Siddharth Kasliwal may have been named one of the world’s 50 most eligible bachelors earlier this year, sharing space with Tesla’s Elon Musk and other international billionaires, but he is having none of it. Over a late breakfast at Rambagh Palace, he reiterates that finding his bride is top priority. The ninth generation co-owner of Jaipur’s famous Gem Palace says his father, the late Munnu Kasliwal, was both mentor and friend and, to share a similar bond with his own children, he ought to start early. “I’m the best example, for my dad had me at 24,” he begins, adding, “Who knew we would lose him so quickly! I am grateful I spent so much time with him, from 19 to 27 years.” Siddharth’s friends observe that his father’s death at age 54 in 2012, from brain cancer, continues to haunt him, but that it also saw him emerge as a designer in his own right. His brilliant two collections were a tribute to Munnu the renowned jeweller, who easily cultivated both international royalty and movie stars. They were all labour-intensive, taking four months to a year each to make. Siddharth explored plique-a-jour , a rare enamelling technique, and later, he explained that challenging himself encouraged his creative process, another lesson from Munnu.
At his dramatic pink atelier above the Gem Palace, where he meets clients only by appointment, Siddharth gives us a close look at some of his father’s archival masterpieces. There is the impressive necklace with 320 carats of diamonds that almost comes alive when worn. It shimmers and falls easily, like fabric. It was designed by Munnu for Siddharth’s bride, but that doesn’t stop every visitor from trying it on! But the piece de resistance is a little sindoor box, made with 927 rubies, all hand-cut. It took the team two and a half years to finish it. This was the inspiration for his second collection. The atelier, recently updated by Dutch designer Marie-Anne Oudejans (of Bar Palladio fame, where Jaipur’s hip crowd hangs out in the evenings), is the perfect setting for Siddharth’s and his father’s creativity. Showing us around — his stone-cutting alcove, the sacks of rose quartz and other semi-precious stones, the charming tent on the terrace where he unwinds after work — Siddharth tells us about the third collection he plans to launch next month, and what luxury at the jeweller’s really means:
You have grown up surrounded by fine art, architecture and company. But your father has been your biggest influence. Your earliest memory of him at work?
He has defined me as a person and a businessman. I was drawn into the business at eight, when I visited Gem Palace for ice cream, and he would pull these precious stones out of his pocket, like candy. He taught me every aspect of jewellery — that it is not a business but a form of art.
You visited the Brazilian mines with your father, and grew up with ruby and sapphire beads as toys. Describe the experience.
I was seven or eight when I accompanied him to the Brazilian mines, picking up huge aquamarines, the size of quail eggs. As a child, you don’t know the value of such stones. Then 20 years ago, rubies and sapphires were considered to be semi-precious stones, and there would be sacks and sacks full of them that my dad would buy. Now the same is impossible because the prices have really changed. I find old-mine diamonds comforting, and worked on them with my dad. I believe in the healing power of stones.
The Sindoor collection had five labour-intensive pieces. Is your newest Inlay collection just as elaborate?
My first two collections were intensive and time consuming, but I wanted the third to be playful; an easier collection. There is no plique-a-jour but it is about finding the right stone, and inlaying it with a fun element. I found a big emerald, a stroke of luck, and inlaid a diamond in it. There is a Navratna necklace with a chalcedony, and it took time to find the stones.
Gem Palace is famous for its poison rings and glittering body harnesses from years ago. What are the newer requirements from clients in keeping with today’s lifestyle?
I feel that poison rings and naughty rings (with pictures from the Kamasutra ) came about because there was a lot of wealth and time. Today, we customise a lot of hidden jewel boxes, like pendants in the shape of a ball or an egg, which has picture frames in them. Our clients require lighter jewellery, and simpler pieces.
When people can access jewellery worth crores of rupees at stores around the world, what, in your opinion, is true luxury at the jeweller’s?
Luxury is all about detailing, whether a piece is worth crores or a few hundred thousand rupees. I might party till late at night, but I’m at work by 9.30 am because my day can be packed with appointments. At the store in Mumbai, we can work up to 12.30 am or 1 am. We like the closed door concept, where clients can visit privately, and choose their jewellery over a glass of champagne.
You mentioned in a recent article that you work with a lot of animal motifs. Is there an animal you identify with?
Loving every living being, whether animal or human, is the essence of Jainism. There is the fascination maharajas had with animals — the elephant for loyalty, turtle for longevity, frogs for good luck. I have made lots of jewelled elephants, and identify with them; they are loyal and a true friend.
Your friends know you as a bon vivant and Town & Country magazine’s ‘most wanted eligible bachelor’ status wasn’t a first for you.
The interest will die out. I am tired of the title. In 2013, it was exciting to be on the list (where he shared print space with George Clooney and Prince Harry). Now I want to put it away. It is embarrassing.
|The craziest design request: For a private royal family, in 2004, we made this necklace using over 1,000 carats of diamonds and 5,000 carats of pearls. A team of 70 people worked on it. It was the most gigantic necklace and headdress, with detailing in the side and back which nobody could see but the family.
|Your role as a fashion designer: My time at Mayo College, primarily a school for the royals and the Rajputs in Ajmer, introduced me to a variety of hunting jackets, a mix of Indian and British style. I have designed them in khaki colours, as regular jackets have become too common. They are retailed at my boutique Hot Pink, situated in the gardens of Narain Niwas Palace. Wear over jeans and stay super stylish.
|Unwinding with golf and travel: I haven’t played golf in a long time. My day now begins with yoga and the gym. I recently visited Bhutan, and was looking forward to learning about their ecological system and GNH or Gross National Happiness. What was shocking is that it is an hour and half from Delhi and yet the whole world changes there!