Meet The Tastemakers is our November column featuring four industry mavens as they share what drives their passion and how they enhance and even transform our lifestyle through their unique areas of expertise.
The business of high jewellery is not new for Vihari Poddar.
For as long as she can remember, the centuries-old craft has been a big part of her life. Born into a family of diamond dealers, she recalls watching her father and grandfather handle diamonds since she was a little girl and being fascinated by the way they analysed and scrutinised the shiny stones.
Summer holidays were always spent interning at her father’s office where she would help to sort the diamonds and take stock of the inventory. Being around these precious stones inspired her to dream up her own designs for jewellery they could create one day. “I always felt that a beautifully crafted piece of jewellery was so elegant and brought out the true virtues of a diamond, as compared to a loose diamond in a box,” she says.
After graduating from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), studying jewellery manufacturing in Italy and learning the craft from master artisans of revered houses like Buccellati, as well as training with her father, Vihari started her own high jewellery company, Vihari Jewels, in 2006. As a small local business, building the brand was a huge challenge, as not only did she have to get her name out, she also had to compete with the international jewellery houses. “I had to gain the trust of people who had never heard of me, while competing with established brands like Cartier and Bvlgari,” she says.
Slowly but surely, she did so by setting herself apart and carving out a niche market for heirloom jewellery composed of one-of-a-kind, investment-grade pieces. “People have always been attracted to precious goods, primarily as a store of value. If purchased at the correct price, a good investment-grade piece of jewellery can appreciate well over time,” she explains.
“In the luxury market, I found established brands charging an arm and a leg primarily for the design element of the pieces, whereas a solid, timeless, investment-grade piece could be available for a fraction of the price. This is the market I wanted to create, and I believe I’ve been quite successful so far.”
She adds: “My family has worked hard to establish direct access to the best sources for rough stones and the best cutters, polishers and craftsmen on the planet. It would be a shame if I did not use this network to create very high-quality jewellery and bring it to market at fair prices. Luxury jewellery need not be overpaid for.”
Cream of the crop
Vihari operates by appointment only and many of her clients are traditional Asian families seeking high jewellery pieces as an alternative asset class in their investments. Over the years, she has expanded her range from specialising in large white diamonds to also offering extremely rare coloured diamonds, Colombian emeralds and Burmese rubies. As her business grew, so has her clientele – and not just in numbers. “My constant endeavour has been to impart knowledge and educate my clients about the intricate details of their purchases,” she says. “I am proud to say that my clients have developed an appreciation for and deeper understanding of the true value of what they buy, and trust my advice on investment-grade goods.”
The 34-year-old is heartened that her hard work at building a reputation of quality and reliability over the last 14 years has paid off. She recalls one of the most memorable experiences of her career that took place at a jewellery show her brand exhibited at: “Someone unknown to me, who was dressed very casually, walked into our booth and unexpectedly purchased items for $2 million in just 20 minutes! It was a true validation of our products and quality, as he was a collector of fine jewels.”
More recently, Vihari has also started offering a seasonal line of trendier jewellery that, while more affordable, still boasts rare stones that will also carry their value across generations. Her whimsical Vivid Bee collection, which launched last year, featured fun rings, earrings and bangles with a bee motif in vivid yellow, white and black diamonds. “I believe in quality over quantity and I will continue to create limited pieces each year, using the best stones available to me,” she elaborates. “In order for my pieces to remain exclusive, there will be fewer pieces with more exquisite stones and even finer craftsmanship. I want to raise the bar and create works of art.”