The Story Behind CKC’s 155-Year Legacy: A Conversation with Dr. Vinod Hayagriv

DR. VINOD HAYAGRIV, MD and Director of the esteemed C Krishniah Chetty Group, a fifth-generation jeweller, delved deep into the heritage of his company, which boasts a 155-year-old legacy. With an illustrious history spanning over a century and a half, he offered valuable insights into the enduring legacy and impeccable reputation of the establishment.

A history buff, a voracious reader, and an accomplished golfer, with almost 30 trophies under his belt, Dr. Hayagriv has a collection of vintage cars, reflecting his passion for classic automobiles, often indulging in leisurely drives to unwind. A perfectionist, straightforward and erudite personality, Dr. Hayagriv attributes his success to the values instilled by his father, solid support from his wife, and a close-knit circle of friends.

Here are the excerpts of his tête-à-tête with Nirav Bhansali, Convener, National Exhibitions, GJEPC, held during IIJS Tritiya. 

Recipe For Lasting Legacy

Often, I’ve been asked what makes an organisation last over 155 years. First, I credit destiny. Second, I attribute it the resilience of the people who ran it and steered the course throughout the decades.

Rooted in humble beginnings, my great-great-grandfather, Krishniah Chetty, laid the foundation of our family business in 1869. Prior to this venture, he peddled coloured beads on a bicycle, indicating the significance of colour in our merchandise even today. Establishing his own store in the bustling bylanes of Commercial Street, Bangalore, Krishniah Chetty carved out a niche for our brand. The location, nestled in close proximity to the British Cantonment, bore testament to the historical intricacies of Bangalore’s past, as the Maharaja of Mysore allocated 1,500 acres of land to the British for the establishment of their cantonment, thus securing protection for his kingdom.

Bengaluru was a laid-back city, with salubrious weather and the British made it a self-contained township, a no-war zone since the Maharaja of Mysore was peace-loving.

Our company archives suggest that we had adapted to British taste, developing a design language based on their preferences. So, the first rule we learnt early on was to know your customer!

We made articles in silver back then, and later, we transitioned to making gold jewellery; and the first record of a diamond sale in the company dates back to 1880.

Dr. Hayagriv enthralled the audience by recounting the rich history of C. Krishniah Chetty.

I’m amazed at the vision our forefathers had – we exhibited in the Paris Exposition in 1931, and earlier, exhibited in the Lahore Exposition in 1910 or 1909. He even took part in a competition to design a stamp for the first airmail service between Lahore and London! Although he didn’t win, his name is mentioned in the London India House.

Artisans’ Hold on Business

In those days, ours was a typical ‘shophouse’ with 70 craftsmen on the premises, encompassing goldsmiths, silversmiths, gem-setters, engravers, and they were adept at cross functional roles. There were ivory and wood carvers to make jewellery boxes tailored to the dimensions of each jewellery piece. Our business offered end-to-end services, including home delivery to our esteemed customers.

The year 1954 was the turning point. Tragically, both my grandfather and my great grandfather passed away, leaving my father, all of 18, and uncle, just 14, to take the reins of the business.  Their journey was fraught with challenges, particularly when managing the artisans, who were very difficult to deal with. They were egotistical, and some were strapping body builders, capable of bending gold with bare hands! But the two youngsters managed to balance the act and run the business well!

When I joined the business in 1975, I encountered reluctance from our artisans to share their knowledge with me, owing to my convent education. They were sceptical about me and wondered if I would even continue working in our family enterprise. Initially, they were secretive, but  once they saw my commitment, they mentored me about the art of jewellery making.

Consumer Patronage

Reflecting on an incident in our family’s business, there was a time when the Commercial Street property faced auction, and the support of four top customers proved instrumental.

The incident underlines the relationships we, as a business house, forged with our customers, and this aspect has helped us sustain our family business for 155 years, which is the cornerstone of our legacy.

Another testament that illustrates this aspect is that we were the appointed the official jewellers to the Maharajah of Mysore, a distinction that continues to this day. We have also been serving 21 royal families till date.

The Importance Of Archiving

To ensure longevity in the industry, thorough record-keeping is paramount. Influenced by British practices, our heritage is rich with thousands of meticulously preserved documents, some dating back to 1880. Despite the fragility of some, carefully maintained diaries by my grandfather and great-grandfather chronicle our journey. These historical records, from financial transactions to property deeds, design concepts to marketing strategies, are archived.

Notably, our reverence for our workforce extends to displaying the names of all past employees on our walls. For us, the jewellery business transcends mere profit and loss; it’s about people.

In addition, “The Bejewelled Past,” a comprehensive 290-page coffee table book authored by renowned jewellery historian Dr. Usha Balakrishnan and published by CKC, looks deep into our illustrious 150-year history, encapsulating our enduring legacy for generations to come.

We have also installed digital screens enabling clients to explore the rich history of Krishniah Chetty.

Future Outlook

Our brand language has always been luxurious, classy, and understated, blending tradition with contemporary appeal to resonate with the new generation. While we do that, we should also ensure progress happens in a changing world like India. I firmly believe that sustaining excellence requires continual adaptation and innovation.

We have a plan to advance our business in a truly luxurious manner. It’s not about the number of stores, but rather the iconic nature of each establishment. I hesitate to even call them ‘stores’ because they are more like large boutique spaces, each spanning approximately 25,000 square feet, carefully designed with exquisite details. From luxurious leather accents to stunning decor curated by talented architects and passionate visual merchandisers, every aspect is carefully crafted. Currently, we have put our expansion plans on hold, but we are optimistic about resuming them in the near future.

As for my personal ambition, it’s to create a truly remarkable luxury enterprise destined to endure another 155 years—an endeavour that embodies supreme craftsmanship and dedication to excellence.

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