Cult Shop: a Jaipur jeweller’s fit for a princess
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
With its peach-pink domes, primrose-yellow columned entrance, frescoes and stucco work, The Gem Palace in central Jaipur wears its legacy proudly. The jewellery shop is the oldest in the city (and one of the country’s oldest too), dating back to 1852 when the Kasliwal family set up the shop, having been jewellers to the Royal Jaipur family since 1727 – and it has held its royal warrant ever since. The Gem Palace moved to its present-day flagship store on Mirza Ismail Road back in the early 1900s. “It is one of the busiest streets in Jaipur – a prime address, our Fifth Avenue equivalent,” says Siddharth Kasliwal, one of the seventh- generation heirs to his family business.
The gold-hued showrooms have played host to royalty, celebrities and business tycoons. “In 1962, the late Maharani Gayatri Devi brought Jackie Kennedy to the store during her official visit to India. That really put Jaipur, and our brand, on the map as a hub for fine jewels,” says Kasliwal. “Diana, Princess of Wales, the Prince of Wales, The Duchess of Cornwall have also frequented the store. We started as jewellers to Jaipur’s royal family and now work with royalty from across the world.” Patrons also include Rihanna (who wore a Gem Palace choker to last year’s Met Gala after-party), Gwyneth Paltrow, Mick Jagger, the Rockefellers and the Rothschilds, while the visitors’ book has been signed by Lord Mountbatten and Judi Dench, who popped in while on location for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
The architecture of the 19th-century haveli is typical of the city, while the building – its three domes instantly recognisable to city dwellers – is still intact. “It’s an old Indian concept that one lived on the top floor, with the shopfront on the ground floor,” says Kasliwal. “That’s how we started as well.” In 1994, workshops and studios were added on the second floor, and today, visitors can stop by to see the karigars – or artisans – at work sketching out designs, cutting stones and polishing finished pieces ready to go on display.
“A lot of our clients are generational,” says Kasliwal. “They often come in to revamp pieces that their grandparents purchased from mine.” The collection caters to varying tastes and budgets: “We don’t want someone to come in and not find anything at all.” Offerings range from traditional silver letter charms and pendants (starting at about £50), through semi-precious stone-studded pieces in silver and brass to kundan (pure gold pieces) and the most exclusive pieces, which can retail at about £500,000: signature rose-cut diamond necklaces, or pieces centred around rare, old-mine Golconda diamonds (mined in a region in southern India). As for their bespoke creations, “the sky’s the limit”.
In 2017, Kasliwal turned the stone sorting room into the Pink Room, a by-appointment studio for clients seeking extra privacy. Designed by Kasliwal’s friend the Danish interior designer Marie-Anne Oudejans, the fuchsia space is an ode to Jaipur’s “pink city” moniker. “We did not make it too modern. The Gem Palace is proud of its history. The store feels like walking into a very traditional yet chic Rajasthani space,” says Kasliwal. The decor is sourced from Jaipur or the neighbouring cities of Udaipur and Jodhpur, while the walls have been upholstered with locally block-printed fabric, and the Pink Room’s ceilings handpainted by resident artisans.
Kasliwal emphasises that The Gem Palace continues to use the same classical Indian techniques as their forebears. “‘Fusion’ jewellery can only lead to confusion!” he says. “We still produce jewellery as it was done centuries ago, using the same traditional tools.” As one of the city’s oldest families, “the Kasliwal name has become synonymous with Jaipur,” he goes on. “That’s the reason we take care of this legacy – it’s a beautiful history, not only for us but for the city and the country.”