ODAY, it’s there for all to see, admire and even crave. It was once shrouded in mystery, the talk being that it was what the royals of the past wore – a shawl of gold.
When worn, it is a sight to behold, definitely so to those in Myanmar who already possess one. The golden shawl, or scarf, was recreated by Aung Thamadi gold shop, which is now famous because of it. The shawl is one of the most popular items among gold enthusiasts.
Aung Thamadi’s Phyu Phyu Aung said they only began to think of designing one when a customer wanted to wear one to a donation ceremony. And they had no idea how to do it.
“We had heard that gold shawls were used by [women] in dynasties past, but no one made them any more,” said Phyu Phyu Aung. So they started from scratch in 2009. There was no sample on which to base the project. What they knew was it would take a lot of time and money. They began by hiring a professional goldsmith for more than the market rate at the time, more in hope than anything else.
“Hopes of success were almost nil,” said Phyu Phyu Aung, adding however that Aung Thamadi nevertheless believed that if the project was successful, buyers would “appreciate the creativity and skill that turned the gold into a fabric-like material that could be worn”.
They also believed in themselves. To their advantage, Aung Thamadi already had a reputation for innovation in their trade and for pleasing customers. In the end, it was an instant hit.
“The gold shawl was designed with the customer’s satisfaction in mind. The result was fantastic and it got a lot of attention. People became more fascinated with it when it was advertised and the Aung Thamadi brand became associated with the gold shawl. It was so successful that people started exchanging gold bullion for gold shawls,” Phyu Phyu Aung said.
The first shawl required about 80 ticals (1306 grams) of gold, but now customers can have one made starting from 25 ticals (408g) as several designs are available.
“Gold shawls are now produced in unique designs according to modern times. We now have shoulderlength gold shawls, lengthier ones that hang down from both sides of the shoulder, or triangular ones that we have designed according to customer preference. One good point of the gold shawl is that its whole mass does not rest on one spot on the shoulders. Instead, it spreads its weight around and balances itself. It is comfortable to wear and can be kept folded,” Phyu Phyu Aung said.
What should be even more interesting to would-be buyers is that the handmade shawls don’t lose value over time. In any case, hardly anyone is interested in selling once they have one.
A shoulder-length piece would require 25-30 ticals (408-490g) of gold, a lengthier one 35-50 ticals (572 -816g), and a triangular one 30-40 ticals (490-653g). Orders must be made one to two weeks before the required delivery date.
Women buy the shawls mostly to wear to donation ceremonies and to weddings too, though not by the brides. These days they have greater choice because Aung Thamadi now also has Italian-designed white gold shawls which sell for between K30 and K40 million.
To Phyu Phyu Aung, flaunting that golden possession is not the reason why one should have one. “You need the right occasion to wear it. Shawls were part of the royal wardrobe of queens in the past because they were supposed to be virtuous.”
Some of the women of today might not pay much attention to those sentiments but it’s very likely many would agree with Phyu Phyu Aung’s final words on it: “You will not want to sell it, once you buy one.”
Translation by San Layy