From my office, I discovered Saras Sadan at the start of the year. Located several thousand kilometers from London, in the pink painted old town of Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, Saras Sadan is the name given to the ancestral family home of Krishna Choudhary, a tenth generation jeweler.
For a video call, the 18th century haveli of the Choudhary provides a backdrop of cinematographic beauty: listed among the best-preserved mansions of its kind, the location of the treasure chest is made up of frescoes, interiors to colonnades and hidden courtyards. Through the walls and ceilings, hand-drawn scenes tell tales of romance, poetry and adventure; I later learn that his designs – Mughal rulers, Indian deities and many animals can all be named upon closer inspection – are painted using pigments derived from pulverized stones.
It is in the Diwan-I-Khas, the central hall of the haveli, that Choudhary, now joined by his father Santi, unveils pieces from the family collection of historical jewelry and rare objects. Our call lasts a little over an hour; it’s hardly time to admire but an appetizer from the entire family collection, which is substantial and meets the museum’s standards of quality and provenance.
An 18th century Mughal Bazuband the arm ornament is among many highlights: opulent front and back, the gold gem is set with a central emerald flanked by rubies and diamonds, its engraved reverse worked in a floral motif. A centuries-old sketch for a Kalgi the turban ornament details a majestic curved design, lavished with diamonds and emeralds; elsewhere, another work represents the ancestor of the duo, Choudhary Kushal Singh Ji, adorned with numerous pearl necklaces.
And it was Choudhary Kushal Singh Ji. which laid the foundations of the family saga in several chapters. Jaipur owes its name to Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, who first founded the city in 1727. A pioneer company, he made Jaipur the ideal capital of grand boulevards dotted with palaces and mansions, their opulent interiors being the chiefs -work of experienced craftsmen.
Choudhary Kushal Singh Ji. was part of the upper echelons of this modern metropolis, furnished with titles and an estate of 11 villages along the outskirts of Jaipur. On behalf of the state, he also obtained the license to mint coins, collect taxes and eventually manage his collection of historical jewelry.
Over time and through the generations, the family has excelled in the gemstone and jewelry business. From the 1970s, Choudhary’s father, Santi, began bringing the family’s expertise – alongside sensational gemstones, like a barely seen dark blue star sapphire – to the West, via his company Royal Gems and Arts. “They were big shoes to fill,” says Choudhary, given his heritage.
His father believed that curiosity and not a sense of duty could eventually lead Choudhary to join the family business. So he got a business degree instead, before enrolling to read Islamic and Indian art history at SOAS in London. It was during his studies on the Bloomsbury campus that all of his family’s archives appeared to him. “We were taken to museums, the V&A and the British Museum, and we were handling coins and objects,” recalls Choudhary. “They made us wear gloves and I realized that I had seen similar pieces at my home in Jaipur. Understanding them better gave me a huge appreciation for these pieces.
Inspired, he graduated from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). Choudhary says: “The moment I first saw a stone under the microscope, I fell in love. Everything else was eventually taught by osmosis, by her father who I am told has an empathetic understanding of gemstones. “When he touches a stone, he begins to feel the stone,” explains Choudhary. “The best way to learn was to stand behind him like a pillar and watch. Like a statue. I was constantly tested: ‘What do you think? What do you think of his age? It was kind of my education.
In 2019, he created Santi. A contemporary read of his family’s biography, Choudhary’s fine art jewelry company frames iconic gemstones, each with their own lineage, in modern settings.
Working in partnership with master craftsmen in Milan and Paris, Choudhary only completes a handful of rare models per year. He introduces them to a growing list of aficionados by appointment only. In London, they meet at Choudhary’s jewelry Mayfair Fair. “I try to take the best of India, the best of Paris and Milan,” he says of his journey as a globetrotter. “The world is smaller and I think you should do the best you can.”
At Santi, Choudhary innovates with design; his work testifies to a scientist’s respect for history and its materials. “Everything has to have a flow, a three-dimensional quality,” he said, holding a pair of pale-hued chandelier earrings, at their heart two ancient mine-cut Golconda diamonds, linked to pear-shaped others. and wand. diamonds via garlands of natural Basra saltwater pearls.
The Golconda diamonds – each unearthed centuries ago in a since-closed mine – also provide a dazzling center for floral earrings, opening to dark green petals of 16 Panjshir cabochon-shaped cashmere emeralds. A breathtaking ring lists a quartet of Colombian emeralds: sculpted in tactile high relief in the 17th century, the precious stones now frame a portrait diamond.
Choudhary describes the repeated motif in front of a pair of architectural disc-shaped earrings as “meditative.” There are rhombuses forming cashmere shapes and chevron waves placed in parallel lines. “It’s hypnotic,” he said. A modern creation, the earrings are a nod to centuries of artistic traditions. “Each motif has a meaning,” explains Choudhary. “The rafters are meant to be heavenly rivers flowing through heaven, basically.”
At Santi, Choudhary enriches avant-garde forms of cultural and fantasy narratives. Coupled with the rarity of its heirloom materials, it is a unique proposition that has endeared Santi to a new set of jewelry collectors, who come to him from as far as China and California’s Silicon Valley. “They have the curiosity to learn and to listen, to understand jewelry.”