Nirav Modi © Sebastian Böttcher
Experimental feature

Listen to this article

00:00
00:00
Experimental feature
or

“Perhaps ironically,” says gem trader and jeweller Nirav Modi, “I have never really worn jewellery — only my wedding band and, for the past three years, a ring made from the most beautiful ruby I have ever seen.”

Mr Modi, 46, is a third-generation diamond trader and chairman of Firestar Diamond, which he founded in 1999. This now employs 2,200 people and buys and sells diamonds worth $1.5bn annually. In 2010 Mr Modi selected 15 of his craftsmen to establish an eponymous brand that he bills as “India’s first luxury jewellery house”. It now has 600 employees and sells jewellery priced from $3,000 to $8.5m.

He has always had a taste for watches, however. “I have loved watches since the 1980s . . . probably because my father always wore nice pieces by brands that were particularly popular in that era, such as Gérald Genta, Corum and Franck Muller.”

IWC Novecento perpetual calendar (early 1990s)

© Nirav Modi Ltd

The timepiece that means most to Mr Modi was launched in the early 1990s as the first-ever square-cased perpetual calendar watch. The Novecento is relatively rare and few people recognise it — a fact Mr Modi appreciates, along with the understated appeal of its white dial and modest size. When he bought it more than 20 years ago, it cost $30,000, which represented six months’ salary. “I still use it quite regularly and I like the fact that it looks like a stainless steel watch, although it is actually made from platinum.”

Swatch Trésor Magique (1993)

© Nirav Modi Ltd

Despite its reputation for inexpensive, plastic-cased watches, Swatch regularly creates more valuable, limited-edition pieces that are often sought-after by collectors, such as the Trésor Magique. Unlike most Swatches, it has a mechanical movement and, more surprisingly, a case hewn from platinum.

Mr Modi bought his in Rome, attracted by the dial decorated with stars and Roman numerals. Unlike collectors of Swatch limited editions, he could not resist removing it from its packaging and putting it on his wrist. “I’m told it would be more valuable if it was still wrapped and unused. But I just enjoy wearing it.”

Vacheron Constantin Malte tourbillon (2000)

© Nirav Modi Ltd

At the turn of the millennium, many manufacturers engaged in a race to produce ever more sophisticated tourbillon wristwatches. (A tourbillon is a mechanism that contains the watch’s escapement in a revolving cage, to counteract the effect of gravity on timekeeping accuracy.) Mr Modi was among many high-end collectors who sought different examples of tourbillon watches, and his first was Vacheron Constantin’s tonneau-shaped Malte model in platinum, which also incorporates a perpetual calendar.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Gyrotourbillon 2 (2008)

© Nirav Modi Ltd

At its launch in 2008, watch fans considered this one of the most complex and sophisticated tourbillon wristwatches on the market because it featured a “spherical” tourbillon: instead of simply revolving, the tourbillon turns on more than one axis, to mesmerising effect. Limited to 75 pieces, the model has become highly collectible and its rectangular Reverso case with twin dials is regarded as a mechanical tour de force. “It is fascinating because it is an ‘open’ watch and the mechanism can be seen very clearly from both the front and the back — I frequently just look at it, even when I’m not wearing it,” says Mr Modi.

Rolex Day-Date (2000)

© Nirav Modi Ltd

Among Mr Modi’s favourite pieces is one of the rarest of all recent Rolexes, a platinum Day-Date, which he has worn on a daily basis since buying it. The watch is distinguished by a white gold dial and diamond hour markers, although Mr Modi believes most people glancing at it would think it was a regular, stainless steel model. “I have worn it most days for the past 17 years and it has never gone wrong, despite never having been serviced,” he says proudly.

Ruby pinky ring (2014)

© Sebastian Böttcher

Mr Modi claims never to have worn any jewellery other than his wedding band, which is made from a continuous row of diamonds in his brand’s patented “Endless” cut. But about three years ago he acquired a 6ct ruby that was badly scratched and in poor condition. Drawn to the stone by its exceptional colour and clarity, Mr Modi had it recut and discovered that — rarely for a ruby — it was internally flawless.

Nirav Modi © Sebastian Böttcher

“I completely fell in love with the colour and, after it was recut, I had it mounted as a pinky ring. My family were completely mortified: having never worn a dress ring in my life, I suddenly went to wearing this one on the little finger of my right hand,” he says. “But the stone is absolutely pristine, and that gives me great pleasure every time I look at it,” Mr Modi adds.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
myFT

Follow the topics mentioned in this article

Follow the authors of this article