The Jeweler of Jaipur

Mark Heithoff

The king of India’s gem palace brings rose-cut diamonds, unheated sapphires, and green tourmaline armbands to New York.

It’s Friday night at Munnu’s. The French cultural attaché is sitting on a hot-pink chair beside a hedge fund manager perched on some fuchsia pillows. Two magazine editors lounge on a purple velvet sofa bathed in the light of violet-colored David Hicks lamps. And oh, an old friend is en route with food from Morocco. This, by the way, is a jewelry salon—and there’s neither a Burmese ruby nor a Ceylon sapphire in sight. Which is exactly as Munnu Kasliwal dreamed it should be. When he opened this atelier on the ground floor of an Upper East Side townhouse, clients rejoiced at the thought of a Gem Palace New York. But this is not really a transplant of his family’s seven-generation-old Indian jewelry empire. For one thing, says Kasliwal, the store in Jaipur is covered in hand-blocked Indian textiles. Here, the walls are done in scarlet fabric and fitted with vitrines filled with colored Italian glass. “I wanted a place to show the one-of-a-kind pieces I create myself,” says Kasliwal, dressed as always in a traditional white linen kurta, “in a space that was a bit of India but not too Indian. And I wanted people to linger.” Still, soon after cardamom-spiced tea is brought out on a chocolate-brown lacquer platter, trays arrive carrying an enormous old-mine diamond pendant hung from five strands of natural pearls, a pale blue Burmese sapphire ring, gold armbands studded with lime peridot, crescent-shaped tourmaline chandeliers, a 300-carat rose-cut-diamond bib. Then there is a necklace of cascading flowers carved from sliced rose-cut diamonds, the back of it painted in an elaborate green enamel pattern, inspired by a brooch on a maharaja’s turban. The enameling is an example of the Indian jewelry practice of kundan meena. “We believe,” says Kasliwal, “that beauty is not only about what the eye can see.”

A visit to Munnu Gem Palace Studio is available by appointment only through studio director Jana Pasquel (212-861-0606).