Everything You’ve Ever Wanted To Know About Zari 3


If you’ve ever gone out to buy a Kanchipuram silk saree, surely you’d have noticed the sales people making it a point to talk about the kind of zari that the saree has. As a thumb rule, you’d have noticed that the pricier sarees (fifteen thousand and upwards) would have “pure zari” or “gold zari”, and as the price dips, the zaris which are mentioned are “tested zari” and “imitation zari”.

So what is the difference between pure zari, tested zari and imitation zari?

It is the material used. The zari, as we all know, refers to the metallic threads which are woven not only to make the border of a kanchipuram saree, but are also used to create design elements on the  body of the saree as well. The process of making zari involves wrapping silk thread with a base metal, after which it is electroplated with gold.

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Pure Zari is made by first wrapping silver wire on silk thread (there are machines for this, but back in the day, it was done by hand!), after which it is electroplated with pure gold to make the gold zari thread. It is said that if you burn your saree, a small amount of silver and gold, which was used in making the zari, will be left behind. Today, the quantum of silver used in comparison to gold is much higher than it was in the olden days, where gold was used directly, despite its fiddly chemical properties. The zari in your grandmother’s pattu sarees, for example, were probably made of pure gold. Take good care of them!

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A gorgeous example of a pure zari saree. Image: Kanakavalli

Tested Zari follows the same process that pure zari does, the only difference being that instead of silver wire being electroplated with gold, copper wire is electroplated. Tested zari sarees don’t look very different from pure zari sarees, and come in a wider variety of gold tones than pure zari. The price of a tested zari saree is also considerably cheaper.

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A Tested Zari Saree. Tested Zaris come in a variety of gold tones. Image: Samyakk

Imitation Zari (sometimes called Powder Zari), is produced by gilding thread with gold coloured powder. It is all very artificial, and tends to fade, or worse, turn black in a few washes. Imitation zari sarees are very inexpensive, and the process is rarely used on genuine kanchi silk.

How Do I Spot The Difference Between Pure Zari & Tested/Imitation Zari?

The most tried and tested way to know for a fact what kind of Zari you have in your sari is to burn it, but clearly that is not a very productive method, so alternatively, you can:

  1. ASK – Ask the salesperson what kind of zari it is, and they’ll be more than happy to help you out.
  2. FEEL – Feel the saree. Pure Zari melts with the thread of the saree to create one beautiful, cohesive stretch of silk. Pure zari is soft, smooth, and has a beautiful shine which reflects light, but isn’t gaudy. Pure zari will also change into different tones under different lights try moving it around under the lights. Tested Zari is a touch more stiff to touch and won’t bend and flow as well as pure zari.
  3. WEIGH – Pure silk sarees with pure zari are going to be much heavier than those with tested zaris.
  4. PAY – Pure zari is much more expensive! Of course, there is the question of “what if the shop keeper is taking me for a ride?”  In order to avoid this, shop at stores which are renowned for their silks, like Nalli, Paalam, Sundari Silks, Kanakavalli, Kumaran Silks, Tulsi Silks and so on. I have shopped in all the above stores and have never been disappointed or swindled.

I hope this article helps you guys decode the difference between zaris! If you’re shopping for your wedding, remember, pure zari is the way to go because they will last you for a long time, and maybe even be an heirloom for the generation to come!


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