A cut above the rest

A cut above the rest

Known as the jeweller to the stars, Amrapali Jewels has caught the attention of the world by delving into the rich heritage of Indian craftsmanship. The brand aims to continue its strong growth as it plans to increase its presence in more Tier II cities in the coming years

MAHATHI R. ARJUN

In 2011, Amrapali Jewels (Amrapali) became the first Indian jewellery brand to be displayed at Harrods, the upscale departmental store in London. “It was a turning point not just for us but for Indian jewellers and craftsmen,” says Rajiv Arora, who founded Amrapali along with college friend Rajesh Ajmera in Jaipur back in 1978. From a tiny shop in Jaipur, the brand is now coveted by the likes of both Indian and international celebrities. One of Amrapali’s consistent features is the distinct look its jewellery pieces carry – the design of which takes root from its founders’ love for India’s art, culture and heritage. “We always look at pieces that have an old world charm to them; they should be beautiful statement pieces. Also, many of our designs are one-of-a-kind and hence, celebrities like to wear them. Our idea is to bring Indian craftsmanship to the fore,” he shares.

Positioned as affordable luxury, Arora’s ultimate goal is for every Indian woman to own an Amrapali piece. With every piece being handcrafted, the brand makes more than 250 – 300 pieces every month. They also manufacture special costume jewellery and other fashion accessories for high end jewellers. While early on, it was the duo behind the designs, the company now has a qualified team of 10 who look into the design aspects. And these days, Ajmera takes care of the manufacturing while Arora is in charge of marketing and public relations. But much of Amrapali’s popularity has been propagated through word of mouth as the company hardly advertised and started taking part in international jewellery fairs only from 2000 onwards. From the early days on, its store in Jaipur was visited by film stars such as Shabana Azmi, Dimple Kapadia and Reena Roy, which ensured that its name spread. Over the years now, its stores have been visited by the likes of ex-supermodel Naomi Campbell, designer Calvin Klein, actor Lucy Liu and ex-prime minister of U.K. Gordon Brown’s wife among others.

We always look at pieces that have an old world charm to them; they should be beautiful statement pieces. Also, many of our designs are one-of-a-kind and hence, celebrities like to wear them. Our idea is to bring Indian craftsmanship to the fore.

Staying on the pulse

Amrapali’s flagship stores are in Jaipur, Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru, and it is here that the new designs are launched to see how people receive it. It has its international stores in countries like U.K., U.S., Sri Lanka, Spain and Nigeria. Being a part of Fashion Design Council of India, Arora also attends trade fairs to understand latest trends in jewellery. According to Arora, Amrapali was chosen among top five designers with the likes of Tiffany’s and Van Cleef & Arpels in the last jury selection at the popular Fiera di Vicenza jewellery fair in Italy. “We try to bring out something that we can sustain for the next two to three years. People now wait to see what new designs we come out with next,” says Arora.

SnapShot

AMRAPALI JEWELS
Founders: Rajiv Arora and Rajesh Ajmera
Year: 1978
City: Jaipur
Turnover: Crossed Rs. 100 crore for FY 2012

Though Amrapali has been exporting its silver jewellery from the early 80s, Arora believes when it set shop in high end departmental store, Selfridges in London in 2003 – 04 and started its promotions with various other stores, more people started noticing it. For Arora, Amrapali’s uniqueness is its selling factor as he believes its pieces will be auctioned off years later or passed on as heirlooms. “We are reviving a losing art form and we’re yet to see another jewellery brand doing what we’re doing,” says Arora. He considers the domestic market to be growing fast in the past five years and people are getting more design conscious. In another three to four years, he hopes to branch to more cities. Currently, Amrapali sells in more than 20 retail outlets. Location and strategic tie-ups with retailers ensure the brand is seen. It’s also in the process of refurbishing its old stores as it keeps increasing its distribution points.

Making of a brand

Arora hails from a family of professionals and while he pursued political science in college, he also dabbled in politics as a part of youth congress. But he eventually went onto complete a M.A in history and an MBA, after which he considered pursuing a business opportunity. When he and Ajmera set up Amrapali, they were into handicrafts first and then slowly diversified into silver jewellery and later gold jewellery in late 80s. To build on their design collection, the duo travelled extensively to interiors of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and south India to understand the culture and collect pieces. “It gave us great ideas but we also realised that many jewellery pieces were getting destroyed, so we wanted to build awareness about it.” Being located in a tourist spot helped obtain the initial customers and many of them bought the pieces to sell in countries like U.K. and Switzerland. Soon, the duo started exporting silver jewellery despite the heavy law restrictions they faced. “Now, Jaipur contributes to 50 per cent of India’s silver exports and the jewellery industry here employs more than 200,000 people. I believe Amrapali helped pave the way for others,” proudly states Arora.

Amrapali has grown on its own with no outside investment and even now, Arora is not keen about bringing in external investors as he prefers to grow it as a boutique fashion store. From a team of three, close to 2000 people are on its rolls now. By 1989, its first store in Mumbai was set up. But working with traditional craftsmen came with its own set of challenges. “Due to the lack of education, many craftsmen don’t easily adopt modern techniques. When we set up a factory in 2001, it took them a while to get used to the modern amenities,” shares Arora. Amrapali also works with craftsmen who prefer to work from home in their villages. Through its foundation, set up about eight years ago, the company ensures its workers have a health plan and conducts health camps for them.

Arora is content that the jewellery scene in Jaipur has drastically changed in the past 15 years. Now, there are special economic zones (SEZ) allocated just for the trade, with many units located there. What Arora believes is hurting the export market is the new policy on minimum alternate tax for SEZ developers and units. While sourcing raw material is not a challenge, Amrapali’s main expenditure is the labour, accounting for 15 – 20 per cent of its revenues.

Shining bright

As Amrapali grows internationally too, Arora wants his jewellery to become more universal but retain its Indian soul. While its international presence continues to grow, it is the domestic market that he is focused on. Arora wants to take Amrapali to Tier II cities now by launching silver jewellery initially. Last fiscal, the group (both domestic and exports business) crossed a turnover of Rs. 100 crore and Arora is targeting a growth of 15 – 20 per cent this fiscal.

“We’ve earned respect from other jewellers and we want to continue being known as great designers,” he says. In the next couple of years, Arora’s vision is to set up a museum that will showcase Indian jewellery and craftsmanship, and make it a source for designers who are keen to study about Indian jewellery.


WHAT NEXT?

Focus on Tier II cities with launch of silver jewellery

Increase its distribution points

Launch a museum showcasing Indian jewellery and craftsmanship


HIS MEMORABLE MOMENT

Of the many celebrities Rajiv Arora has met with, his most memorable was the one with former U.S. president Bill Clinton in 2000. Clinton and his daughter, Chelsea visited Jaipur and had a chance to understand about Indian culture and art. “He was very friendly and curious to learn more. I showed him a few pieces with enamel in it and he enquired if one of them was inspired by the peacock feather. I was quite surprised by his observation and knowledge,” shares Arora.