The Jaipur Gem Palace
At a time when luxury brands vie for a space in showrooms and shopping malls, the Gem Palace is still standing strong at the bustling Mirza Ismail road in Jaipur, since 1923. As you walk inside the haveli-style store, you will instantly realise why it’s a shopping ‘gem’ on the city’s shopping map. Enamelled elephants, Rajasthani block prints and Mughal miniatures dot the shop giving it a regal interior.
The scenic setting though pales in comparison to the real attraction of the store – an abundance of sapphires, rubies, uncut diamonds and emeralds encrusted in precious jewellery. There is a stunning array of haath phools, chunky rings, sarpech, belts, brooches, bajubandhs, kamarbandhs, necklaces and earrings on display. The men behind these marvels – the craftsmen sit directly above the shop, cutting, grinding and polishing each piece by hand.
Plique-à-jour: It consists of audacious rings and baubles enamelled with blue and green meenakari work set in gold and diamond. The breathtaking pieces were even put on display at the Kremlin Museum in Moscow recently as part of Indian jewellery appreciation exhibition.
Traditional and Contemporary Mughal collection: Mughal art is prominently reflected in the collection with Meenakari enamelling, and the use of rubies, sapphires, emeralds and rose cut diamonds. The contemporary version is more modernised with delicate jaali-designs used on amethyst, spinels, moonstone, aquamarine, fire opal and tourmalines.
The Indo-Russian collection: The jewellery is set in a signature alloy of gold and silver that gives it an antique look. Lustrously polished diamonds and an elaborate jaali work make each piece stand out.
The Kasliwals began making jewellery in 1728 at the behest of the Maharaja of Jaipur. After opening Gem Palace, the second last generation of the Kasliwal brothers, Sanjay and Munnu have transformed the business to a global brand. They already had a strong backing with patrons like the late Rajmata Gayatri Devi who personally recommended them. As the word around the brand spread so did their reputation. From 2001 to 2007, they have collaborated with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York for an exhibition on Mughal jewellery and participated in other global exhibitions at London’s Somerset House and the Kennedy Centre, Washington DC. Munnu jewellery is even available at Barneys in New York.
Unlike most of its counterparts, the Kasliwals hardly advertise. They let their jewellery do the talking! Yet their bejewelled pieces have been worn by the who’s who and the brand is regularly featured across luxury magazines. Everyone from Hollywood bigwigs, Indian celebrities to European royalty own a piece of jewellery from Munnu. The walls of the store are dotted with photographs of famous people with Sanjay and Munnu Kasliwal. They count Bill and Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Judi Dench, Richard Gere, Camilla Parker Bowles, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sharon Stone, Mick Jagger, Susan Sarandon, Goldie Hawn, and most notably Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana as their patrons, among others. Munnu’s hand designed double-strand, polki necklace was worn by actress Nicole Kidman for the 2004 cover of Vogue.
The 30-something Sameer and Siddharth, who have taken over the business from their fathers, Sanjay and Munnu have their eyes set on the world. They have boutiques all over the world, including Tokyo and Istanbul. But their main business comes from America. The Munnu Gem Palace boutique in New York is located between the Madison and Park Avenue, where the well-heeled come to shop. A single, handmade piece can sell upwards of $55,000 to $300,000 depending on customisations. The cheapest item includes earrings, which usually sell for around $800. Sameer retails at another store nearby by the brand name Sanjay Kasliwal.
The store neither sells online nor markets itself on social media. The cousins still work the old fashioned way – giving personal service to clients. Since they have learnt jewellery making from their fathers, they divide their time between Jaipur and New York to meet customers, and draw their orders themselves. This makes owning a piece from The Gem Palace even more endearing!
Pix courtesy: All photos in the story are the copyright of Munnu The Gem Palace