'Bought in Dubai' is now acknowledged worldwide as a hallmark of authenticity and purity when buying gold ornaments or jewellery. That distinction is not just accidental or a merely a matter of trust but has been instilled in the trade over the past 25 years through governmental action and vigilance.

Non-resident Indians (NRIs) now heading home for the holidays know this and, therefore, buy their gold in the UAE. The NRIs also find that just as the holidays approach they are deluged with requests from friends and relatives to bring gold. The reasons as stated earlier are that they are sure of the quality or caratage and also customs duty paid on landing in India makes buying in Dubai worthwhile.

India is considered the world's largest market for 22 carat gold ornaments. With a huge population and irrespective of an individual's economic status, gold is bought throughout the year.

And yet when buying gold in India one is not sure of the product's purity. Traditionally, Indians tend to buy gold from the so-called family jeweller. And yet one is never sure. It is because of this fallacy in standards that the Indian Government has now taken measures to ensure customer satisfaction and security.

"Now for the first time, hallmarking is being introduced in India by the Bureau of Indian Standards mandated by the Government of India," according to a brochure being circulated throughout the country. The brochure explains in detail what 'hallmarking' means and why it is being considered essential.

Now hallmarked ornaments and jewellery will bear the seal of the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), the caratage and fineness number and the mark of the BIS-recognised Assaying & Hallmarking Centre. Those markings, according to the brochure, will certify that the gold used conforms to international standards of fineness.

The move by the Indian government is being hailed by both consumers and the government-instituted consumer forums. However, both the authorities and representatives from the trade concede that it will be some decades before duly certified products will be available in all parts of the vast country.

According to reports from the trade, consumers in the major cities of India have begun looking for jewellery which bears the BIS hallmark. But in most other parts of the country it will take a while for the trade to embrace hallmarking.

In a bid to popularise the move, some manufacturers and retailers have launched a variety of marketing exercises. One well known brand is inviting consumer to exchange their non-hallmark gold ornaments with ones which are and is even giving a 'discount' on the new items to popularise the movement.

The trade has recognised that they were losing out in the 22 carat jewellery market to the extent of nearly 30 per cent according to some estimates. They have realised that not every Indian consumer can go abroad, or more specifically to the Gulf, or have a friend or relative there. It is in a bid to keep its hold on the market that BIS hallmarking has been introduced.

One Indian business house has borrowed the idea of 'gold souks' from the Gulf and has introduced it in India. The first souk has begun operating in Gurgaon near Delhi. The venture is being acclaimed as a success and now the company is in the process of opening similar souks in all major Indian cities.

The promoters claim that the souks will cater to both the domestic and international markets. With hallmarked shops in the souks, their contention is that they will be setting a standard which others in the trade will then have to follow if they wish to remain in business.

Asked if Dubai and other markets in the Gulf will be affected, one trader said that the 'Dubai Syndrome' as far as jewellery is concerned will be hard to beat. And he is right because it is not just the purity of the gold but the variety and range of products available there which will be a tough act to follow.

It is true that in the Dubai gold souks 'all that glitters is really gold' and that is a reputation which will remain for decades to come.

The writer is an India-based journalist