The process of making hand-crafted gold jewellery includes the melting of gold with a small burner. The goldsmith may then use tools such as tweezers to pick out the gold and place it in acid and water. The craftsmen would further shape and carve the gold in accordance to specific designs as requested by customers. Some craftsmen may choose to draw the design on a gold bar before carving the customised shapes.
Goldsmiths are almost always male and businesses are family-run, with the trade usually passing from father to son or other male kin. In Singapore, however, the owners have had to hire goldsmiths from their native villages in India or through other personal connections, as fewer men are taking up the profession here. Women may help out as sales representatives, but they do not typically take part in the goldsmithing work.
The job involves long hours, with the goldsmith working 10 to 12 hours daily, six days a week. Traditionally, he sat cross-legged on a floor mat, bent over a small bench to work. Today, he sits on a stool and works at a table. A goldsmith’s space is sacred and no footwear is allowed. All goldsmiths wear the poonal (a sacred thread).
The goldsmith is known for making the thaali, a gold chain with a pendant that is given by the groom to the bride as a marriage rite. Before making the thaali, the goldsmith offers prayers with a spread of vegetarian food to the customer’s family deity to bless the gold that will be used. A picture of the deity is propped up in front of the goldsmith while he makes the thaali. The thaali is collected by the customer during an auspicious time.