and Western countries, and that his trade rests on something more solid than the whims of global investors. "As far as ladies are there, this line will never be closed."