A12.29-carat Golconda diamond. 34 best pink diamonds from the Argyle mines of Australia. Bought in Germany. Re-cut in New York. The necklace designed and manufactured between Hong Kong, New York and Surat. Sold for Rs 16.29 crore at the Christie’s Hong Kong auction in November 2010.
That’s a brief biography of the Golconda Lotus Necklace from the Nirav Modi Jewellery Collection. This was the first time Christie’s included an important necklace by an Indian jeweller, and Nirav Modi’s name ranks in the Christie’s catalogue alongside immortal designers like Harry Winston, Boucheron and Cartier.
In India, few rituals are complete without the give and take of some form of jewellery. Yet, worldwide, Indian jewellers aren’t at the top of mind for most people. Not because they aren’t good enough. But because they’ve generally kept a low profile. Like Modi, media shy and rarely photographed, who is asking me if I knew the name of Harry Winston’s chief designer. The Harry Winston — “jeweller to the stars”? No, I don’t, I admit. “Ambaji Shinde,” he smiles. Shinde, who created jewellery for the coronation of the Maharaja of Baroda before Independence, worked with Winston for 40 years, till he retired in 2001.
Faced with a jeweller, I must seek his insight into why women covet jewellery: “Well, its traditional, practical appeal is that it’s the easiest way to transport wealth. Precious stones survived the Holocaust and other carnage because they were the easiest assets to run away with. And for women, jewellery is streedhan, which in fact the Hindu Marriage Act legally declares is a woman’s property. Besides, with jewellery it doesn’t matter how you look — the jewellery speaks volumes and enhances your appearance regardless of your colour, size or age.”
I’m falling into the same trap as I eye the Rs 1.20 crore Fleuri necklace, made entirely of diamonds, no metal visible — it looks like woven lace encircling the throat. We’re in Modi’s “high-end jewellery lounge”.
Done up in shades of purple, beige and occasional touches of gold, the room has distinct day and night sections, to help prospective owners try on one-of-a-kind jewellery and preen before mirrors. Coming in on velvet-lined trays are dazzling pieces of jewellery, which Modi introduces in great detail. The Scheherazade Bracelet, a blend of rare pink diamonds and white diamonds in a mosaic of brilliant cuts, shimmers before me. Instead of metal, diamonds serve as links, in a unique cut patented by Modi and known as “Ainra”. “It means ‘eternal power’ in Swahili,” he says. As I am mesmerised by the delicate diamonds glittering in the subtle lighting, and briefly wonder if the camera would catch a swift sleight of hand, I can imagine the power he means.
It’s this attention to detail, this trademark treatment of diamonds, that Modi believes characterises his style. “My brand stands for the finest diamonds with the finest craftsmanship and a high element of design. There is a strong identity to what I do with my patented cuts and painstaking craftsmanship, which no one else is doing.” He flips through the Christie’s catalogue, shaking his head in disapproval, stopping at two or three places to jab a finger at a design he likes. The rest are not good enough. His creations, he feels, will be handed down for generations, each unique, never replicated.
A third-generation jeweller — his family has been in the business of loose diamonds and other stones — Modi is the first in his family to go into jewellery design. He never studied it as a subject, and never doodled design ideas on the corners of his homework notebooks. But he can see designs in his head. And he has handpicked designers and craftspersons around the world. “I travel 20 days a month,” he admits, to coordinate with a team scattered around the world the coming together of colour, stone and beauty.
Does he find his inspiration in nature, I ask, thinking of the iconic Golconda Lotus necklace, which now adorns the vault of an unknown, private buyer. “No, anywhere,” laughs Modi, producing an impossibly small sparkling bangle set in white gold. As he reaches for my wrist, I show him the size of my hand. “No problem,” and the bangle stretches, like elastic. “You’ve seen those plastic bangles children wear that stretch to fit all sizes? That’s what inspired this!” But there’s no elastic here — just diamond links set in white or yellow gold that open out to fit over a waiting wrist and close snugly over it.
Modi does not customise his jewellery for buyers. He buys the stones first, travelling around the world in his quest, and then decides what to do with them in consultation with the seven or eight designers he has worldwide. Like the Emerald Drop Necklace, which has a massive Colombian emerald at its centre, weighing nearly 200 carats. The rest of the design was created around this jewel, with ideas flying back and forth across the world. Eventually, he wants to centralise the process in India, and not just for logistical reasons. “I want people to know that I am working out of India.” He adds with confidence, “Next to my brand name it will not say ‘Paris’ or ‘Geneva’, but ‘India’.”
The gems around him seem to gleam in approval.