A riveting journey of royal opulence and power, India’s love affair with gems and jewelry is unparalleled. Once upon a time, the Indian landscape had it all — the rarest of sapphires from Kashmir; the highest grade diamonds from the mines of Golconda; and flawless emeralds from Columbia brought by the Portuguese who controlled the ports of Goa. It is said that the story of Indian jewels runs across 500 years of turbulent Indian history — replete with operatic tales of power, fortune, mystery, and murder; and of course, the rise and fall of great empires.
For the royal Mughals and Maharajas of the time — bedecked in an extraordinary display of gold and precious stones — jewelry was not simply a signifier of kingship, but had talismanic properties implying cosmic connectivity. These ensured health, fortune, military prowess, and longlasting imperial power. During the British Raj, Europe was besotted by the gems and metals from India — the finest in the world — brought to Paris by Indian royalty to reset gems from their illustrious treasure chests. In his book The Master Jewelers, Alain Boucheron recounts the fascinating tale of a maharaja who “arrived at Boucheron in 1927 accompanied by a retinue of 40 servants all wearing pink turbans, his 20 favorite dancing women, and, most importantly, six caskets filled with 7,571 diamonds, 1,432 emeralds, sapphires, rubies, and pearls of incomparable beauty.” Jacques Cartier built an extraordinary relationship with the Maharaja of Patiala, one of the maison’s greatest clients, who commissioned the jeweler to reset his crown jewels — one of the largest single commissions in Cartier’s history. The piece de resistance was the Patiala ruby choker, created by Cartier for the Maharaja, which married 292 ruby beads with panels comprising 132 threaded pearls, and clasps featuring 120 diamonds and rubies set in platinum.
Amid all these stellar European jewelers, the Kasliwals of India had a more profound relationship with their country’s royalty. Their journey as the celebrious jewelers for the Mughals, the harbinger of the Golden Age of Indian jewelry, began long before the British Raj. Over 300 years, the Kasliwals became renowned for their impeccable designs and innovation, and made-byhand craftsmanship valued for the time and intricacy of workmanship by the royal patrons. In 1725, when Jaipur was being built as the epicenter of art and culture, the exemplary founder Maharaja Jai Singh II invited the Kasliwals to work from within the hallowed walls of the City Palace as the crown jewelers. With this appointment, the fate of the Kasliwals and the city of Jaipur were forever entwined.
In 1852, the bustling thoroughfare of Mirza Ismail Road in Jaipur became the home of Gem Palace, one of the most iconic Indian jewelry ateliers in the world. To date, for the Kasliwals, the Pink City remains their eternal muse. To paint a picture of the fabled Gem Palace is to first cast an eye over the beguiling extravaganza of Jaipur, brimming with gems and spectacular palaces; a jeweled portal that, through history, enticed many to travel to India from faraway lands. For the Kasliwals, jewelry craftsmanship was and is poetically influenced by Jaipur. They perfected the technique of Meenakari enameling inspired by the Shekhawati frescoes of traditional buildings, gently mimicking the lucidity of the jali trellis windows of the Hawa Mahal, the matrix upon which natural diamonds adorn the legendary turban ornament known as the Sarpech. The craft of Kundan can be seen in the elaborate cuffs from the atelier. In one exquisite design, 138 carats of precious stones cover the cuff’s exterior, which features a design of lotus flowers with diamond petals and emerald sepals. The interior of the bangle is enameled — traditional Indian floral motif indented onto the 23-carat gold body of the cuff. Then there is the Gupti, a concealed dagger with a diamond tipped scepter embedded with gems, and a pill box with rosecut diamonds on its head. It took seven years to craft this objet d’art. Karigars or artisans use exacting traditional techniques passed down by their forefathers, many of whom worked at the Gem Palace.
With this level of technical finesse and extravagant designs, Gem Palace earned the stamp of authority as one of the finest ateliers in the world, and was embraced with much aplomb by maharajas and maharanis, viceroys, first ladies of governments, and Hollywood celebrities. The Vicereine of India, the Marchioness of Linlithgow famously appointed Gem Palace as her official supplier of fine jewelry; and her successor, the last British Vicereine Lady Mountbatten, a staunch patron of the Kasliwals, was present alongside Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and future Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to celebrate 100 years of the Gem Palace in 1952.
Today, Gem Palace has a legacy of nine generations of Kasliwals who have held the jeweled scepter of creative excellence one generation at a time with unwavering pride and honor. The two formidable scions of the family, brothers Munnu and Sanjay, played a pivotal role in the saga of modern-day Gem Palace. With disarming charm, incandescent passion, and impeccable hospitality, they endeared themselves to anyone who entered their Jaipur atelier, from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Oprah Winfrey, Lady Diana, and Prince Charles, to Elton John, and Angelina Jolie. The brothers, now deceased, left behind a labyrinth of loyal customers of the finest families in the world, including lessons to their successors — sons, daughters, and nephews — in the values of familial responsibility and passionate engagement, the hallmarks of true success. The present-day principals of Gem Palace are a crew of young bon savants, globe-trotting jewelry aficionados, as comfortable on their Rajasthani home turf as they are in the razzmatazz metropolises of the world. Siddharth and Samarth (Munnu Kasliwal’s sons), Samir (Sanjay Kasliwal’s son), and Sarthak (son of Amod Kasliwal) — are equally energized for a future as bright as the diamonds in their atelier. Each is effusive about their family legacy and the storied provenance of the jewels. Their sentiment for their profession is personal and emotional. “Jewelry and stones should bring you happiness. We believe in the magical bond between creator and wearer,” says Siddharth, the eldest of all. “In today’s world of fast fashion and hyper commercialization, our business will continue to honor the true legacy of Gem Palace: authentic craftsmanship, steeped in the ethics of slow, mindful production of exquisite works of art.” Adds Samarth, “Compromising on generations-old, made-by-hand skills is just not an option. Our passion for our business is to amplify these values, not as a marketing tool, but as our family’s true collective passion.”
Sixth generation Samir Kasliwal grew up with Indian and Italian grandfathers, both prolific jewelers. When he was 22 years of age, he spotted Gem Palace jewelry on Marella Agnelli, wife of the Fiat chairman Gianni Agnelli. Made by his Indian ancestors, the necklace featured a staggering array of gems: 16 carats of diamonds, 1,826 carats of natural rubies, 626 carats of emeralds, and 160 carats of pearls. “Perfection and elegance in simplicity,” says Samir of the piece. “We never forget the work of our extended family — the artisans who commit themselves to our success. Just as we have inherited our skills and dreams of our fathers, similarly the artisans have inherited the same from their own. Many family-run businesses turn into corporations, but we have chosen to stay true to our roots, and it works very well for us.” It is amply evident that making jewelry is a part of their family tradition and each member is ready to state that it’s not a job, but a lifestyle. “We pride ourselves on the fact that we have been able to grow globally generation-after-generation, with enough operational structure that gives us scale that we are content with,” says Siddarth. “What truly matters is that we continue to maintain a strong family bond and company culture. Adds Samir, “Each member in Gem Palace, from partner to artisan, brings a unique perspective to the table, as well as their own personal network into the business.”
Sarthak Kasliwal is the youngest in this family partnership. For him the bespoke experience Gem Palace brings to their clients is of utmost importance. “Enter our atelier in Jaipur, and at least one of our family members will be there to greet and engage with you, like a family member. The loyalty of our repeat clients is based on friendship and trust,” says Sarthak. He savors the moments when the clients unfold the wrapping and experience the visceral joys — the touch and feel of the diamond, what he calls “a true pleasure for the wearer. It is in this continuous metamorphosis of thoughts and ideas that we see inspirational adaptation and change. The story of Gem Palace, therefore, is simultaneously revival and renewal.” Adds Siddarth, “We understand the depth of passion and intimacy that beautifully designed jewelry can evoke.” Walking past the extraordinary collections deeply inspired by Indian art, Mughal architecture, Byzantine and Greco-Roman ornamentation, and some pieces that took close to four years to complete, Gem Palace is indeed a gateway to an enchanting world of beauty, offering jeweled wings to the imagination.
Originally published in the July/August 2022 issue of Vogue Arabia
Style: Vijayeeta Shah
Makeup: Shraddha Anand
Hair: Dilip Sisodiya
Model: Vijayshree Shaktawat
Style assistant: Vaishali Sharma