f the Rajasthani city of Jaipur is the kingdom of jewels, then the Kasliwal brothers are its emperors. Their throne sits in the world-renowned Gem Palace, an ancient jewelry boutique and factory situated on Jaipur’s dusty Mirza Ismail Road.
Brothers Munnu, Sanjay and Sudhir Kasliwal are part of the eighth generation of the Kasliwal family that has served as jewelers to India’s royal court for centuries. Gem Palace’s modern creations, which are available at exclusive emporiums like Barneys New York, routinely grace the pages of fashion bibles Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and W. The Kasliwal clan counts past and present luminaries such as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Prince Charles and Lady Diana, Bill Clinton and a legion of Hollywood celebrities among their clients.
“Our family was brought to Jaipur around 1700 by the Maharaja, and we were his official jewelers for many years,” says Sanjay Kasliwal, who is responsible for running the shops and also designing some of the jewelry. Then, in 1852, the family officially opened the Gem Palace, home to both their showrooms and workshops. It is the ultimate family business: In addition to Sanjay, brother Munnu is the creative force behind the empire, while Sudhir oversees much of the business aspect. And while all three completed their studies at universities, Sanjay explains that they primarily learned the trade from their elders, spending all of their free time in the shop.
Today, the Gem Palace houses cases of rare jewelry from the Mughal empires to unique designs from the 1920s and 1930s. In some cases, the jewelry on display consists of ancient Kasliwal creations which the family has spent considerable time and money buying back.
“When India became a republic in 1947, the Maharajas were required to pay taxes on their jewelry,” says Sanjay. As a result, many began to sell their collections, and the Gem Palace was a frequent buyer of both jewelry and precious objets d’art, such as a life-sized gold enameled parrot, inlaid with rubies and diamonds, or an 18th-century solid gold plate and spoon studded with diamonds.
Visitors to the Gem Palace, which is structured as a traditional “haveli” (a private residence built in the Mughal architectural style), are transported back in time to witness the wealth and grandeur of the maharajas. The Kasliwal brothers are also currently constructing a museum to showcase some of their finest pieces from the 17th century. It will be housed within the Gem Palace and replicate the look of a palace from that time period.
But the Gem Palace is hardly just a jewelry showroom. It is also home to its own goldsmiths, gemstone and diamond cutters, polishers and other craftsmen who are versed in creating everything from kundan work to modern settings. Their workshops are littered with piles of gems and jewels from around the world, and the brothers expertly oversee the work.
“We train them in our workshops,” says Sanjay of the approximately 300 craftsmen he employs. His goal is to mold the best artisans in the business. “It’s like painting. Everybody can learn to paint, but some are better than others,” he quips.
No one is better, however, than the Kasliwals when it comes to designing exquisite works of bejeweled art, whether it’s in a traditional Indian style or in the form of contemporary design. Chief designer Munnu told W magazine that he sketches his designs on everything from the back of napkins to old envelopes, while Sanjay takes his ideas directly to his craftsmen. “I just call the workers and explain what I want,” he says. The end result, however, is almost always something to behold.
Of course, the world has taken notice. The work of the brothers Kasliwal has been on display in a number of prestigious museums, including New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 2001, The Gem Palace was asked by the Met to create a contemporary collection of jewels for its “Treasury of the World” exhibition. Since then, Munnu Kasliwal has designed other collections for the Met, including a special Egyptian exhibit; today, Gem Palace creations are on permanent display.
Last September, the Kasliwals also created an exhibition for the Gilbert Collection at Somerset House in London. Titled “Treasures from the Gem Palace,” it displayed 250 jewels from the Kasliwal collection. The same exhibit will be featured at the Metropolitan Museum in the near future.
In addition to creating jewelry, both on commission and for retail, the Gem Palace sells stones and pieces to other wholesalers and jewelers. French jewelry designer Marie-Hélène de Taillac is one of their most prominent customers. The provenance of many of her famous pieces is rooted firmly in the Gem Palace, as she buys most of her stones through the company and works with many of their craftsmen.
But if you don’t have millions—or even thousands—of dollars to spare on an extravagant Gem Palace creation, don’t despair. “This is one place where you can buy jewelry costing anywhere from $50 to $1 million. We have a range of everything—all sorts of choice,” says Sanjay. “The Gem Palace is a very special place.”