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A cut of the fine life

Kishore Singh  |  New Delhi 

Nirav Modi’s auction debut seems to have raised the bar for

The Nizam of reputedly used the as a paperweight. is inclined to be somewhat less altruistic, but the manner in which he slipped a 70-carat yellow Golconda diamond out of his pocket and effortlessly into my palm was no less worthy of comment. Valued at Rs 40 crore, the diamond will find a setting in a one-off piece of jewellery that might be sold at auction — no doubt, to be picked up by a Chinese collector. The Chinese, it appears, have not just extraordinary wealth but, unlike Indians, also the eye and the canny ability to spot collectibles in rare diamonds and jewellery.

For Modi, chairman of and his recently launched salon in Mumbai, the Chinese are proving to be the most important of his international buyers, the Indians less so. It’s not that Indians buy any less jewellery – quite to the contrary – but they are less inclined to be led by quality, in preference for flashier pieces that might earn them a whistle at a wedding but are less likely to return value as an asset.

Take Modi’s debut at Christie’s November 2010 auction in Hong Kong, where a flexible, lattice-worked diamond necklace, with a 12.29-carat pear-shaped Golconda diamond at the centre, was auctioned for an astounding Rs 16.29 crore. Coming up next month, also in Hong Kong, but being auctioned by Sotheby’s, is a ring that has been crafted with rare pink Argyle diamonds set within flawless white diamonds. The value is $3.2-$4 million, which means it might break his earlier record.

It was the Shalimar ring with its dense pink diamond that was the focus of his store opening in December 2010. It is these exceptional diamonds that not only have very high value but continue to rise with each passing year, making them an asset class that allows easy liquidation in any part of the world. Still, Modi’s jewellery – flawlessly set by teams of designers working in Hong Kong, Geneva and New York – is currently available only in Mumbai, and at auctions, though he debuted last week with a collection in New Delhi for very select buyers.

The collection – only 75 pieces a year – included his Ainra cut, fusing two diamonds, leaving a void in the centre and linking instead of setting the stones in gold, so the necklace is considerably lighter and appears entirely constructed (instead of set) in diamonds. And, his Enigma cut, which allow diamonds to be set seamlessly, with no visible clamps or claws. Both designs are patented. The collection uses diamonds in calibrated baguettes, asscher cuts, trilliants, marquise, pear rose cuts, rounds and half moons. Only rarely does the collection move out of the family trade in diamonds, and then to include emeralds (one of his necklaces has a 189-carat Colombian emerald suspended as a drop), Tanzanites and Basra pearls.

Prices are high, and likely to rise by as much as 15-20 per cent over his retail price at auctions. Those prices seem out of striking range of homegrown auction house Saffronart, where the highest realised price so far appears to have been just over Rs 1 crore for a seven-strand pearl necklace (at its debut auction of jewellery in October 2009) — with diamond necklaces weighing in at less. In fact, at most of its auctions, it is natural pearls for which collectors seemed to have paid top prices, the only exception being a pair of emerald and diamond ear pendants that sold, in October 2010, for Rs 85 lakh. Saffronart’s next sale of jewellery coincides with that of Sotheby’s Hong Kong, next month.

Before Nirav Modi, it was another homegrown brand, Mirari, that made a bid for the collectibles market, allegedly with a start-up corpus of Rs 100 crore. Its success so far has been difficult to gauge, since it has confined its auction sales to Saffronart. How much Mirari, or Modi, or other prominent jewellery designers like Hanut Singh, are able to steer the market in the future will become known only when their pieces come up for secondary, instead of primary, sales at auction houses. But till then, at least the gauntlet has been thrown to the design houses of the West. Once, the maharajas did business with Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Bulgari and Tiffany’s. Now, it appears, Chinese billionaires and their peers could do business with Indian design shops.

These views are personal and do not reflect those of the organisation with which the writer is associated.  

First Published: Wed, March 16 2011. 00:55 IST