Marwar - - Contents -

In a first-per­son ac­count, Sid­dharth Kasli­wal of Jaipur’s Gem Palace talks about the fam­ily’s at­tach­ment with the city, the 200-year-old Kasli­wal legacy, the brand’s em­pha­sis on im­pe­rial Mughal de­signs and much more.

In this first-per­son ac­count, Sid­dharth Kasli­wal of Jaipur’s his­toric Gem Palace talks about the fam­ily’s en­dur­ing at­tach­ment with the city, the 200-year-old Kasli­wal busi­ness legacy, the brand’s em­pha­sis on im­pe­rial Mughal de­signs, the Mar­wari busi­ness model, phi­lan­thropy, veg­e­tar­i­an­ism and much more.

There is a say­ing that you be­come a busi­ness­man as soon as you are born into a Mar­wari fam­ily. This is be­cause Mar­waris and busi­ness go hand in hand

A royal in­vi­ta­tion

The Kasli­wals were pre­ferred jewellers to the Mughal roy­alty. Af­ter decades of cre­at­ing ex­cep­tional jew­ellery for them, the Kasli­wal name be­came syn­ony­mous with in­no­va­tive de­sign and flaw­less crafts­man­ship. Our mas­tery of tra­di­tional In­dian tech­niques like kun­dan set­ting and meenakari enam­elling el­e­vated the Kasli­wal rep­u­ta­tion amongst the elite. It’s no sur­prise then that when Ma­haraja Jai Singh II be­gan con­struc­tion work on Jaipur, his new city, in 1725, which was to be a cen­tre of fine arts and cul­ture, we Kasli­wals were in­vited to work within the palace walls as royal jewellers. Later, my fa­ther, the late Munnu Kasli­wal, put In­dian jew­ellery on the global map with ex­hi­bi­tions at The Met­ro­pol­i­tan Mu­seum of Art in New York in 2001, 2004 and 2007, the Moscow Krem­lin Mu­seum in 2014 and at Som­er­set House in Lon­don in 2006, to name a few. But no mat­ter how far and wide he trav­elled, Jaipur re­mained his base and Ra­jasthan al­ways was home.

Given to hos­pi­tal­ity

The Kasli­wals, and Mar­waris in gen­eral, are known for their hos­pi­tal­ity. My fore­fa­thers and my fa­ther strongly be­lieved in the say­ing 'Atithi Devo Bhava' which lit­er­ally trans­lates to ‘Guests are like God’. My fa­ther had clients who would visit Jaipur for a few days to see our jew­ellery and then would end up stay­ing for a month, be­cause of his hos­pi­tal­ity. He liked to make each piece of jew­ellery at his own pace, al­low­ing his guests to be a part of the en­tire process—carv­ing, cut­ting and fin­ish­ing—so as to in­fuse a sense of at­tach­ment and be­long­ing to the heir­loom that they were soon about to own. Food was a ma­jor draw in this as­pect. Even though we have been and con­tinue to be strictly veg­e­tar­ian, peo­ple from all over the world would be treated to the best of Mar­wari veg­e­tar­ian dishes at our home,

which some­times made them not want to re­turn home! I too have in­her­ited and up­held this trait of hos­pi­tal­ity. When guests come to Jaipur, I en­sure they are taken care of, that there is a ret­inue of at­ten­dees to tend to them and make them feel like roy­alty, and all this is done with a smile—in the Gem Palace way. Noth­ing makes me hap­pier than mak­ing my guests, friends and well-wish­ers feel at home, be­cause that is what my fa­ther did too.

The Mar­wari busi­ness model

There is a say­ing that you be­come a busi­ness­man as soon as you are born into a Mar­wari fam­ily. This is be­cause Mar­waris and busi­ness go hand in hand. For­tu­nately, the Kasli­wal fam­ily has al­ways had a strong busi­ness ethic which has been passed down from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion. Whilst our eyes re­main fixed on the fu­ture, we never for­get our core prin­ci­ples and the trade se­crets that have been taught to us by our fore­fa­thers. Though my fa­ther opened a stand-alone stu­dio in New York City, USA decades ago and was the first and only In­dian jeweller to do so at the time, he never ne­glected his Jaipur store and man­aged both the busi­nesses si­mul­ta­ne­ously. Ex­pand­ing the busi­ness was im­por­tant to him, but without ne­glect­ing his roots, and this is what al­lowed us to ex­pand and grow in the first place. The most im­por­tant busi­ness les­son that I have been taught is ‘op­ti­mal util­i­sa­tion of re­sources’ which was drummed into our heads by our grand­fa­ther. His ev­ery­day les­son to us was, 'No mat­ter how much money one has, one must live in a mod­est man­ner—one must not splurge un­nec­es­sar­ily, not over­spend and con­tin­u­ously save for the fu­ture.'

Char­ity be­gins at home

My an­ces­tors lay great store by char­ity also. “The more you give, the more you get,” they would al­ways say. I was made to un­der­stand that what­ever they earned, it was all be­cause of their phi­lan­thropy. From pro­vid­ing em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties to vil­lage folk to build­ing tem­ples and schools and re­viv­ing arts and cul­ture, they did ev­ery­thing in their power to help and build the com­mu­nity in and around Ra­jasthan. I try and fol­low this tra­di­tion of phi­lan­thropy by en­sur­ing that ev­ery child of our kari­gars gets the ed­u­ca­tion he or she de­serves—be­cause ed­u­ca­tion is key to em­pow­er­ment. My mother, brother and I also of­fer lan­gars (com­mu­nal meals) ev­ery month, which is a small way of help­ing those in need. I be­lieve that char­ity not only makes one grate­ful for all that God has blessed one with, but it also brings with it the bless­ings of the peo­ple. And noth­ing is purer than the bless­ings of the less for­tu­nate.

Stress on world-class ed­u­ca­tion

Ed­u­ca­tion is also some­thing that is very im­por­tant to the mod­ern-day Mar­wari. My fa­ther en­sured that I was ed­u­cated at Mayo Col­lege in Ajmer, Ra­jasthan, which is one of the best board­ing schools for boys and is famed for its stel­lar alumni till date. Post this, my fa­ther sent me to study and train in gem­stones and di­a­monds to Hong Kong and the Ge­mo­log­i­cal In­sti­tute of Amer­ica. Even though fa­ther passed away in 2012, when he was just 54, I en­sured that my younger brother got the best ed­u­ca­tion pos­si­ble. He has grad­u­ated from the pres­ti­gious Univer­sity of St An­drews, Scot­land which boasts alumni like Prince Wil­liam and Kate Mid­dle­ton, to name a few. To­day, un­like ear­lier times, Mar­wari chil­dren are study­ing in schools and col­leges like Har­vard Busi­ness School, Columbia Univer­sity, Stan­ford Univer­sity and New York Univer­sity, and this is help­ing the com­mu­nity in a ma­jor way. The em­pha­sis on ed­u­ca­tion en­sures that suc­ceed­ing gen­er­a­tions are

knowl­edge­able and worldly aware. I have no­ticed that mod­ern gen­er­a­tions are now bring­ing global knowl­edge to the ta­ble and us­ing the same in fur­ther­ing their fam­ily busi­nesses, which in turn is help­ing the en­tire Mar­wari com­mu­nity.

Strictly veg­e­tar­ian

I am an avid golfer, trav­eller and pho­tog­ra­pher. I in­dulge in these pas­times in the lit­tle free time that I get. How­ever, no mat­ter how far I go or how ex­otic that place is where I travel to, veg­e­tar­i­an­ism is one prin­ci­ple that keeps me tied to my roots. Veg­e­tar­i­an­ism has been in­cul­cated in me by my mother, and I have al­ways re­mained true to it. Coming from a Jain Mar­wari house­hold, we never serve non­veg­e­tar­ian food to our guests or in our house, even though Jaipur is renowned for its meat del­i­ca­cies. Fur­ther, an­i­mal pro­tec­tion is a cause close to my heart, as I have been taught from child­hood to re­spect all an­i­mals. Also, in my fam­ily, we be­lieve that when an an­i­mal is killed, the suf­fer­ing causes the an­i­mal to dis­si­pate a neg­a­tive en­ergy, which is not at all healthy; by con­sum­ing such food, you take in this neg­a­tive en­ergy. Also, I feel, be­ing veg­e­tar­ian is a way of re­spect­ing ng the world and what it of­fers.

A global name

I have trav­elled the world over, but hav­ing been born and brought up in Ra­jasthan, home for me is and will al­ways be Jaipur.

Coming to Gem Palace, our works are a re­flec­tion of Ra­jasthan, be it del­i­cate and in­tri­cate meenakari work or any other cre­ation that emerges from our Jaipur ate­lier. Be­ing Mar­wari is a mat­ter of pride for Gem Palace, and noth­ing spells this out bet­ter than my fa­ther Munnu Kasli­wal’s cre­ations. Ev­ery in­ter­na­tional col­lec­tion that he dis­played was about the glory of Ra­jasthan and its fine crafts. Though his col­lec­tions for The Met­ro­pol­i­tan Mu­seum of Art in New York were based around a va­ri­ety of themes such as Greek, Ro­man, Egyp­tian, etc, they shared the com­mon­al­ity of be­ing crafted in Ra­jasthan, high­light­ing the skills and fine work­man­ship that the re­gion takes pride in. In 2001, he was in­vited to de­sign a spe­cial col­lec­tion ex­clu­sively for The Met­ro­pol­i­tan Mu­seum of Art called ‘Trea­sury of the World: Jeweled Art­sArts ofof In­di­aIn­dia inin thethe AgeAge ofof thethe MughalMughals’. Fol­low­ing this, on in­vi­ta­tion by the ac­claimed Som­er­set House, Lon­don, he had the honour of be­ing the first In­dian to put up an ex­hi­bi­tion in 2006. Ti­tled ‘Treasures from the Gem Palace’, it show­cased ap­prox­i­mately 250 pieces of jew­ellery that un­der­scored the ex­quis­ite crafts­man­ship of the Kasli­wal fam­ily. The col­lec­tion in­cluded tra­di­tional and mod­ern treasures from Jaipur, pieces bor­rowed from Gem Palace’s clients and mas­ter­pieces from the per­sonal col­lec­tion of the Kasli­wal fam­ily.

Con­tin­u­ing the fam­ily legacy

Gem Palace was also se­lected by Wash­ing­ton’s Kennedy Cen­ter to ex­hibit in a month-long fes­ti­val called ‘Max­i­mum In­dia’ that cel­e­brated the best of art and cul­ture from In­dia. The show, en­ti­tled ‘Treasures of The Gem Palace’, fea­tured a cu­rated mix of an­tique jew­ellery and con­tem­po­rary pieces. One of my fa­ther’s most im­pres­sive cre­ations—a di­a­mond and pearl wed­ding set—com­pletely en­veloped the dis­play man­nequin, cre­at­ing a buzz in the United States. This is when we opened our pri­vate stu­dio and show­room in New York City in 2005. My fa­ther has been a great in­spi­ra­tion to me. Ev­ery­thing he was, was ei­ther be­cause of his roots or be­cause of his ad­her­ence to his roots, and I wish to take for­ward his legacy in the decades to come.

I have trav­elled the world over, but hav­ing been born and brought up in Ra­jasthan, home for me is and will al­ways be Jaipur

Clock­wise from top left: In­te­ri­ors of Gem Palace (Mum­bai), de­signed by Dutch ar­chi­tect MarieAnne Oude­jans; Broth­ers Sid­dharth (right) and Sa­marth Kasli­wal; In­te­ri­ors of Gem Palace (Jaipur), also de­signed by Marie-Anne Oude­jans

Clock­wise from top left: A jewel-en­crusted pill box from Sid­dharth Kasli­wal's first col­lec­tion called 'Plique-a-Jour'; Ear­rings from the Plique-a-Jour col­lec­tion; Whim­si­cal sap­phire and pearl bead tas­sel ear­rings in 18-carat gold from the Plique-a-Jour col­lec­tion

Top: A neck­lace from Sid­dharth Kasli­wal's ruby col­lec­tion Bot­tom: Gold ear­rings em­bel­lished with di­a­monds and enam­elling from the Plique-a-Jour col­lec­tion

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