By Laurie Kahle, November 17, 2015
Indian jeweler Nirav Modi officially opened his New York City boutique on Madison Avenue, his first in the United States, in September. In attendance and wearing Nirav Modi diamonds were Academy Award- and Golden Globe-nominated actress Naomi Watts, fashion model Coco Rocha, Indian actress and model Nimrat Kaur, and Indian-American model and Bollywood star Lisa Haydon.
While few in the U.S. may recognize Modi’s name, he intends to change that by building an international brand with high-end jewels that rival those of his illustrious Madison Avenue neighbors. The New York store is his fourth after opening boutiques in Hong Kong, Mumbai, and Delhi. Over the next decade, he plans to open 100 stores primarily in the U.S., China, Southeast Asia, and India. Such ambitious goals illustrate Modi’s drive and determination to quickly expand his burgeoning brand.
In New York, Modi teased the boutique opening by showcasing the $1.65-million-dollar Maharani emerald and diamond necklace and earrings suite in the store’s window. A selection of designs chosen for the New York market include the Jasmine necklace from the Fluire collection with more than 65 carats of briolette and Jasmine Cut diamonds set in 18-karat white gold, and the floral-themed Mughal collection, which includes a choker (top image) that easily converts to a bracelet.
When Modi observed his young daughters playing with stretchy plastic bracelets, he tasked his team with developing an expandable bracelet in gold with diamonds. The Embrace bangle took almost two years to achieve and comprises 800 parts including high-precision components produced using CNC machines typically found in Swiss watch factories.
“I’ve done work for every major house on the planet, and I’ve never made pieces that consistently have this much componentry or this much setting,” says Jeff Kantra, vice president of manufacturing, during a tour of Nirav Modi’s Mumbai production facility. “They’re complex, and that takes a lot of hours. The first Constellation necklace was completely handmade with 300 diamonds, and it moves like a piece of fabric. It took 2,000 hours.” Modi recruited Kantra to move from New York to Mumbai to oversee production and ensure premium quality. Kantra adds that every stone over 35 points (about 1/3 carat) comes with a GIA certificate.
Initially, Modi approached Kantra—a master jeweler who had worked with Carvin French Jewelers, which produces pieces for elite jewelry houses such as Tiffany & Co., Van Cleef & Arpels, and Verdura—to create unique high-jewelry pieces for the Asian auction market. Christie’s featured Nirav Modi’s Golconda Lotus necklace with a rare 12.29-carat Golconda diamond on the cover of the catalog for its November 2010 Hong Kong auction. The piece sold for $3 million and Modi instantly made a name for himself in the upper echelons of the Asian jewelry realm. Additional six-figure pieces sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong events.
The 44-year-old Modi established his premium brand in 2010, following the economic crisis that sent others in the diamond business running for cover. But Modi, who also owns the multinational diamond and jewelry firm Firestar Diamonds, saw an opportunity to make great deals in acquiring high-quality stones. “It was just a great time to buy diamonds,” says Modi as he presents his designs in the Mumbai boutique. “People thought the world was going to end, but it didn’t make any sense to me. If you follow diamond prices over the past 100 years, they may go down every 20 years if something happens, but in two years, they go back to their previous highs.”
The Nirav Modi collection stands apart for its unusual diamond setting techniques and proprietary cuts. The Endless Cut, for example, was inspired by jade rings, carved from a single block of stone, that Modi saw in Hong Kong 25 years ago. The diamonds are cut with calibrated curves to form an unbroken line of gems set using the invisible Enigma technique. “It looks like it’s carved out of one diamond, you don’t see any metal,” says Modi. “I spent 20 years dreaming about it, and it took us two years to perfect.” Each ring has to be handmade, because the curve of every diamond has to be calibrated to the size of the ring. “Our jewelry involves a lot of design detailing and craftsmanship,” adds Modi. “It is recognizable from a distance, and it is very light and comfortable. You see very little metal, so the diamonds are really exposed.”
Nirav Modi’s master diamond cutter translates Modi’s visions into actual cuts. The Ainra Cut fuses two diamonds that form an oval-shaped link, so designers can fashion all-diamond chains. The Jasmine Cut evokes an old rose cut with its faceted domed table for added brilliance. And the flower-petal-shaped Mughal Cut takes inspiration from Mughal miniature paintings.
“Art has fueled many of my creative endeavors,” says Modi. While growing up in Antwerp, Belgium, in a family of diamantaires, he accompanied his mother, an interior designer, to Europe’s top museums. He was captivated by Claude Monet’s Water Lilies when he first viewed it at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Later when he visited Monet’s gardens in Giverny, he was inspired to create the Lotus collection.
In 1999, he started his own art collection, focused on Indian and Chinese art. Some 400 works are housed in his Mumbai offices, including a large fiberglass elephant sculpture covered in tiny sperm-shaped bindis by Indian artist Bharti Kher. Modi has adopted the animal as a symbol for his brand’s logo. “An elephant is a very powerful animal, but also gentle, and very majestic,” he says. Elephants also evoke the jeweler’s Indian heritage. “All of my jewelry marries my Indian roots with my international exposure and love of art, nature, travel and poetry,” he says. “Every collection has its own, unique story to tell.”
(Adapted from a story published on Art of Luxury at Forbes.com)