Pearls in Traditional Indian Nose Rings

The beauty of Indian jewelry lies in the artisanship involved in creating intricate, unique designs. One example is the classic Indian nose ring (known as the nath). It is typically cashew shaped, with a chain to connect it to a hairpiece or earring. The nath exemplifies traditional Maharashtrian jewelry and is usually crafted in yellow gold. Made famous during the Peshwa rule, the nath has been crafted using diamonds, pearls, rubies, and emeralds. Today, the nath is worn mainly for weddings or special occasions, while everyday nose adornments take the form of smaller, simpler studs or rings made from gold or silver. Recently, GIA’s Mumbai laboratory received two traditional nose rings for pearl identification.

Each was set with 17 drilled pearls, near-drop and button, ranging from light cream to cream in color. They were skillfully strung together with yellow metal wire and set with colored gemstones of various shapes and cutting styles. The pearls in the larger nose ring (figure 1, left) ranged from approximately 6.63 × 6.09 mm to 8.42 mm, and the item weighed a total of 13.96 g. Those in the smaller nose ring (figure 1, right) ranged from 5.38 mm to 8.02 × 7.61 mm, and this piece weighed 9.05 g overall. When viewed under 40× magnification, the pearl surfaces in both pieces showed typical nacreous overlapping aragonite platelets and a medium to high surface luster. Energy-dispersive X-ray fluorescence (EDXRF) spectrometry revealed manganese levels below the instrument’s detection level and a strontium content averaging 950 ppm. In addition, the pearls were inert to X-ray fluorescence, indicative of saltwater origin. They showed a moderate greenish yellow reaction under long-wave ultraviolet light and a weaker reaction of similar color under short-wave UV. Real-time microradiography imaging revealed internal structures similar to those observed in natural pearl studies for various Pinctada-species mollusks (K. Scarratt et al., “Natural pearls from Australian Pinctada maxima,” Winter 2012 G&G, pp. 236–261; N. Nilpetploy et al., “The gemological characteristics of Pipi pearls reportedly from Pinctada maculata,” Winter 2018 G&G, pp. 418–427). The radiopaque areas visible on the microradiographs of both items correspond to the yellow metal fittings and wire, since they are denser and prevent X-rays from passing through.

Figure 2. Real-time microradiography of the internal structures observed in the larger nose ring consisting of organic-rich acicular structures and growth arcs (left) and a “collapsed core” near the drill hole area surrounded by growth arcs (right).

Five pearls from the larger nath revealed an organic-rich internal structure with varying patchy light and dark gray contrasting areas, along with an acicular structure radiating from their centers that occupied almost half of the internal structure (figure 2, left). Two pearls showed “collapsed cores” close to the drill holes (figure 2, right); the bulk of the cores, if any, were removed as a result of drilling. The remaining ten pearls displayed fine concentric rings and growth arcs, all proving their natural origin.

Figure 3. The majority of the pearls in the smaller nose ring showed faint growth arcs and concentric ringed structures, while three of them showed organic-rich acicular cores (marked with arrows) typical of natural pearls.
Microradiography of the pearls in the smaller nath revealed similar internal structures. While the majority of those pearls showed fine concentric rings and growth arcs, three of them (marked with arrows in figure 3) also possessed organic-rich and acicular cores that occupied varying degrees of their structure. The internal structures observed in both items contained classic natural pearl structures similar to those observed in known Pinctada radiata pearls in GIA’s research database. The EDXRF results were also within the range expected for Pinctada radiata samples, with the lower levels of strontium (average of 950 ppm) and manganese (mostly below detection limits) consistent with that mollusk species and below those expected from P. maxima pearls (A. Homkrajae et al., “Internal structures of known Pinctada maxima pearls: Natural pearls from wild marine mollusks,” Spring 2021 G&G, pp. 2–21).The combinations of natural pearls made these two pieces very attractive. It is no easy task to create traditional nose ornaments with pearls of such size. These two unique pearl jewelry items provide an excellent example of Indian heritage.

This article is republished with permission from Gemological Institute of America (GIA).

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Discover the latest collections, news, and exclusive launches from us.