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June 17, 2016

Heritage Shines Bright In Siddharth Kasliwal’s Jewellery Line

Text by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena. Photographs by Tejal Pandey

The son of the late trendsetting jeweller Munnu Kasliwal talks about his creative inheritance and sparkling future

Earlier this year, he set his imprint on South Mumbai when he welcomed Mumbai’s A-listers into his newly-minted space. The scion of the Kasliwal house of Jaipur — and the son of the late renowned jeweller Munnu Kasliwal — mingled easily with the fashionable set at the opening of his flagship Gem Palace store. The 31-year-old Siddharth Kasliwal, the flag-bearer of a rich legacy — mentioned by an international title as one of the 50 most eligible bachelors in the world — has begun to make his own name and mark in the world of refined jewels, even as he is noticed in social circles not just in Jaipur, but in Mumbai and New York as well.

Caught in a reflective mode, the long-haired, well-groomed Siddharth shows me around the two-storeyed space — I discover that a clever use of the interiors has made it not just a showcase for the jewels, but his current residence while in the city as well. “I just have to step out of the bedroom to walk into my workspace,” he says.

His early tutelage under his father shaped his mindset and the environment at home facilitated his initiation into the world of beautiful creations. From his mother, Kalpana, the ninth generation Kasliwal has picked his core values that moulded his personality from childhood.

Siddharth cherishes memories of his early visits to the Gem Palace store in Jaipur, where he would run his fingers through bags of uncut Colombian emeralds and rubies from Mozambique. “I was always fully aware of my birth in a jewellery dynasty. Gem Palace has been the iconic destination for connoisseurs from India and across the world for generations and I had heard amazing stories about my father’s interactions with celebrities from around the world. I knew that I had big shoes to fill.” A-list names who have sported their creations include Nicole Kidman, Princess Diana, Gwyneth Paltrow, members of the Kennedy family, Oprah Winfrey, Arab sheikhs and Indian royalty.

Claiming to be a Mumbai person — as he has lived here for three years during his student days at the HR College of Commerce and Economics (after Mayo College, Ajmer) — Siddharth recalls his early years with more than a degree of fondness. “Though a workaholic, my father was also a family man and didn’t want to leave me behind when he travelled. So, even when I was little, Dad would take me to Brazil, to the mines. Every summer holiday we would go to the offices in Brazil, Columbia and New York. I have grown up seeing these egg-sized stones. Initially, I wanted to be a travel writer. But upon visiting the Mumbai store years ago my interest was sparked. It was further fuelled when Dad took me to the Metropolitan Museum of Art where he was creating jewels for a high-end upcoming exhibition. That summer, I spent two months with him, going to galleries, meeting curators and directors. I was just 20, but I did not find it boring. That is when I realised that I was cut out for this kind of work. Later, I worked in the Islamic art department. I worked on an exhibition titled the Legacy of Genghis Khan. And, by the time I graduated, I was fully into the business.”

The young jeweller has spearheaded the collection India. Jewels that Enchanted the World, which was showcased at the Kremlin Museum in Moscow. Thirty four of the pieces were made by Munnu Kasliwal. Siddharth has also designed and showcased seven-of-a-kind pieces inspired by his father, in New York, which were later on sale by appointment only in his studio there. Later, the quail-egg ruby pendant and diamond-encrusted emerald brought him critical acclaim. “Using Mughal inspiration, I designed the pieces in a contemporary form. I have inherited my father’s style.”

In both his personal and professional spaces, Siddharth looks upon his father as a mentor and guru — the man who not only taught him the lessons of life, but was also his best friend and business partner. “Jewellery was not just our family business. My father was the one who changed its trajectory and also changed the idea of Indian jewellery in America. He was a pioneer who focussed on the front and back of each piece. He was very patriotic in his own way — and believed in representing India in the best possible way abroad. He was a perfectionist and I would often see him destroy a complete piece if it wasn’t made properly. The workers respected him and learned a lot from him. He believed that a piece should not be shown until it was complete and perfect from all sides. And not just my father, my uncles too have worked hard to ensure Gem Palace is what it is. Everybody’s role was different because that’s how a team works and that’s how you can take a company forward.”

Life in Jaipur has its own charm.  He says they live a simple life — different from what is showcased in the stores. His home is in the heart of the city, where he lives with his mother and brother and he cherishes visits to their farmhouse on the outskirts. The natural ambience and the presence of his horses and dogs give him the much-needed space to relax and refresh.

Being the elder born shaped his mindset, and more so in later years, when he had to shoulder the responsibilities after his father’s demise when Siddharth was 28. “It made a difference, being the elder brother and the older son in the family. I am expected to do a lot of things, while Samarth, my younger brother, may get away with not doing them. For instance, I have to show up for all the events in my craftsmen’s lives — they are the lifeline of our company. So whether it is a small temple function, or a child’s naming ceremony or a wedding, I have to go. They are like family — and we have had generations work with us over the years.”

Stepping into his father’s shoes meant dealing with people who had looked up to his father. Siddharth says the transition was smooth and this was largely due to his father. “Initially, the thought of going to a business school entered my mind. Then one of my father’s friends — a London based jeweller — told me that the best ‘business school’ I could go to was my dad’s. I’m glad I listened to his advice. My father had given me the freedom and space, delegating work even when he was hale and hearty. I began dealing with artisans. So when he passed away, it was not like I was a new kid on the block. ”

Though he has been moulded by his father, Siddharth does admit that he is different. “My father was more of a creator and an artist. I am a designer like him, but at the same time, I know the commerce part of the business. My passion derives from stones. I pick coloured stones and design around them.”

Coping with the pressures of business is not easy because it is a highly personalised and customised work where clients want to deal only with the head. “At Gem Palace, it’s very personal. That’s why people come to us. They can go to international brands where you interact with a relationship manager. But here we are the relationship builders. We are our own relationship managers.” But Siddharth has found his way of dealing with the stress. “Golf is one of the biggest forms of meditation for me. I am an avid golfer — that is the time my cell phone is off, and I can completely relax. I also love travelling to unusual places. Once a year, I make it a point to travel with my brother — we have been to Cuba and Costa Rica and soon we are going to be touring around Africa.”

2015 was a busy year for the young jeweller. Apart from work he launched another store in Jodhpur. Siddharth has also been involved in philanthropic activities in New York. Earlier, he had opened a cancer hospital in Kota, to subsidise treatment for the needy. “There are people who can be saved but just because they cannot afford the treatment, they stop it. If you can make a difference in life, just go ahead and do it. It is okay to be surrounded by ostentatious things, but you can also do meaningful things to help many people.”

On the personal front, the eligible bachelor laughingly admits that he has to still find his match. “The family is ‘looking’; it has in fact become dinner-time conversation for us. If one has expectations, one is disappointed. But, of course, my partner will have to understand my passion, my pace of life…. I would prefer her to be working. She should be someone who upholds my family values and traditions.”

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