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The Careerist: Get to Know Diamantaire Nirav Modi

What it takes to become a master in one of the most luxurious jobs on the planet

Diamonds have been Nirav Modi’s best friend since the day he was born. A third generation diamantaire from Antwerp—Modi’s father and grandfather worked in the diamond business while his mother cut her teeth as an interior designer—an appreciation for the fine gems always ran in the family. 

But even with this knack for art and jewelry in his genes, Modi’s story doesn’t begin until age 19. That’s when he dropped out of Wharton and packed his bags for India to train under his uncle, Mehul Choksi, chairman and managing director of Gitanjali Gems, one of India’s largest diamond companies. “I learned how to look at a rough diamond, how to appreciate it, how to see what can happen in a diamond and how to transform that,” says the soft-spoken jeweler. After nearly a decade of honing his craft, Modi launched his own rock-solid company, Firestar Diamond, sourcing and manufacturing rare diamonds.

And while Modi wasn’t one of those designers who stumbled into his career, his foray into jewelry happened serendipitously. His namesake line was born in 2010, after a friend asked him to craft a pair of simple diamond studs. “When you sell loose diamonds, you don’t know what happens with them after. When I made her the pair of earrings, I saw the delight in her eyes,” he says. From there, it was like a domino effect.

Modi only continued to wow the world when his Goloconda Lotus necklace, bedazzled with Goloconda, pink and Anira diamonds, was sold at Christie’s and landed on the cover of their catalogue. The first Indian jewelry brand to be splashed on the front page, this thrust him into the big leagues, alongside household names like Cartier, Harry Winston and Tiffany & Co. 

He finds beauty everywhere. For an elastic diamond bangle, Modi was inspired by watching his daughter play with an elastic band. Coiling around the wrist elegantly, the diamond-encrusted bracelet consists of nearly 800 parts and took a whopping two years to develop. Nothing short of wearable art, his collection also stars pieces like the Fluire Earstuds, which mimic a pair of jasmine flowers floating in your ear. 

As for his process, Modi chooses to describe a narrative to the designers instead of taking to a sketchpad. His attention to detail is incomparable—everything, including the clasps, is hidden for look and comfort. The process from start to finish is meticulous and can take years, but one cannot truly appreciate the pieces until draped in them. Dripping in decadent diamonds, the not-so-timid earrings, necklaces and bracelets are still lightweight enough to make even the most ungraceful individuals feel elegant. “It’s not like a pair of uncomfortable heels you can’t wait to take off at the end of dinner,” he says.

Since launching five years ago, Modi has gained some considerable momentum, opening stores in Mumbai, Delhi, Hong Kong and, most recently, his first U.S. outpost in New York. Still, he shows no sign of slowing down. But the best part of his job, he says, is “to see the sparkle in a girl’s eyes…you’ll always remember that moment.”