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Those who have visited the Gem Palace, from the Kasliwal dynasty, in Jaipur would agree that it is life-changing experience. Charles and Diana of Wales, Jacqueline Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Angelina Jolie, Susan Sarandon, Mick Jagger and Oprah Winfrey are among the many notables who have made the pilgrimage to this mythic corner of India’s Rajasthan just to visit the palace. Established in 1852, the palace has been the workshop of eight generations of jewelers and goldsmiths from the Kasliwal family, devoted to the creation of the most exclusive and exquisite jewels for Maharajas and Mughal emperors.
Until his death in 2012, at age 54, Munnu Kasliwal presided over the jewelry empire. For more than two decades, the palace’s owner placed the family label at the forefront of the international fashion scene. Inspired by the architecture, flora and fauna of his country and by the Russian imperial jewels, he worked more for the love of art than for profit. He was one of the few jewelers whose pieces were still totally handmade.
When asked about his favorite gems, Munnu often mentioned the older ones, gems he researched in far away places until he found the ones he considered perfect: rubies from Mozambique, emeralds from Colombia or the rarest diamonds from India’s fabled diamond mines. Munnu, as his father before him, had the ability to recognize the quality and perfection of each stone.
An impeccable host, he entertained his clients and friends at the palace with a generosity and kindness that is still remembered, as does designer Muriel Brandolini, a personal friend of the Kasliwal family and a frequent guest at many of the palace’s soirees.
Although he inherited a taste for classical jewelry and a centuries-old family tradition, Munnu Kasliwal set out to transform and modernize the brand. He introduced semiprecious stones such as amethyst, periodot and pink and green tourmalines to a line that until then had only worked with diamonds, pearls, rubies and emeralds.
For years many of the jewelers in India were limited to reproducing and copying the designs of their grandparents and ancestors, but Kasliwal envisioned a change that would take Indian jewelry to another level. He achieved his objective and worked on it until the day of his death.
Indian jewelry is lavish, elaborate and colorful. It fits perfectly with the rich history of the country, but because of its specific cultural references, it was difficult to export to the west. Kasliwal managed to overcome this problem, combining traditional techniques and craftsmanship with Western tastes and sensibilities, playing an important role in our rediscovery of Indian jewelry and becoming the first designer from that country to achieve such international recognition.
Countless clients from every corner of the world are proud owners of the menagerie of exquisite jewels created by Kasliwal. European aristocrats, fashion designers and Arab magnates have frequently stated their admiration for the jeweler; Jacqueline Kennedy and Princes Diana visited the palace in 1962 and 1992, respectively. Movie stars such as Nicole Kidman have also been spotted wearing some of his pieces, and designer Diane Von Furstenberg wore his designs to the latest gala of the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
Eventually his jewels started to attract the attention of New York´s high society, until; in the year 2001 the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibited his works, many created expressly for this exhibition. The Met sold every one of the pieces available for sale, and the fame of Kasliwal grew meteorically.
In 2002, Barneys started the search for different and exquisite jewelry that would, at the same time, appeal to its exclusive clients. Julie Gilhart, at the time fashion director at Barneys, was excited with Kasliwal’s jewelry and introduced the line at their New York and Beverly Hills stores.
His sons and widow continue the family tradition, and the Gem Palace in Jaipur is still a must-see for lovers of jewels executed with the most superb craftsmanship. ■