In November 2017, Nirav Modi (47) moved into a sprawling corporate office in Lower Parel, Mumbai, to run his global business empire from there. The office was on the 20th floor of a plush building. Even on the first day in the new office, Mr. Modi was seen working with his design team to create the next luxury jewellery.
Nirav had the burning desire and ambition to build a globally known Asian fashion jewellery brand, having boutiques on the high streets of fashion capitals. Till recently, there was no hint or indication that he was involved in a massive ₹11500 crore scam, India’s biggest ever.
Nirav literally means silent. He speaks in a very low voice. This 5.5 feet tall, slim handsome man with a receding hairline, has been a recluse.
Born in Antwerp, Belgium, where his parents now reside, Nirav did his schooling there and, after dropping out of Wharton, relocated to Bombay at the age of 19. “I was born to a family which is into diamonds for seven generations. As a young boy, I heard my father and grandfather talking about the trade. I started working at the early age of 19 when I moved to Bombay to work for my uncle for 10 years in buying and selling polished diamonds,” Nirav Modi said in an interview to The Hindu in November last year, possibly his last to the Indian media before news of the scam broke.
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In 2000, he ventured out on his own and started Firestar Diamond International with 15 employees, buying and selling diamonds. In 2002, his company became a jewellery contract manufacturer for a diamond customer. In 2005, he bought a jewellery distribution and marketing business from his largest jewellery customer Fredrick Goldman in the U.S. “That gave us the style, the relationships, the account codes of the retailers in the U.S.,” he said.
In 2007, he bought another company called Sandberg & Sikorsky, which was the oldest bridal jewellery manufacturer selling to independent retailers and was also into distribution to the U.S. armed forces.
“In 2009, with the chaotic financial climate, we got into a good position and expanded. So at that time, we opened marketing offices in Dubai, Hong Kong, and sourcing offices in Antwerp and manufacturing plants in Moscow and Johannesburg,” he said.
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In 2009, by chance he got into luxury fashion jewellery, which gave him an international name. “I had a friend who wanted me to design a pair of earrings for her. The first time, I said no. After a few meetings I agreed and made a simple pair of earrings. She was very happy. This inspired me and I decided to start an Indian global luxury jewellery brand,” Mr. Modi said.
At the end of 2010, when he was making the ‘hero jewellery piece’ for the launch of his brand, Christy’s heard of it and they put it up for auction. It was sold for ₹16 crore against the base price of ₹12 crore. “It worked out well and we got worldwide recognition. In December 2010, we launched the Nirav Modi brand,” he said.
In March 2014, he ventured into retail stores, the first one at Defence Colony, New Delhi. Then he opened stores in Mumbai, Hong Kong, New York, London, Las Vegas, Honolulu, Beijing and Singapore. In all, 15 stores now.
His plan was to open 100 such stores by 2025, of which 85 would be outside India.
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Nirav Modi, whose clientèle included those frequenting red carpet events such as the Oscars, does not draw the designs. “I speak the thinking and my people sketch and then the design is made. I design every single jewellery, whether it is priced at ₹5 lakh or ₹5 crore,” he said.
His range starts at ₹2 lakh and the most expensive one costs ₹105 crore. Most of his collection is priced between ₹5 lakh and ₹20 lakh and he competes with Cartier and Tiffany & Co.
Some of his collections were stretchable. “We are known for innovations. We manufacture stretchable bangles and rings. This is an innovation and engineering. This is where art meets science. So this is why my fashion jewellery is in demand,” he said.
Mr. Modi’s global business was supported by his workshop in Kurla, suburban Mumbai.
A global citizen and a frequent traveller, his family lives in New York. Mr. Modi said his children are too young and are yet to decide what to do.
The only Asian fashion jeweller to go international, having a presence in the Bond Street of London or the golden area of Madison Squire, Nirav Modi now faces bleak future.
With the law set to catch up, Mr. Modi’s global business has been flung into uncertainty.