The news of Nirav Modi showcasing at La Biennale Paris this month did not come as a surprise to us. This is his second year at the fair and his creations are expected to create bigger ripples than before. Today, Nirav is one of the most successful jewellery designers and is also the 46th richest man in the country.
But Nirav is far from flaunting his cash registers or his impressive lineup of clientele. The soft spoken jeweller based out of Mumbai prefers to talk through his design innovations. Did we say innovation? Yes. He doesn’t believe in just fusing precious stones onto metal; he constantly creates pieces to marvel at.
The latest from his stable, to take jewellery connoisseurs and chroniclers by surprise, was the Embrace bangle. Crafted using more than 90 moving parts, it can be stretched like a rubber band. “I got inspired when I saw my daughters gleefully playing with their elastic hair bands. From that moment on, I was obsessed with recreating the effect,” Nirav says. The final piece though is far from an ordinary band. Studded with thousands of diamonds, the brilliance lies in its playfulness as it stretches. “I would love to pass it on as an heirloom to my daughters,” he says.
Growing up, Nirav inherited a sturdy diamond business. Dinner table conversations at home — in Mumbai where he was born or Antwerp where he grew up — revolved around diamonds. “My father would often tell us about rarest precious stones that passed through his hands. It piqued my interest.” The idea of collectors, who would look only for the most exquisite and rarest of stones, mesmerised him. By the time he was ready to enter the family business, diamond terminology has become his second nature. And yet young Nirav’s heart was not into trading. He was hungry for more… more creativity, finesse and fluidity.
But before the flight of fancy came grueling times as the 19-year-old Nirav set out to Mumbai to train under his uncle. It might seem, to an outsider, that Nirav had it easy but nothing was offered to him on a platter. Like most business families from Rajasthan, the young man had to work for hours on end — six and half days a week — to learn the ropes of the trade while simultaneously learning the nuances of the jewellery business, how to look at a rough diamond, how to appreciate it and how to transform it.
It was in Mumbai that Nirav realised how dynamic the Indian jewellery market is. “It is right at the cusp of traditional and contemporary worlds. That’s when I decided to move to Mumbai.” He finally started his own diamond sourcing and trading company, Firestar in 1999. Even after a decade of dabbling with the diamond trade, he never lost touch with his creative side. Secretly, he fantasised about being an orchestra conductor. “The manner in which a conductor waves his hands to get his musicians to make beautiful music fascinated me.” And so, in 2008 his dream came true, only he was to conduct orchestra of the most exquisite gemstones.
It makes for a great story whenever he tells us how he chanced upon jewellery designing. “We, as a family, were always traders not designers. For me, designing happened when a friend asked me to make her a pair of earrings.” As Nirav went about sourcing the best solitaires, thoughts of how he was going to turn them into a pair of studs — inspired by celestial bodies and with a central solitaire cradled in a floating halo of smaller diamonds — he hadn’t the slightest inkling at the time of how happy that first creation would make him, and of course his friend and how that was the turning point that would change everything that was to follow.
Whatever the original plan was, Nirav has more than flourished as a designer. Like an able orchestra conductor rearranges music, he has reimagined diamond jewellery. Use of coloured stones, reverse set diamonds (a bold move that most jewellers shy away from), use of minimal metal or bangles that don’t fall off the wrist are only a few of his creations. He is also the only Indian jeweller to have four globally patented diamond cuts to his credit: Ainra, Endless, Mughal and Jasmine.
“I spend a lot of time with craftsmen that eventually inspire me to create one-of-a-kind designs and cuts,” Nirav says. He urges us to wear one of his jewellery to know it is not about how it looks, but also about how it feels and makes you feel when you hold it, wear it, or move with it on.
He tells us that important jewels are almost always worked on by only one hand. One neckpiece ideally takes 2,000 hours to finish. The Embrace bangle, for example, took two years to develop. The team, working on his vision — he gives a detailed narrative to his creative team that translates it onto paper — creates hand-painted gauche that closely resembles the final piece. It is then replicated in wax and then finally in metal.
What makes the man and his eponymous label, so celebrated? Perhaps the agility with which he performs this intriguing balancing act. His jewellery strikes a chord with a global audience with its finesse and fluidity, but has an essentially Indian soul. And reaching out to bigger audiences is what’s keeping Nirav busy these days.
“30 new boutiques across 12 countries in the next five years… this is what I am aiming for,” he reveals. Currently, the brand has nine boutiques in London, New York, Hong-Kong, Beijing, Macau, Mumbai and New Delhi.
His jewellery has not only transcended borders, but also entered realm of auctions. Over the years, Nirav Modi has maintained a strong momentum and earned international acclaim in the auction space. He is also the first Indian jeweller to be featured on the cover of Christie’s auction catalogue. And yet, the 46-year-old refrains from tagging his jewellery as modern-day heirlooms. “It isn’t about collecting the inanimate. It is about surrounding yourself with prized possessions. As for me, I take pride in immortalizing the generations old craftsmanship of Indian artisans and putting them on a global map,” he adds.