Marc the Gold and Silver Zari of your Silk Saree Using Hi-Tech Testing Machines

Mysore silk saree with golden zari worn by Kan...

There is one hi-tech programme of a nuclear research institute here that may not have figured in the much-debated India-US nuclear deal but is of great interest to housewives – literally worth its weight in gold.  Zari, or wire thread made of precious metals and woven into the intricate and stunning patterns on traditional saris, has gone hi-tech, thanks to a Tamil Nadu government project supported by the highly regarded Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR) at Kalpakkam.

For centuries, zari was laboriously handmade and lacked any uniformity and standardisation. The quantity of precious metal in one kilo of zari thread varied from source to source.  But from now on anyone buying an exorbitant Kanjeevaram sari will know exactly how much gold, silver, copper and silk there is in a ‘pattu’ (silk) sari.

‘The silk in a sari worth Rs.50,000 ($1,100) and Rs.5,000 is almost the same in quality and quantity. It is the zari that adds value. What the buyer does not know is that the zari in her Rs.50,000 sari may contain less than 25 percent gold and less than 50 percent silver. The customer can be duped by the glitter,’  N. Nagarajan, manager at the government-run Tamil Nadu Zari Limited (Tanzari) here, told IANS.

The new testing method is a far cry from olden days when the zariwalla would call out from the street on hot summer afternoons. Then women would pull out moth-eaten pattu saris from boxes and haggle with the zariwallah who went from door to door trying to buy back the shiny zari threads that bordered the Kanjivaram and Banarasi saris.  The rule was the older the sari, the higher the price it would fetch because the older zari was considered purer.

The shiny metals were recovered from zari thread by the craftsmen and re-polished and reused. Since zari making in India began as a family-kept secret in Surat district of Gujarat, all zari before the 1970s was only made in that town and traded to sari-makers throughout India.  But since 1971, zari-making was taken over by Tanzari.

‘It is, however, still an art made with great deal of love and care by a handful of men’, said S. Kuppuswamy, the accounting officer at the factory.  And for those treasuring that piece of silk swathe with intricate zari work, handed down by mothers and grandmothers, it may be a good idea to find out if it is worth more than just the sentiment.  With a budgetary allocation of Rs.3 million ($67,500), Tanzari has begun installing ray machines imported from Germany that test zari samples and zari-included fabric in important silk market centres.

‘Buy your sari from anywhere in the world but now you can get the zari tested,’ said Kuppuswamy.  The testing of zari samples and zari made fabric is carried out by non-destructive testing (XRF analyser). The technical know-how of the project was jointly developed by Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council (TIFAC) and Tanzari with the guidance of IGCAR.

One machine (costing nearly Rs.225,000 or $5,000) is already in use at Tanzari’s factory on the outskirts of the Kancheepuram town while one is also being used in this town that is the primary sales hub for the weavers of the district.  A third machine will be functional in Chennai in a few weeks and the company plans to install a few more in silk hubs like Salem and Coimbatore.  Zari is sold in a measure called ‘marc’ with one marc being equal to 242 gm.  Theoretically, one marc of pure zari should contain 55 to 57 percent of silver, 22 to 24 percent of silk, 20 to 22 percent of copper and between 0.59 percent to 0.60 percent of gold.

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Posted on March 13, 2012, in Fashion, Technology and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Hi
    Greetings of the day!
    First of all many congratulations for maintaining such a fabulous blog.
    Thanks for your time

    Regards,
    Nalini

  2. I am extreamly happy to get tips about the process, testing and the limits of its metals. Kindly let me know any hand held portable tester is available in market to check the jari quality on the spot at shops as there are spurious jari sarees everywhere.

  3. I appreciate your fantastic blog information……you information is very important for me. Thanks a lot for sharing this blog

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