He is like any other young lad living life to its fullest – a seasoned traveller, who loves to explore new places; an avid reader, who also spends his spare time improving his swing at a golf course. Meet SIDDHARTH KASLIWAL, son of the iconic jewellery designer the late Munnu Kasliwal of The Gem Palace, Jaipur, who enthralled jewellery connoisseurs the world over with his lavish and perfect creations that bore the stamp of Indianness. One could buy a Munnu Kasliwal heirloom at the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Neue Galerie in Manhattan; such was his hold over the au courant, which included scores of Hollywood actresses like Nicole Kidman, Gwyneth Paltrow, and royals like Rajmata Gayatri Devi. Siddharth has taken over where his father left off and he has huge shoes to fill. The young designer is confidently pulling off the balancing act. Two years ago, he debuted with the Plique-A-Jour collection in honour of his father, and this year, he is coming up with another limited edition inspired by the sindoor box. He is rapidly gaining the attention of old and new clients with his design aesthetic that has its roots in the rich past, but is tempered by a contemporary sensibility.
You are a jewellery designer in your own right with a strong sense of aesthetics that has an Indian template with a global touch. How difficult or easy has it been for you to follow the maestro, your legendary father Munnu Kasliwal?
I have been born into the world of jewels courtesy the legacy of Gem Palace which has existed since 1852. As a jewellery designer, I think I still have a long way to go and my inspiration has always been only one person, my father Munnu Kasliwal, who put Indian jewellery inspired by the Mughal era and more on the world map. When it comes to filling my father’s shoes, it has and always will be a challenge as he was a legend, and I am in awe of his legacy and will always be. However, my father had passed on his inheritance in a very transparent and organic manner as he initiated me in the business from a very young age. As a result, everyone who dealt with me was at ease, be it the diamond dealers or karigars, and everyone was family to me in the work sphere as well. I have a long way to go but with time and learning, I hope to do justice to the same.
In terms of creativity, how do you balance the two worlds – the rich bequest of your father’s creations and scores of modern cues in the world you are living in?
The creative inspiration is an amalgamation of what comes from within and what our clients also require, especially if it is a custom-made piece. Gem Palace today stands for Indian Mughal designs, Indian motifs, as well as contemporary designs inspired from the Mughal era so there is something for everyone, be it contemporary or traditional. The attention to detail, fine craftsmanship and exquisite quality of gemstones and highly skilled craftsmanship is what sets us apart.
You are a ninth-generation jeweller. What were the lessons in terms of design aesthetics, gemstone selection and craftsmanship that you learnt from your father?
I often say that children are given marbles to play with, and I was given gemstones! The fascination has always been there, because as children, we saw works of art being created in front of us and this was a joyful experience. Right from the inspiration and design to the intricate making process to the joy of seeing Gem Palace become a part of the legacy of royal families across the globe and displayed in museums worldwide.
Tell us a bit about your family tree – I believe that your forefathers were gem-cutters from Agra, who migrated to Jaipur around the 1700s, and from then on catered to royalty and Mughals. Who founded Gem Palace and when did your father and uncle take charge?
Our forefathers were stone cutters and then they forayed into jewellery-making by invitation only from Maharaja Jai Singh of Jaipur. Gem Palace was established under my great-great-grandfather Maniram Kasliwal, and our house was called Mani Mahal, which is now known by its literal English translation “Gem Palace”. My father and uncle started working in the late 70s and early 80s during my grandfather’s time and from then on, it has been guided by my father’s vision. We had our first show in 2001 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, followed by Somerset House in London, Kennedy Center in Washington DC, Kremlin Museum in Moscow, and so on.
When did you feel the creative tug to start designing jewellery?
I did my schooling from Mayo followed by H.R. College in Mumbai, which was the time we opened Gem Palace at Courtyard Mumbai where I apprenticed in all departments from store display to interacting with customers. That is when I really got fascinated with the world of gems. At 21, my father thought it best that I understand the financial aspects of how to run a business, so I was sent to intern in Hong Kong. However, jewellery is in my blood and was always my calling. Seeing my father design a collection for The Metropolitan Museum of Art, I decided that this was what I would like to do, and I hope I have half the drive and passion that he had. I assisted him as he designed for prestigious institutions like the Kremlin Museum, Kennedy Center and Somerset House.
Your debut collection in 2014 was a bejewelled tribute to your father; the line comprised seven alluring pieces enhanced with the plique-à-jour technique. We believe that this intricate and time-consuming enamelling procedure caught your father’s interest towards the end of his life. Tell us more about it.
Plique-à-jour literally means letting in daylight. It is a vitreous enamelling technique where the enamel is applied in cells, similar to cloisonné, but with no backing in the final product, so light can shine through the transparent or translucent enamel. It is not a very cost-effective technique as it is extremely time-consuming and laborious work. However, I love to challenge myself and this was in honour of my father. The collection is a tribute to my father. It is a collection of seven pieces inspired by my father’s signature peacock earrings, something that he wanted to continue making. I did not have to look too far as my inspiration has always come from him and this is something I wanted to do in his honour. It is purely my vision of what I believe was most close to him as he loved those peacock earrings.
Do you design one-off pieces or build collections around stories/inspirations? Other than the fact that you are surrounded by timeless creations that must influence your aesthetics, what else inspires you to make jewellery?
I do a bit of both – meaning I design one-off pieces as well as build collections around signature Gem Palace pieces such as the ‘Plique-A-Jour’ collection inspired by my father’s famed peacock earrings. I delve into our centuries’ old family archives and even get inspiration from Mughal miniatures, royal palaces and sculptures and India, in general, as I am proud of my country and that seemingly translates in my design as well. I am also inspired by my travels and I love visiting museums all over the world, my favourite being the Top Kapi Museum in Istanbul.
We would like to know more about your creative process. How do ideas strike you?
I am not good at sketching. However, I think I have an eye for assembling pieces and I also explain my ideas to someone who can sketch. It’s team effort done in tandem with our craftsmen.
Tell us more about your design philosophy; the DNA that is specific to your lines.
I love working with cabochons, mismatched stones, beads and drops and mainly stones in their organic and natural state.
Which are your favourite gemstones and which is your preferred metal?
My favourite metal is definitely 22-karat gold in brush finish; in white metals, I prefer platinum as you can go very fine in the making. I love working with cabochon emeralds.
How long does it take you to produce a collection/piece of jewellery? Are all your pieces hand-fabricated? Could you tell us about your recent collections in some detail?
Every collection takes about a year and my next collection is based on yet another signature piece of Gem Palace, the Sindoor box. It is again a seven-piece collection and will be out by June or July. All our works are handcrafted and each piece in this collection takes months to make. I hope the response will be as great as that for the Plique-AJour collection. The emphasis on rubies is apparent in this upcoming collection.
What are your best-selling jewellery pieces?
Our Mughal contemporary line is surely the bestselling as of now as it is an amalgamation of timeless designs elevated with modern techniques, thus making it fun for the wearer.
I am sure many of your father’s faithful clients from India and abroad must be now coming to you for customisation or buying jewellery. Comparisons are not fair, but it would be great if you could share some anecdotes about your interaction with them.
In my eyes, I am miles away from my father in both his personal and professional dealings. He was a genius. However, I do have many of my father’s friends who have got their jewellery made by me and fortunately, they come back for more saying my creation is the closest or virtually the same as Munnu Kasliwal’s and that to me is the biggest compliment as his son. An apple does not fall far from the tree is a saying for a reason.
Who is the woman you design jewellery for? From the time you worked with your father, have you noticed any changes in the buying behaviour of today’s consumer?
In the luxury commodity market, the buying behaviour and pattern is synonymous with the current trend and is constantly changing. A few years ago, people did not like to wear beads, but now beads are back. The same can be said for chokers that are again gaining popularity vis-à-vis the long ones. There are always going to be new trends, the challenge is to make timeless pieces that go beyond the constant change of trends.
Earlier, jewellery was bought and worn for asserting one’s status and wealth. What is the scenario today? Is it more about showcasing your individuality? If yes, how should a designer adapt to the changing times?
In the case of Gem Palace, all our customers are treated like family and we like to involve them in the design-making process. Our pieces are and always have been and continue to aim to be timeless and eternal and should be passed on through generations in the family they belong to. The scenario today is that people are open to experimentation, but they like to be involved and we love doing so in the design process, stone procuring process and explaining to the customer how the piece is made in detail as that is the highlight of Gem Palace ‑ the craftsmanship and the quality.