Nirav Modi: the diamond master opens his first boutique in Macau

Nirav Modi, dubbed the Diamond King in India, brings his sought-after jewellery designs to Macau for the first time with opening of new boutique

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 September, 2016, 12:08pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 October, 2017, 10:26am

When he was a child, Nirav Modi chanced upon a photo of his mother, dressed up for a wedding, resplendent in a grand emerald and diamond necklace.

"She wore it just effortlessly," recalls the jewellery designer. "Jewellery is such an intrinsic part of Indian culture that I think I have just always thought of [it] as part of a woman."

Since the beginning of this month, visitors to the MGM Grand in Macau are able to see first-hand the rich and extravagant pieces that Modi designs for his global clientele.

The Macau store adds to several other boutiques in Hong Kong, India and New York, with another soon to open on London's prestigious Old Bond Street. 

It was almost a given that Modi would enter the field; his father and grandfather were, like him, diamantaires – largely defined as a master cutter and dealer of high-end diamonds.

He grew up in Antwerp – arguably the capital of the world diamond trade. From a young age, his mother carted him off to museums and classical concerts in Rome, Paris and Brussels, cultivating in him a profound love of art.

His first ambition was to be a musical conductor. Instead, he moved to India when he was 19 to train at his uncle's jewellery company.

"I worked hard almost every day of the week to train in every aspect of jewellery production, from sourcing stones and raw materials to the final quality checks," he says. He set up Nirav Modi in 1999, after a decade of rigorous training.

"Coming from a strong lineage of diamantaires, diamonds were always part of our dinner table conversations. Over the years, diamonds became like second nature to me, so this seemed a natural progression."

Over the years, diamonds became like second nature to me
Nirav Modi

A couple of years ago, Modi embarked on an ambitious global expansion plan, one that now encompasses Macau. Over the next four years, he intends to open 30 more boutiques in 12 countries.

"Macau is known as an integrated resort city, and international hub for business and leisure travellers," he says. "With a mixture of Eastern and Western culture, it provides an important gateway to expand our business networks in Asia."

The baubles within the Nirav Modi portfolio straddle that fine line between grand and exhibitionist. Even the more subdued of them are statement pieces.

Under his high-jewels offering, there are necklaces featuring a pair of 20ct rare golden yellow heart-shaped diamonds, and chunky diamond-studded bracelets flecked with pink diamonds that coil around a woman's wrist. A Nirav Modi piece will be noticed, and envied. If you want jewellery that fades into the background, this isn't it.

Still, despite the apparent heft and substance of the jewellery, Modi says he aspires to imbue his pieces with a lightness, so that – above all else – they are comfortable to wear.

"The setting techniques we use ensure that there is minimal metal used to have jewels shine with maximum radiance," he says. The brand has patented certain cuts, so that making a piece is not just a matter of aligning stones and metal. There's a fair bit of engineering involved, so, Modi says, they should "sit like silk on the skin and move with each movement of the wearer".

They should sit like silk on the skin and move with each movement of the wearer
Nirav Modi

It may be as a result of the inherent fluidity of the pieces that Modi's typical client is more likely to be debutante than dowager; she is young, monied, sophisticated – Kate Winslet is a fan.

That's a natural direction reflected in his buzzed-about new ad campaign, featuring British supermodel Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, her Romanian counterpart Andreea Diaconu, and Indian model-actress Lisa Haydon. The campaign was shot by Vogue veteran Peter Lindbergh. 

Modi is the first to agree that, unlike ready-to-wear fashion or shoes or even more accessibly-priced jewellery lines, it's impossible for this kind of haute jewellery to follow any prevalent style trends. That said, each collection is rooted in a particular inspiration.

"[It] comes from so many sources," he says. "Nature, art, poetry, architecture – and is sometimes found in the most unexpected of places."

His raved-about Lotus collection, for example, came about after Modi gazed at Monet's 1919 oil painting, Water Lilies. He visited the gardens of Giverny, Monet's birthplace, and the lotus iconography "came to life". The brand's Embrace bangles - stretchable circles of precious metals and diamonds - were inspired by Modis' daughters' costume bracelets.

"The idea behind their conception was to make a fun jewel that also embodies a deeper emotional connect for the wearer – it connects to a playful side, the little girl that is within every woman." And one of the brand's signature looks, the Mugal offering, serves up the sort of royal splendour associated by the Taj Mahal and its intricate inlaid artwork.

"Books and poetry inspire me, my travels inspire me – there is really no beginning or end," he says. "When we keep moving forward, we can always open a new door."

On the subject of the Taj Mahal, Modi turns philosophical. While the brand is an increasingly powerful player in the global luxury jewellery market, it is anchored in India – and some version of the opulent aesthetic that that connotes.

"I try to distill the essence of India's intimate, deep-rooted relationship with jewellery and the jewelled arts into contemporary, cosmopolitan diamond jewels for the woman of today," he says. Yes, he adds, there is always that "uninhibited impulse to adorn" – something he describes as "quintessentially Indian". But at the heart of Modi's burgeoning brand is a fusion of that inherent richness with a more streamlined European sensibility.

"India has great dichotomies," he says. "It is a nation rich in contradictions – serenity and spirituality, as well as extremes of opulence and palatial splendour. I try to put them both together, side by side, in exquisite, finely-crafted jewels, made to be worn and enjoyed every day."