Siddharth Kasliwal’s childhood memories of seeing his late father, the legendary jeweller Munnu Kasliwal work, are vivid. “My father was extremely passionate about his work, but he always wanted to spend time with his family,” says Siddharth. “So right from the time I was nine, I was accompanying him to the mines of Brasil, to diamond offices in New York, and to jewellery ateliers in Paris.”
As the scion of The Gem Palace and the ninth generation to take forward the 200-year-old brand, Siddharth is keenly aware of its roots. The Gem Palace jewels have enjoyed the patronage of Indian and British royalty, and been worn by an illustrious list of people that includes the late Princess Diana, Mick Jagger, Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Oprah Winfrey. The Kasliwals were the official jewellers to Mughal emperors, and it was in 1725 that Maharaja Jai Singh of Jaipur invited them to work within the palace walls as royal jewellers. The iconic store which stands today on Mirza Ismail Road in Jaipur was originally the ancestral haveli, where the brand was officially established in 1852.
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Today marks the 5th anniversary of Munnu Ji’s passing. Yet, his gentle spirit lives on in his work and continues to be an inspiration for us all. His profound legacy and love for craftsmanship and beauty remains unmatched. Remembered by all, very fondly and deeply – Munnu Kasliwal (1958-2012)
Munnu Kasliwal had honed and built The Gem Palace into a brand. He single-handedly familiarized the west to the intricate jewellery designs of India and created a cult following for the brand . Siddharth admits that his father still has a huge impact on whatever creates. “It was a true joy looking at my father work – he believed that jewellery is not for one generation but many,” he adds.
Lessons on jewellery design and understanding the nuances of the business began early for Siddharth. Growing up seeing ninth generation master artisans at work in their private atelier and inheriting the encyclopedic wealth of knowledge from his father, Siddharth’s impressionable mind was intrigued by traditional design practices, which he today employs in everything he creates. After his father’s demise in 2012, Siddharth had to fill big shoes. Taking cues from some of the past works of Munnu, he unveiled his first collection in 2014 comprising of seven pieces using plique-à-jour, a vitreous enameling technique. It not only garnered rave reviews but catapulted Siddharth into global consciousness. His second line, The Sindoor Collection, launched in 2017, and explored the age-old technique of kundan, where rubies were cut paper-thin and inlaid with gold.
This latest one is a life-size one-litre bottle of Chivas featuring the traditional metallic lacework of Rajasthan and precious stones of different colours that he created for Chivas 18 Alchemy. “My brand stands for the timeless aspect of luxury and I feel that keeping craftsmanship alive inspires you with a sense of wonder,” says Siddharth elaborating on his creation.
“I live in New York and many of our clients are international; India reminds them of vibrant colours, and our creation for Chivas reflects the same. The idea was to create something regal and everlasting,” he adds.
The world of Gem Palace
Much like what The Gem Palace has been doing for centuries now. For nine generations the family has preserved not just some of the rarest jewels dating back to the Mughal era but also age-old techniques. At their vibrant atelier, which got a makeover in 2018 by Marie-Anne Oudejans, one gets to witness some of their most iconic, archival pieces and some of the masterpieces designed by Munnu. “The piece that everybody wants to try once they enter our store is a belt which has a 134 carat emerald in the centre,” informs Kasliwal. “Then there is a sarpech that my father made for my wedding using Columbian emeralds.”
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However some of the rarest pieces which stand out are the poison rings and parakeet rings. A gold chess board completely studded with diamonds is another statement creation by the atelier.
“Then there is 12-inch elephant box, which took two-and-a-half-years to finish – 37 craftsmen worked on it, and it is completely studded with diamonds with intricate goldwork inside.”
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The other museum-worthy pieces kept in the store are a ‘sindoor’ box made of 927 pieces of rubies, attached in impeccable symmetry, and a cuff featuring fine mosaic work of rubies. Every design is based on the principal of ‘The Wearer’s Pleasure’ – It’s not only what the eyes see but what the body sees and feels as well.
Carrying on the legacy and challenges
It was during a trip Siddharth took with his father to the Metropolitan Museum of Art at the age of 17 when his interest in jewellery piqued. “It was my first experience indulging in the artistic aspect of jewellery rather than just commercial,” he says. He cherishes those times, when one could understanding the nuances of business and savour luxury. “I could stare at a precious stone and revel in its beauty for hours and not get distracted,” he says.
Despite rising as a designer in his own right, Siddharth is wary of the diminishing appreciation for hand-made fine jewellery. “One of the biggest challenges today is to keep people interested in hand-made fine jewellery and to keep the craft alive,” he says. However, he is doing his bit. He has ensured that he continues to work with the same artisans who have been employed by Gem Palace for the past nine generations. “We ensure that they are taken care of, their children are getting a proper education; they have hospitals and insurance.”
The luxury of having a choice
Over the past couple of years, Siddharth has seen the tenets of luxury changing – the market evolving and social media becoming a driving force. However, with his contemporary body of work, he has tried to bridge the gap between tradition and modernity and his creations speak this language. As a jeweller, he has remained loyal to his roots and retained the sanctity of design without succumbing to the commercialisation. “Luxury for me is having a choice – it is not material but it’s a feeling when you love what you do and you do what you love. We come and go, but jewellery remains forever, it has to be perfect.”