His rise, from 2009, was as glittering as the jewellery he sold.
The year was 2010. The occasion, auction house Christie's much anticipated event in Hong Kong. The item on sale - a 12.29 carat Golconda diamond centered in an ornately designed necklace, resplendent with pink and colourless diamonds. The hammer went down at a mind-boggling Rs 16 crore. And that was the moment when an up and coming luxury brand from India finally arrived on the global scene.
Arrived and how! Since then, brand NIRAV MODI, with its self-named founder Nirav Modi, continued to grow from strength to strength and established itself as one of the biggest luxury brands in this hemisphere.
That was until two days ago, when this luxury brand's glittering stones suddenly became tainted. A fraud of Rs 11,000 crore ($1.8 billion) was unearthed in Punjab National Bank, with fraudulent transactions traced to Nirav Modi's company.
It hasn't taken much time for the 47-year-old's sheen to come off, with his jet-set glamourous circle disowning him.
Moneycontrol contacted some of Bollywood’s top celebrity stylists to find out if there is any love lost for Modi’s diamonds. The answer from most of them, was a surprise. “My client are not a Nirav Modi fan, might have worn it once or twice among the other brands they wear,” said Ami Patel, stylist to popular names like Shilpa Shetty, Priyanka Chopra, Alia Bhatt and Bipasha Basu.
Sure, while diamonds continue to be women’s best friend, Nirav Modi no longer is.
But that is for now. Modi’s romance with diamonds actually began for a friend. Born in India to a family of diamond traders, Modi was raised in Belgium. He dropped out from Wharton School and instead came to India to learn the business. His uncle Mehul Choksi, chairman and managing director, Gitanjali Group, in Mumbai, did Modi’s initial handholding (Choksi is also under investigation for his role in the PNB case).
While working for his uncle, a friend requested Modi to design an earring for her wedding. Modi was reluctant but finally gave in and not just designed something that matched her taste, but also started a brand of his own. That was 2009.
That was just the beginning, and ever since Modi did not have to look back. Over less than a decade, glitz and glamour around brand Nirav Modi only increased. With a jewellery range that goes up to as high as Rs 50 crore, Nirav Modi has been a favourite amongst Bollywood A-listers like Priyanka Chopra and Aishwarya Rai.
Modi’s diamonds are not just for the home turf though. With boutiques in places ranging from Delhi and Mumbai to Hong Kong and New York, the jeweller won hearts of women across the world with his diamonds.
Some of the women who have walked the red carpet for his brand include the likes of Kate Winslet, who wore a Ralph Lauren gown with Modi’s Pear Celestial ring, Luminance bracelet and earrings at the 88th Oscar Awards. Then there is Karlie Kloss who was spotted wearing a Mughal diamond choker and En-Tremblant earrings to compliment her white dress by Stella McCartney. The list isn’t too small. There are others like Sharon Stone, Taraji P Henson and Viola Davis.
Making women happy and beautiful made Modi rich, very rich. Featuring in Forbes' world's billionaires list for 2016 for India, Nirav Modi was ranked 46 with his net worth was close to Rs 11,227 crore.
Apart from the boutiques, Modi also has his trading arm Firestar Diamond, with annual revenues of over $1.2 billion.
Firestar Diamond mainly works in sourcing and supplying rare diamonds also has operations spanning the globe including USA, Europe, the Middle East, the Far East and India.
Opulence and flamboyance are his thing. And that clearly shows in his marketing strategies too. While Priyanka Chopra and Sidharth Malhotra were ambassadors of his brand in home market, the faces that represent brand Nirav Modi globally include Andreea Diaconu and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. Both the celebrities were also associated with brands like Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana.
That put Modi in the queue for A-listers in the global fashion league.
Known to be soft spoken and understated, Modi’s parties were not quite of the similar nature. For instance the brand celebrated its half decade at Jodhpur’s grand Umaid Bhavan Palace as Modi played host to celebrities from across the country.
All went hunky dory till the enforcement directorate knocked at Modi’s door. Are diamonds from the house set to lose its sheen?
“Whenever anything is reported around the word ‘word’-whoever and whatever it is about tends to get disrespected. Here we are talking about a brand and the basic definition of it is ‘a brand is a trust’. An issue like this whether for real or unnaturally so gets the brand effected and the credibility around it,” said marketing and social media consultant Harish Bijoor.
Goes without saying the entire gems and jewelry fraternity is unhappy about the developments.
“It came as a very big surprise for us,” said Vipul Shah, former chairman, The Gems and Jewelry Export Promotion Council. Not a pleasant one though. According to Shah, also a diamond trader, the industry works on credibility and an event like this makes it difficult for the jewelry industry that has already been caught in the storms in the last couple of years.“Whatever the investigation lead to as of now it is certain that Modi’s business has come to a standstill. A news like this impacts the brand tremendously. The client’s popular reaction at least initially is to back out from his association with the brand,” added Shah.