Emerald City: The Birth and Evolution of an Indian Gemstone Industry.

Author:Cort, John E.
Position::Book review
 
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Emerald City: The Birth and Evolution of an Indian Gemstone Industry. By Lawrence A. Babb. Albany: SUNY PRESS, 2013. Pp. xii+ 220, 33 figs. $80 (cloth); $26.95 (paper).

Jaipur has been known to generations of tourists as the "pink city" ever since the decision in 1876 to color most of the old city with a distinctive pink wash. More important to its economic fortunes than tourism, however, has been the gemstone industry. For many decades the most prestigious part of the gemstone industry has been the importing, cutting, finishing, and then re-exporting of emeralds. As a result, for Lawrence Babb a more appropriate name for Jaipur is the "emerald city."

At the heart of this engaging study are two themes. The largest part of the book consists of a detailed ethno-historical study of the Jaipur emerald industry. This is a study of a "traditional" Indian industry, with a level of detail attained by few other studies of industries in India. Babb shows how family firms, with all the inevitable limitations of size, could still develop highly complex and rationalized systems of doing business, and so be successful in global trade.

The major players for much of the century-and-a-half history of this industry have been Shvetambar Jains. Babb's second theme addresses the long-standing theoretical discussion, which dates back to the early-twentieth-century comparative analysis of Max Weber, of a possible link between religious values and capitalism. Babb's conclusion is that the Weberian thesis does not fit the Jains. Religious values and practices are not causally determinative of economic success, at least in the case of the Jains and the emerald industry. With Babb's book we should finally be able to move out of the shadow of Weber's theories and move into new areas of analysis of the nexus of religion, culture, economy, and society in India.

Most of the emerald business is conducted by family firms, which tend to specialize in specific aspects of the industry. At the top are the owners. While recent years have seen some newcomers, for most of the history of the emerald business the owners were Shvetambar Jains from the Osval and Shrimal trading castes. Below the owners come the brokers (dalals), many of whom are also Osval and Shrimal Jains. Next on the organizational rung are the stonecutters, most of whom are Muslims. Then come a variety of other specialists, in fields such as faceting, polishing, enameling, making light jewelry, and stringing...

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