On a recent shoot for Barneys New York, I visited the Munnu showroom on the Upper East Side and had the pleasure of meeting Creative Director, and son of the late Munnu Kasliwal, Siddharth Kasliwal.
Munnu Kasliwal was the public face of The Gem Palace, the legendary jewelry empire based in Jaipur, India. If you are not familiar with The Gem Palace (don't feel bad, I wasn't either before doing some pre-shoot research), I suggest reading their history as it is quite impressive. I was personally blown away by their story and felt that I was in the presence of royalty while in their NYC showroom.
Jewelry has historically been interwoven with social and political structures in India. During the Mughal Empire (dating back to 1526), gems served as displays of power and also investments of wealth. Therefore, Mughal emperors were highly dependent on jewelers to create opulent pieces that would justify and reinforce the emperors' royalty and status. The Kasliwal family did not fall short of this expectation; for decades, the Kasliwal family served as jewelers to the Mughal royalty. It is no surprise that the Kasliwal family was then invited to work within the royal palace of Jaipur as the crown jewelers when the city was constructed in the 1700s. Jaipur remains the home to the Kasliwal family today and also the home of their iconic shop, The Gem Palace.
Munnu's work and craftsmanship gained him a cult following including royals and celebrities such as Princess Diana, Oprah Winfrey, Mick Jagger and Arab sheiks. He struck out under his own name in 2001 and had his designs featured at the Metropolitan Museum of Art the same year. I wasn't lying when I said that the history was quite impressive! I don't want to give away too much on here, as the interview with Siddharth on The Window is a great read. Head on over there for more!