The city of Jaipur, in Rajasthan, is a treasure trove of jewelry stores, from high-end to souvenir.

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My grandmother was an avid traveler, and in every place she visited — Bangkok, Cairo, Rome — she would buy a piece of jewelry. My sisters and I could rummage through her jewelry box, and take a virtual tour of the world.

I still remember the woven silver earrings from Mexico and the black pearls from Tahiti. She was also quite fond of buying gold charms that she would attach to one of her gold chain bracelets. By the time my grandmother died, in 1979, she had assembled three bracelets, which my sisters and I inherited, along with her affection for travel.

So it seemed right that on a recent trip to India I should try to see some of the country through my grandmother’s eyes by indulging in our mutual passion.

The world’s largest consumer of gold, India is a country with a healthy appetite for personal adornment. That is most evident in Jaipur, the political capital of Rajasthan and a global center for gem cutting and jewelry design.

Jaipur is a typical Indian city, teeming with people and traffic. But even drivers of the humble three-wheeled moto-taxis know about the thousands of wholesalers and high-end retailers of jewelry. The most famous of all is the Gem Palace.

Like seven generations before him, Munnu Kasliwal, who died at 57 in 2012, kept the Gem Palace in the news by providing baubles to the rich and famous and earning the sobriquet, “jeweler to the stars.” Now, his brother, Sanjay Kasliwal, is the principal designer and store cheerleader for the shop, which is equal parts store and museum.

Despite that, he didn’t seem at all rushed when I stopped in unannounced and asked for a backstage tour. Gem Palace may look like a museum and feel like an exclusive enclave, with private drivers parked outside the guarded entrance doors, but it is open to the public, with some modest items available for sale for less than $100.

We passed through rooms where gem cutters, polishers, setters and goldsmiths were turning his concepts into wearable art. The craftsmen were anywhere from in their early 30s to well into their 70s.


At Sunita Shekhawat’s Midas Signature Jewellery shop, I discovered a niche of Indian jewelry specifically designed and sold for wedding parties.

When I arrived on a Saturday afternoon, a bride-to-be in the company of her parents and aunts sat around an enormous marble table in the center of an equally large and modern cream-colored room with an occasional antique adding a rustic and stylish contrast. The families who come to Midas are there to buy custom-made pieces for the big day and maybe a few other momentous occasions.

When the wedding party left, Shekhawat pulled out a variety of styles for me to examine: thick collar-shaped necklaces adorned with Polki (uncut) diamonds and set in enamel and cuff bracelets edged in jangly pearls.

Her daughter, Niharika, 25, modeled them for me. Call them colorful, call them festive; they were anything but subtle. Niharika could pull off all that golden dazzle, but I wondered how they would be anything but overwhelming on a middle-aged matron like me, for example.

With that aesthetic in mind, Shekhawat, 52, has started producing some items with a little less flash, the kind of jewelry the fashion magazines describe as just right for “the office to a night on the town.”

To her surprise, these pieces are proving popular even with Indian women who are eager to get more wear out of the jewelry they own.

A coral choker with a gold pendant, and a pearl necklace finished with a pair of enameled peacocks, were two stunning creations that might not elicit too much envious commentary at the workplace.

Custom jewelry

On my last day in Jaipur, I tagged along with two U.S. expats I had met at breakfast at my hotel. Terry Ray Johnson and Phyllis Stuart had commissioned a hand-painted enamel pendant framed in silver, with a likeness of the spiritual teacher Sri Tathata, from Shivam Gems N Jewellery. We walked down from street level to a subterranean shop that was crammed full of display cases.

Besides custom pieces like the one it was making for Johnson, Shivam Gems N Jewellery was full of original and reproduction Indian tribal pieces, elaborate silver pendants adorned with jangly balls and bells.

Kushor Kumar, a salesman known as Sunny, said his customers are mostly tourists who want to buy jewelry that will be a memento of their visit.

I didn’t buy anything at Shivam or at any of the other shops I visited, as much as I admired the work. I knew I already had the best souvenir in my jewelry box back home. My grandmother’s charm bracelet was there, adorned with a tiny gold replica of the Taj Mahal.