Jewellery, Like Art, Has Its Own Language, Says Nirav Modi
The USP of every Nirav Modi creation, be it a 5 lakh or 25 lakh jewel, has always been excellence in every aspect
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He is the man who has taken the Indian diamond industry to a new level and has been listed by Forbes magazine among the 100 most influential Indians. With clients including Hollywood stars like Kate Wisnlet and several Indian billionaire wives, this Wharton dropout has his business empire spread across Mumbai, Delhi, New York and Hong Kong with plans to open 30 boutiques in 12 countries by 2020.
Nirav Modi, India's billionaire diamond king, spoke to Ruhail Amin of BW Businessworld on the latest trends in the diamond jewellery industry and other issues. Excerpts:
I read you wanted to become a music conductor, how did the shift happen?
Yes, when I was younger I did think of becoming a music conductor. I was intrigued by how music, and art have the ability to move people, to make them pause and think, and make them feel a certain way. However, jewellery, like art, has its own language and musicality too; it shares a unique intimacy with the wearer.
I grew up in Belgium where my father still trades in rough diamonds. He took over from my grandfather and continued the family business. Dinner talk was so often about rare and important diamonds that I don’t really remember when my interest was piqued and fascination with the rarest and finest jewels began. I was mesmerized by the idea of collectors who would look only for the most exquisite and rarest stones. By the time I was ready to start working, most diamond terminology came as second nature to me. I never specifically planned to be in the diamond business, it was just such a natural progression.
The path that led to me designing jewellery was truly serendipitous. A friend requested me to design a pair of earrings for her. Initially reluctant, I started sourcing diamonds to match the high quality standards I had set for the jewel and ended up finding them in Russia. The utter delight and the happiness my friend expressed upon seeing the jewel was the impetus that I needed to get into this field.
How would you explain the latest trends in the diamond jewellery industry, how does India figure in the scheme of things when you take the global players into perspective?
The way India is buying its jewellery is changing. For example, the engagement ring more and more is becoming a part of a bride’s first ever trousseau jewel.
NIRAV MODI signatures such as the minimal metal styles which ensure the full potential of the diamonds to shine through, the fluidity in pieces which means that the jewels move with your movements, the design inspirations from nature, to Impressionist art or Art Deco motifs, and the innovations are well appreciated by the customers.
The education process is on-going. For instance, familiarizing the consumer with the fact that the value of diamond jewellery depends on the shine and clarity of stones and detailing and not only on how large the diamond is or stressing on the importance of valid certification. In addition, people want to own jewellery that can be worn and celebrated every single day of their lives and not stowed away in vaults.
India is the largest diamond cutting and polishing market, what are the challenges in this market?
India is the cradle for diamond cutting, polishing and jewelry creation and having access to artisans with this level of skill is definitely very special and important to us. As with any other industry – the diamond market is continually evolving, with new technology, techniques etc. It can be challenging to stay on top of things, adapt to the changes and continually evolve, especially when artisans have their techniques passed down from generations. We combine the know-how passed down from generations with the latest technology, and it can be a little difficult, though interesting, to marry the two.
You have been among select Indians to be listed in the Forbes list of billionaires, what would you attribute this success to?
The NIRAV MODI brand began organically, and was born out of a passion for exquisite diamonds, unrivalled craftsmanship, and exclusive jewellery. However, apart from the passion, timing is key. India is at a pivotal moment in time and we hope to build a bridge between entrepreneurial and ancient ways. We bring together India’s past and present: The age-old Indian crafts skills, handed down through generations, with the latest in high- technology, to achieve new and dazzling effects of lightness, volume and sculptural texture, to take jewellery craftsmanship to unprecedented levels of artistic and technical prowess and perfection.
Tell us about Firestar Diamond’s business building journey from a modest office to a global label. What were the challenges and the opportunities that you met on your way?
Before founding Firestar, I had the opportunity to work and learn at my uncle’s firm. This was great training for me in every part of the business. Our participation in Christie’s and Sotheby’s auctions really gave us an impetus and proved our legitimacy. I saw that there was a lot of opportunity here, and expanded this part of the business. We have also now expanded our retail presence to 6 boutiques in 4 markets. We learned a lot about each market along the way, and had to adapt each part of the business to ensure that we were relevant.
Where do you see your business in five years from now?
We currently have 6 boutiques in Mumbai, Delhi, New York and Hong Kong. This September, we plan to open 1 in Macau and 1 in London on Old Bond Street. By 2020, we aim to have a presence in 12 countries with 30 boutiques across the global.
How would you describe the differential factors that make your brand stand out from other Indian brands in the same category?
The USP of every NIRAV MODI creation, be it a 5 lakh or 25 lakh jewel, has always been excellence in every aspect. From the concept, to designing the actual piece, choosing the best gemstones and finally crafting the jewel; every step is taken to always give the very best to our clients and create lasting value of beauty and a profound emotional connect.
The rarity of the gemstones used in our jewels and the innovation that goes into making them immortal is also an important part of who we are. Rare pink diamonds, coloured diamonds and Golconda diamonds that are among the most coveted type of diamonds in the world are only a few instances of the stress we put on rarity. Each diamond is certified by the Gemological Institute of America (the GIA) which is one of the foremost authorities on diamonds and one the most stringent in the world.
Innovative techniques like using engineering to create a flexible, stretchable bangle completely out of gold, multi-utility jewels and invisible settings that allow for maximum scintillation and exposure of the rare gems are hallmarks of NIRAV MODI creations.
The brand is the only Indian jeweller to have as many as 4 globally patented diamond cuts to its credit i.e. the Ainra® cut, Endless cut® and Mughal® cut and the new Jasmine cutTM.
What is the inspiration behind your work?
Inspiration comes from so many sources – nature, art, poetry, architecture – and is sometimes found in the most unexpected of places. For me beauty does not reside in any one place, object or person. While growing up, I was fortunate to have been exposed to the finer things in life, like art and architecture – from 16th century paintings by Rubens to modern-day fashion designers such as the Antwerp Six to the most distinctive structure of Mughal architecture. These influences serve as inspiration for my designs as do extensive travels around the world.
For e.g. the design for the embrace bangles was directly inspired by my daughters’ elastic bangles and the idea behind their conception was to make a fun jewel that also embodies a deeper emotional connect for the wearer. It connects to a playful side - the little girl that is within every woman - while at the same time being an engineering marvel – to ensure a superb fit, the NIRAV MODI Embrace Bangles are expertly crafted using more than 800 moving parts and thousands of diamonds to create wondrous patterns (in the leopard and zebra print versions) and brilliant plays of light.
You have some of the most popular global celebrities among your client list, is there any particular experience that has been the most memorable one for you?
The most memorable experience would be Kate Winslet on the red carpet at the 88th Academy Awards adorned exclusively in NIRAV MODI jewels. The extraordinary pieces – The Luminance bracelet and matching Luminance earrings, encrusted with almost 100 carats of precious white diamonds, elegantly graced the nominee’s Ralph Lauren dress. This was a proud moment for NIRAV MODI.
What would be your advice for the budding entrepreneurs?
Do something you are passionate about and surround yourself and work with people who have the same passion and drive as you.
Think outside the box - don’t be afraid to take risks and be different.
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