The Gem Palace in Jaipur counts maharajas, royalty and first ladies among it’s customers; it’s a family heritage Shalini Kasliwal is determined to honor, while future-proofing the jewellery brand for the 21st century
When you’re a member of the Indian family that owns the historic and world-famous Gem Palace in Jaipur, you might be expected to go into the jewellery business as a matter of course, but at first, Shalini Kasliwal had other ideas. She studied law.
But destiny, and a childhood spent roaming around The Gem Palace, which has served the world’s royalty since 1852, piqued Shalini’s interest in jewellery. She gave up the law and in 2014 moved to New York to open Sanjay Kasiwal with her late father, bringing her stunning designs to a new audience.
Born in Bologna, Shalini, 34, grew up in Italy with her Italian mother Silvana and brother Samir but from an early age was taken to Jaipur to spend time with her relatives. The Kasliwals had been jewellers from the time of the Moghul empire in the 16th century, and their gems have adorned royalty and first ladies, as well as countless Hollywood and Bollywood stars.
Now married to high-school sweetheart Giorgio, and mom to their daughter Oriente, born in September 2019, Shalini calls New York home. She spent the pandemic at the family base in Bologna, running her business from there remotely, bringing her creations to a discerning worldwide audience.
We caught up with her to ask how the businesses are going, what plans she has for the future, and how her dual heritage has influenced her life’s work.
What are your memories of being around jewellery as a child?
Both my maternal and paternal grandparents were jewellers, in Italy and in India. That’s where my parents met – my mother was accompanying her father on a business trip to India.
My mother used to take Samir and I from Italy to Jaipur in the school summer holidays. I remember one trip when I was about seven and my father allowed Samir and I to roam around by ourselves in the workshop of The Gem Palace. I didn’t really understand that I was surrounded by precious gemstones but I remember a lot of colours and friendly faces in the workshop. That was the beginning of my love affair with jewellery. I never took this as a job, but rather as a wonderful journey in which I have been very lucky to take part.
How has your heritage influenced your approach to jewellery design?
My inspiration definitely comes from the opportunity to live in a mix of both cultures.
I am inspired by Italian classic manufacturing techniques – such as the pavé way of setting stones – and combine them with Indian traditional symbolism such as peacocks, elephants and lotus flowers. I am perpetually enchanted by the power of the colors of India. This is why I mainly use coloured gemstones, both precious and semi-precious, however I have to admit that I definitely have a thing for emeralds! Overall, I believe this overlap between the two cultures is what inspires me the most.
You set up the Sanjay Kasliwal store in Madison Avenue, New York, with your father – what did you learn from him?
My father was always my greatest mentor. He was a great communicator, able to gather people around himself from different backgrounds and cultures – he connected people and made them discover India from his own perspective.
It makes me very proud today when I happen to be somewhere in the world and someone tells me about a meeting or an experience with my father. I get to know him even deeper through people’s stories. Everything I learned from him was while on the go – he was very informal and everything around him was fast-paced. He was not the sort of parent who would stand and lecture me. He was naturally following his flow and meanwhile, I was learning.
What’s in store for the brand?
As the world hopefully begins transitioning back to something approaching normality post-Covid, we continue to offer exclusive by appointment events throughout the US, which is a wonderful way to connect with our clients and friends.
Meanwhile, we’ve also been channeling our efforts towards digitalizing our offer through the website, and via specially selected online partners such as modaoperandi.com, olivela.com, overthemoon.com. Naturally, the Sanjay Kasliwal brand is incredibly special to me, so I’m always envisioning new projects for the future.
Are your gemstones sourced in India?
Many mining sites in India that were once very productive are exhausted. For example, the Golconda mines, where the Koh-I-Noor diamond came from, were already exhausted in the 18th century.
Today we import from countries such as Colombia and Zambia for emeralds, Mozambique for rubies, United States for turquoise, Namibia and Nigeria for tourmalines, South Africa for diamonds and so on.
Can you tell us a little about the sourcing process?
I often find myself working with a batch of stones my father had previously acquired and that is always very emotional because I sort of get into his mindset and try to understand what he had in mind for a specific stone. As a general rule, in the case of an exceptionally beautiful stone, the design process begins from thinking how best to emphasise its beauty within a harmonious piece of jewellery. Sometimes it’s the other way around. I might have a design in mind but don’t go ahead until I have found the perfect selection of gemstones to complete it – a process which can take years.
Is your jewellery made in Jaipur?
Yes, everything is made in the Gem Palace premises in MI Road. The main workshop has always been there and will always be there. In the past decade we opened two other workshops to accommodate some machinery required for the most contemporary designs in white gold. Everything else is totally hand-made, even today.
Who are The Gem Palace’s customers?
We’ve had endless guests visiting throughout the years such as Jaqueline Kennedy, Prince Charles and Princess Diana, Gwyneth Paltrow, the Queen of Holland, the Father Emir of Qatar, Oprah, Richard Gere. More recently Hillary Clinton, James Dyson, Kendall Jenner, Christian Louboutin. And many diplomats, journalists, historians, writers and collectors.
What are your best-selling pieces?
One of our Heritage Collections, the Indorussian, features many of our best-selling pieces. This collection is a cutting-edge interpretation of antique Indian gems, with rose-cut diamonds and coloured gemstones in 14K yellow gold offset by oxidized sterling silver.
It is worth mentioning the iconic Indorussian diamond band rings and bangles which come either in a diamonds-only version, or in diamonds together with either emeralds, sapphires or rubies. Overall, I would say earrings are the hottest-selling items across all the collections.
What makes a piece of jewellery special?
The memories you are able to tie to it. Sometimes we cherish and treasure the most insignificant items just because we were able to create a memory with them. Let’s consider a quintessentially statement piece, an engagement ring. Its importance is not in the value of the gemstone but the union it represents. I can make beautiful jewellery, but it is up to you to create the memories.