The Keepers of Jaipur’s Bejewelled Past

Through the Jewellery Trails series, Condé Nast Traveller India narrates the stories of cities across India, told through the voices of iconic, heritage jewellers. Here, we explore Birdhichand Ghanshyamdas in Jaipur, an iconic jewellery brand in India.

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Image courtesy: Birdhichand Ghanshyamdas Jewellers

For over 150 years, Birdhichand Ghanshyamdas has held on to its reputation for jewels that blend precise craftsmanship with innovative ideas. This is the story of an iconic brand and the making of modern heirlooms in natural diamonds.

While most children grow up playing with conventional toys, Yash Agarwal, the creative director and design head of Birdhichand Ghanshyamdas, had gemstones to whet his curiosity. The first time the jeweller interacted with a natural diamond, he was eight years old. “I was at our store in Jaipur and my grandfather gave me a couple of diamonds to sort,” he says. The wide-eyed boy was mesmerized with the magnificence of the stones, and this simple task marked the beginning of a lifelong love for the fourth-generation jeweller.

(L-R) Yash Agarwal as a child playing with his father; Yash and his son dressed up in identical attires

Soon enough, Yash became a willing protégé and diligent co-worker who was ready to inherit the tricks of the trade from his grandfather. One of his early lessons was to use a loupe to spot imperfections. The lesson, Yash affirms, was not to whittle down spotless gems but to “understand how perfect natural diamonds look with imperfections.”

These small lessons have held and served as the barometer of change at Birdhichand Ghanshyamdas across generations. Today, Agarwal is taking the family’s legacy forward, combining traditions with 21st century innovations. 

Yash Agarwal, Creative Director of Birdhichand Ghanshyamdas.

From the royal treasury to a legendary house of fine jewellery
The story begins in the 1890s with Yash’s great-great-grandfather, Birdhichand Agarwal, who had a keen eye to spot the rarest of gems. He was commissioned by Maharaja Madho Singh II of Jaipur as the treasurer of his prized possessions. “My great-great-grandfather was appointed as koshagaar for the royal family and since Jaipur always held a dominant position in the region, he had access to the finest pieces the world had to offer.”

Birdhichand’s acumen for arts and crafts caught the eye of the Maharani and she assigned him to a very special job. He was given the responsibility of curating and collecting jewellery from around India that would adorn the princess’s bridal bijoux box. “This quest led my great-great-grandfather to some of the best artisans around the country, and eventually the genesis of Birdhichand Ghanshyamdas.”

While Birdhichand initially worked from within the royal palace, he eventually moved out and turned his humble abode into his atelier. The makeshift space was used to manufacture intricate pieces of jewellery which found many takers in Jaipur and beyond. The story of Birdhichand Agarwal’s success is one that marries talent, grit and serendipity. His signature aesthetic became much sought after and a cornerstone of his jewellery.In 1930, he opened the first Birdhichand Ghanshyamdas store in Johri Bazaar or the jewellers’ market in Jaipur and the brand’s flagship store still stands at this iconic location. Soon, its fame spread far and wide and this store came to be regarded as a temple of fine luxury jewellery. Over several decades, Birdhichand Ghanshyamdas, popularly known as BG Jewellers, continued building on its legacy. Heritage pieces found modern interpretations and an identity that resonated with the modern woman looking for classic designs. As the business grew, so did its need for space as well as an expansion of the brand’s aesthetic. In 2006, a sprawling new store opened its doors on Mirza Ismail Road, one of Jaipur’s prime causeways. The gleaming modern update with glass, rich wood and focus lighting was yet another extension of the brand’s creative expression. In 2018, BG Jewellers made its first foray outside Jaipur with a stunning new store in New Delhi.

Combining Rajasthan’s royal architecture with art-deco influences from India under the Raj-era, this boutique is the perfect showcase for modern heirlooms crafted with the finest of gems and workmanship. 

Modern heirlooms crafted in natural diamonds
Natural diamonds have been central to the creative expression of this legacy luxury jeweller for decades. Even today, they continue to play a pivotal role in bringing every collection to life. “Most of the time, I start my process of designing by looking for a stone that instantly attracts me. Other times, when I have already sketched a design, I source specific diamonds to fit the idea or get the gems cut accordingly. Whether it’s a diamond or my design, it’s important I feel an emotional connection with it,” he reveals.

From Jaipur’s history and architecture to nature and wildlife, the inspiration for Birdhichand Ghanshyamdas’ designs makes each piece a handcrafted collectible. “Everything in my jewellery is inspired by Jaipur. I keep getting enthused by this city—its palaces, the forts, the paintings, the craft, the culture,” says Yash. For him, this city is a constant muse, just as it was for all the generations in his family.

A family portrait of Yash with his parents

Real diamonds are combined with other precious stones to bring to life different chapters of India’s regal past. At the same time, the pieces are designed keeping in mind the changing aesthetic of modern India—from brides to young independent women.

This affinity towards the beauty of the stone itself is evinced in several standout pieces across collections. Take for example, the stunning peacock necklace from the Rajbari collection—an ode to a colonial era and an amalgam of European and Indian ideologies. This necklace is Yash’s interpretation of lapidary brilliance. “Diamonds shaped into perfect equilateral triangles form hexagons that form the design. Naturally, putting something like this together was a big task,” says Agarwal. “Sourcing natural diamonds of 10mm each was not an easy job, so we had to custom-cut them in Israel,” he says. The keepsake draws its name from the birds that make beautiful cameos across the piece and interlink the hexagons.

The emerald and diamond peacock necklace from Birdhichand

Another showstopper from the Rajbari collection is a pair of tulip earrings made from rose-cut diamonds which are then fashioned to resemble petals.

Tulip earrings with rose-cut diamonds fashioned to resemble petals in the form of a lotus

The magnificent Amér collection is a fiesta of coloured natural diamonds—think pinks, canaries, champagnes and reddish-orange gems—inspired by the eponymous Fort in the Pink City. “We studied its architecture closely and incorporated different elements into the design. The pillars of Amer Fort served as a marker, and we then converted that silhouette into a pair of earrings, while its arches took the form of necklaces.”

This necklace has a custom tulip cut natural diamond, set in ruby prongs with a backdrop of trillion cut diamonds

Jaipur is what propels Birdhichand Ghanshyamdas’ creative zeitgeist not only in terms of design but also its execution. Be it bridal jewels encrusted with polki or red carpet-ready shoulder-dusters with fine diamonds, age-old craftsmanship is combined with scientific ingenuity, taking the city’s association with luxury jewellery into the new millennium.

The making of each piece is a time-consuming and labour-intensive process. The artisans, many of whom have been part of Birdhichand Ghanshyamdas for generations, meticulously pass each jewel down from one hand to the other. “After the gems are procured, the karigar makes a mould. It then goes to the setter who embeds the stones, and the last stage is beading.” Natural diamonds serve as the fundamental element to bring the whole vision to life.

While the cut, clarity or even carat of a diamond can be negotiable, what’s non-negotiable is that “every stone has to be absolutely clean and responsibly sourced.” This stance has earned the luxury label a large following based on trust. From royal families and discerning collectors to celebrities and young women who want to celebrate India’s rich culture in an au courant way, it is a lasting association and one that has come from years of setting new standards in the field.

“True profit from the business is not about the money earned, but the long-lasting clients and relationships you have earned,”says Yash.

Just like natural diamonds, the promise of quality is one that is for keeps and defines the ethos and heirlooms of House of Birdhichand Ghanshyamdas. 

Discover more from the Jewellery Trails series here.