A Tunisian couple looks at the display in a jewellery shop window in the souk of Medina
Tunisia's revolution has led to an economic slump, but jewellers are still rubbing their hands because couples aspiring to wed bleed themselves dry to buy gold at the current high prices. © Salah Habibi - AFP
A Tunisian couple looks at the display in a jewellery shop window in the souk of Medina
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Mohamed Haddad, AFP
Last updated: September 28, 2011

Tunisian weddings make fortune for jewellers

Tunisia's revolution has led to an economic slump, but jewellers are still rubbing their hands because couples aspiring to wed bleed themselves dry to buy gold at the current high prices.

After a break during the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, when sexual relations are banned between dawn and dusk, the wedding season has taken off again in the north African country.

By tradition, on the day of the ceremony the bride wears gold jewellery, including necklaces, earrings, bracelets and rings, offered to her by her future husband.

But the price of gold has beaten all records. Economic and financial crises and political instability in the Middle East have led investors to fall back on the refuge of the precious metal, pushing it up to new record above $1,920 an ounce (1,428 euros) earlier this month -- after a set of record highs since the start of the year.

At prices like that, jewellers sell less, but they still do not lose out. "The best part of my 40 kilos (88 pounds) of merchandise was bought a few years ago," said Aslem Fakhfakh, who already runs a shop in the Tunis medina at 23-years-old. "When I sell an outmoded gem, I do so at the current price."

If the jewellery is too old-fashioned, shopkeepers are prepared to melt it down and rework it.

"If there's a war, like now in Libya, housing and many other things lose their value. Only gold races up," Fakhfakh said.

In his small shop of about 20 square metres (215 square feet), strongly lit so that the jewels glisten, a dozen clients jostled with each other, members of families on the hunt.

But for Mahmoud Jridi and his fiancee, who were making their way through the souk -- or popular market, there was no question of buying anything. That evening they were looking at jewellery and prices. With plans to get married in a month, they wanted to take time to choose.

"I have had to give up a lot of things," said Jridi, as he and his future wife visited the jewellers on Berka street. "We have renounced our honeymoon because of the jewels, while waiting to have the means to go somewhere, but really the prices are hot, blazing hot."

His fiancee agreed with a small smile. "I don't think people with a small income can buy jewels at these prices. Thanks be to God, we can afford it."

The couple is looking for a jewellery set, traditional on big occasions, including a necklace, earrings and a bracelet.

"Ten years ago, a set weighed between 100 and 150 grams (3.5 to 5.3 ounces), but today they don't weigh more than 20 grams," the young shopkeeper said, wanting to reassure potential clients baulking at the price.

Another cherished product are wedding bands, which Tunisians call "solitaires".

Jeweller Aslam tells anybody who cares to listen that such rings cannot be sold according to their weight, because that does not take account of the handiwork involved nor certification by the customs authorities.

One thing is certain, he concluded. All the customers for items of jewellery end up spending more than the budget they initially set themselves.

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