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'We Are Looking At 100 Stores By 2025'

Nirav Modi, India's first global luxury brand is on an expansion spree

Photo Credit : Umesh Goswami

It is difficult to believe that the man credited for creating some of the most striking diamond jewellery, cannot draw. But Nirav Modi, the designer behind the eponymous brand confesses to being poor at sketching. "I narrate my vision and then the team sketches it out," he says during a recent interview with Smita Tripathi.

Referred to as the 'Cartier of India', Modi has created India's first global luxury brand with a presence in China, Hong Kong, London, Paris and the US. 

It all started in the year 2010, when he launched his first store in Mumbai, followed by Delhi, New York and Hong Kong. 

In 2016, Modi launched two more retail boutiques at Hong Kong, one at Macau and one at London.

Modi also has the distinction of being the only Indian jeweler whose creations have been on the cover of Sotheby's and Christie's auction catalogues. In 2010, his Riviere Necklace was sold at Sotheby's for a $6.7m, whereas the Golconda Lotus Necklace was auctioned at Christie's for $3.5m. 

Modi has even patented different cuts of diamonds which he uses in his designs. 

In a freewheeling chat, Modi talks about his expansion plans, his desire to create more jewellery, and what women want when it comes to jewellery.

Edited excerpts:

You seem to be on an expansion spree. What are your plans?
We have recently opened four more stores. One in New Delhi at The Chanakya (luxury mall), one in Hong Kong, Las Vegas and Honolulu. We have a big market in Honolulu as the Japanese travel to Hawaii to shop. It's just a 5 hour flight for them. The sales in Hawaii are 70 per cent Japanese, 20 per cent Chinese and 10 per cent Americans.

We opened in Beijing in May.

We are looking at a 100 stores by 2025. We are at 16 right now. We were at 8 last year.

Of our total stores, 15-20 will be in India and the balance globally. Our next store will be in Bangalore.

We are moving our Bombay store to a new location at Rhythm House.
A large number of your collections are inspired by India. Be it the Lotus, the Jasmine, the Mughal or the Brocade. What is the response to these collections abroad?

Jasmine is a lot more popular internationally than in India. In India it has caught up only last year. I expected Mughal to be very popular in India and the Middle East but it is surprisingly very popular in China and Hong Kong.

As a brand we are India's first luxury brand going global. Every jewellery lover/connoisseur is looking for jewellery that is different. We have got a very good response and therefore we are opening more stores where the customers are.
Our first store was in Hong Kong and our second store was in New York. We had a good response and that's when we decided to expand. You can do all the power point presentations, all the research but till you actually start, it's all theoretical.
When luxury brands come to India they complain about the duty structure and the lack of infrastructure in India. How does it work for an Indian brand going abroad?
For us it is important to maintain consistency in service and store experience. Whether you walk into our store in Mumbai or New York, the level of service and experience will be the same.

For us every single jewel is made in our workshop in Mumbai.

The price of the jewellery will vary slightly because of the exchange rate fluctuation. Plus there is the duty structure. For instance, China there is much larger duty, Hong Kong there is no duty.
Are you looking at any new markets?

We are looking at the Middle East and Europe. We don't want to concentrate on only one area. We are looking at a geographical spread.
How often do you launch a new collection?
Our jewellery is timeless. But every time you launch a new collection, guess what, you need to take back a collection. It's not like clothes where you launch a new collection every season. We launch a collection every 2-3 years. But what we do is that every year we expand the collection, bring in freshness. For instance, today you have bought a Jasmine ring, you come a year down the line and you want to see something new, so you can look at Jasmine earrings. 

Sometimes we launch limited editions for a limited period of time.

Your jewellery is very contemporary and wearable. Why haven't you gone the way of heavy bridal jewellery like most jewellers?
But that's the whole point of jewellery. It should be wearable. Not something that you wear once in a blue moon. 

As a young child I used to see my mother who used to wear jewellery for weddings but the first thing she did the minute she came back home was to take it off. We had scratched bedside tables because the jewellery used to be lying there.

I was like, it doesn't make any sense. Why would a woman want to get rid of her jewellery at the first opportune moment.

I really want the jewellery to feel beautiful on you. You should enjoy wearing the jewellery.

If you see our necklaces, they sit on your neck, our earrings float. They are not heavy. When you move your head, the earrings will not hit your neck. A lot of thought which goes behind the design.

I can't draw so I give my designers a narrative. They then give me the sketch. Next stage involves carving it out of wax. At every stage they will show it to me. 

Then they will make the model without the diamonds. I like to see how it feels when worn.   

Our jewellery is 100 per cent handcrafted. There is consistency in the whole ethos of the brand. Every single piece of jewellery is made by the same creator, the same craftsmen, having the same diamond qualities and in the same workshop. For me that is very important. So whether you are buying a Rs 5 lakh piece or a Rs 5 crore one, I want the same level of craftsmanship.
Are you involved right from the sourcing of the diamonds?

My brother does all the rough sourcing. He is based in Antwerp but travels to South Africa and Russia. Our patent cuts we do in house, else we have diamond cutting factories in Russia and South Africa that cut diamonds for us. Some smaller diamonds we source externally but it goes through a very stringent quality check.
How have jewellery trends changed in India?
More than trends I look at what women want. For me jewellery is not meant to be trendy. If you are buying jewellery today then I would like you to keep buying jewellery. We are seeing a change from gold to diamonds. Women want to be able to wear the jewellery on different occasions. So something that transforms easily works for them. For instance, we have earrings that you can wear long or as a clip. We have necklaces that become bracelets. 

For me if someone buys my jewellery and keeps it in the safe and wears it only once in a while, it is the biggest insult. I want women to wear their jewellery. 

Will you be going for an IPO?

As a growing company, we are always looking for all options. But we haven't finalised anything yet. As of now all the investments have been internal.
You belong to a family of diamond traders. But they were never into jewellery. How did you get into it?
Initially our forefathers were in the gold and silver business. Then they got into diamonds. So our family has been in the diamond trade for seven generations. 

I got into the jewellery business almost by chance. The first pair of earrings I designed for a friend was in my late 30s. It was a very simple design but I saw the delight on her face and I was like this is what I want to do.

I have had no professional training. I can't draw so I can't design. But I am inspired by things around me and I know my diamonds. A Nirav Modi creation will always have the finest diamonds.

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