Hi Amelia. What was Jaipur like? Does it live up to its name as the ‘Pink City’?
I think ‘Rainbow City’ would be more appropriate. We did see a few of the beautiful, traditional pink buildings, but everywhere you look in Jaipur you’re greeted by an array of vibrant colors that really sum up the amazing culture of the city. We didn’t see too much at this point, as our Commercial Director, Jake Thompson, and Gem Expert, David Troth, had urgent business in our gemstone vaults, so we went straight from the airport to our offices. I was about to say ‘unfortunately’, but our team were so warm and welcoming that we couldn’t have asked for a better day!
What was the Gemporia India building like? Did the scale of the jewelry making process surprise you?
The offices felt like a home from home. However, the crafting workshop was like a whole new world to me. The extensive process the jewelry goes through before it becomes the finished article is mind-blowing. This is the first time I’ve ever seen the cutting process first-hand. The precision that goes into every single stone is extraordinary. I’m talking from small accenting gems through to five-carat stones. The process is extensive to ensure every facet is perfect. There are so many stages the gemstone has to go through before it makes it into jewelry. The pre-forming of the shape, the precise faceting, the high polishing, the vigorous checks… the list goes on. I’m in awe of the team in the cutting studios for their attention to detail, their skill and their patience. It blew me away. At the time they were cutting some top-grade Moroccan Amethyst, so I didn't dare even ask to have a go!
You also got to hold some gold bars?
It’s the kind of thing you dream of as a child, to hold a Diamond or a bar of solid gold! They were worth $25,000 each, and to be able to hold that value in each hand makes you realize how precious gold is.
What did you see being crafted during your trip? What will be on-air soon?
I mustn’t say too much, but when we were in the vault, Steve Bennett wanted to show us some incredibly rare pieces we’ve been holding for some time. During the trip, Jake and David kept suggesting we should finally have them set into jewelry. At first, Steve was very reluctant, but I think its okay for me to say that they had convinced him by the end of the trip. Tune in during August to find out what was released. We also saw some of the incredible pieces our designers were taking to the JCK gemstone and jewelry show in Las Vegas, and we also saw a sneak peek of Glenn Lehrer’s brand new collection. Again, I can’t say too much, but I’ve already got my name on a couple of beautiful pieces!
What was it like visiting the Gemporia India TV studio?
Amazing! It was a great experience to meet a team who are just as passionate about gemstones and jewelry as we are. It’s a very similar set up to our UK channel. The presenters and producers work to put together the very best shows they can for their audience, and the whole place feels like one big family. Jake and David jumped on-air for an hour each to offer their expertise, but on that day I enjoyed taking time to sit in the gallery and see things from the other side. It also meant I could do a little bit of shopping! We met almost all of the presenters and producers too. It was great to meet people for the first time but already share so much in common with them.
Did you get time to sample the culture and food of Jaipur during your visit?
Although there wasn’t much time for sightseeing, we did get time in the evenings to experience the gorgeous food and culture. The food was some of the tastiest and spiciest I’ve ever eaten. The merchandising team from our Jaipur office took us out to a fantastic place for food and drinks. We sat on a trendy rooftop and talked for hours until it was time for the restaurant to close. We felt so at home that night, so once again I would like to thank the rockstar team of Aman, Neeraj, Shubham, Vijay and Jeeshant for a stand out evening.
There’s a part of the trip that has really stayed with you, isn’t there?
Yes, I would call this not only one of the most memorable moments of the trip but one that I will remember and will be humbled by for the rest of my life. When we first walked into the women’s cutting studios, the room was filled with smiles from every one of their beautiful faces. They were so welcoming and warm, and you could feel a sense of gratitude among them that I only fully understood after speaking to Sharmil and her mother Pramila. These women are from the slums of Jaipur, and their story began when Gemporia India started to fund what was an extremely run-down school. Sharmil and Pramila decided to go door knocking looking for people who wanted to change their lives and give their children the opportunity of an education. Many of the parents were dubious as their children had the job of collecting plastic bags to sell for coins. But once one or two children started to go, others followed, and the school become a refuge for the children who were expected to stay in the slums working all day. The only thing was, with their children in full-time education, the women were also craving a new challenge and an income. So the cutting team began to educate the women on how to cut gemstones. We’re now three years down the line, and they’re cutting some incredible gems, including Serenite and Moroccan Amethyst.
This must have had an enormous impact on their lives?
It really has. These women are breaking the mould of what is a largely male dominated industry, and are some of the only female cutters in Jaipur. Along with that, you've got to understand that for women from the slums, what they have achieved was, until recently, seen as unachievable. They have learned an extraordinarily hard skill, they provide money and food for their families, but above all of that, they have brought hope, inspiration and change to what must have seemed like an unchangeable situation. I think about all the times I’ve let circumstance get me down or let it be an excuse for not being able to do something or achieve something, and these women have taught me that I, and indeed everyone, is the author of their own story. I didn't think these women could be any more inspirational, and I then discovered that Sharmil’s mother, who is the most loving and kind woman I've ever met, teaches the mothers English and maths during their lunch breaks!
How was the experience of visiting the children’s school?
The school is a five-minute walk up the road from our cutting center. It was everything a school should be: vibrant, loud and fun. There was laughter coming from the classrooms and chattering, singing kids running across the courtyard. Everything we take for granted feels like such a privilege to these children, just being allowed to be kids seems like an exceptional opportunity for them, which is heartbreaking. The walls were filled with pictures of fruit, colorful numbers and cartoon characters, a positive palette of color creatively and artistically bringing life to every room. Each child is provided with a uniform, bag and lunch every day. They are each given the time, care, love and education that they deserve. The school and Sharmil extended that care and love to one child from the slums who’d had polio. He is unable to walk and used to have to wait until his parents picked him up to be able to go to the toilet. So Sharmil and the team got him a custom-made wheelchair with a built-in toilet. The school sees no class or disability; it sees little souls that deserve love and attention no matter what their start in life has been like.
What were your highlights of visiting the school?
When we went into each classroom, the kids and teachers were so keen and excited to show us what they'd been learning. One of my favorite moments was when we went into one of the younger classrooms, and three of the little girls confidently got up, marched to the front of the class and sang us a song – in English. I have the video of it on my phone; there were actions and everything. They were describing a person, and they sang about chubby cheeks and curly hair. I hope they didn't mean me! The girls were brilliant. It wouldn’t surprise me if they are presenting on Gemporia India in 15 years time.
This is an ongoing project isn’t it?
Yes, some of the mothers have either gone off to have babies or have married and moved, so Sharmil continues to grow and recruit and change lives.
How unusual is this in Jaipur? Is it setting a new expectation with any other businesses in the area?
I hope this encourages other companies to allow women to be part of their business. I always think that there are certain things you can teach and certain things you can't. As complex as cutting is, and whether it takes one, three or 10 years to learn, it is teachable. However, attributes like passion, belief, willingness to learn, positivity and determination are the internal, unteachable foundation and core to what makes anything possible. You know I always talk about the fifth C of a gemstone – its character. If you had 10 stones that were identical across the first four Cs of carat weight, color, clarity and cut, and you had to pick just one, it would come down to its natural character. The one thing it was born with is its internal beauty and uniqueness. I hope other companies don't just look at gender, but character.
It must have been incredibly moving to see this all happening up close? Has it changed how you feel about Gemporia and the work we do?
I have always thought our support of the Colorful Life Foundation, who in turn support this project, is one of the most brilliant things we do here at Gemporia, but I think it's only when you meet the women and the children and see how drastically their lives have changed close up that it becomes more than just a story. These are women who have come from really awful circumstances and made a real change for themselves, their children and their community. I just love them!
Which single moment from your trip had the most profound effect on you?
Knowing the kids' stories and what they've been through, I will never forget the smiles on their faces in the school.
Would you like to go back? Is there anything you’d like to see more of next time?
I'd go back in a heartbeat; I nearly cried when we were leaving. I’m already begging Jake to take me again. I'd love to see even more of the palaces next time. We saw a couple in passing, but there are so many beautiful ones. Rajasthan, the Indian state that Jaipur is in, really is the land of the kings. Having said that though, if I ever land back there again I know I’ll be heading straight back to the smiles in that school before anything else.
The Colorful Life Foundation is a charity that was set up by Gemporia's founders to invest back into areas and communities that are closely linked with what we do. You can read more at colourfullife.org.