Following the sale of his necklace at Christie's Hong Kong in 2010, Modi shot to fame, only to become a fugitive—his story is part of Netflix's new documentary, Bad Boy Billionaires: India.
A relative newcomer in the jewellery scene back then, Nirav Modi's dazzling necklace stole the spotlight in a 2010 Christie’s Hong Kong auction catalogue––a feature that is mostly reserved for heritage brands such as Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Tiffany & Co and Harry Winston. Curious heads in the industry turned and took notice.
The pear-shaped Golconda diamond weighed 12.29 carats and featured a delicate lattice of white and Argyle pink diamonds. It was certified by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) as a Type IIa, the most chemically pure type of diamond and often have exceptional optical transparency and D colour, internally flawless clarity.
It took a year for his little-known Mumbai-based brand to create and was sold for HK$27.5 million (US$3.5 million) and put Modi in the limelight––that is until his fall from grace.
Modi's story is featured in one of the episodes from Netflix's new documentary, Bad Boy Billionaires: India which focuses on the corruption and money laundering scandals of several Indian billionaires.
At the age of 19, Modi moved to India after dropping out of university, to train under his uncle as a diamond dealer. After a decade of saving money, he set up his own company, Firestar Diamond with just 15 people. And after six short years, he created the Golconda Lotus necklace to launch his eponymous brand.
In 2010, Modi was the first Indian jeweller to be featured on the covers of catalogues for Christie's and Sotheby’s auctions. And in 2013, after the sale of his Golconda diamond and a 88.88-carat diamond necklace, which featured 36 flawless white diamonds that sold for US$5.1 million, he was featured on the Forbes list of Indian billionaires.
Modi's fall from grace came in 2018 when The Union Bank of India sued Modi in a Hong Kong court after taking two loans in 2011 that he failed to pay back. Earlier that same year, Modi was involved in a corruption and fraud scandal that alleged Modi and his partners defrauded the Punjab National Bank of ₹28000 crore or US$4 billion. He allegedly conspired with bank officials to forge documents to make payments to overseas suppliers.
While a few of his stores remained open, they gradually closed down. His properties in India have been seized, his fortune collapsed, his company A.JAFFE was auctioned off and all his stores, including the one in 1881 Heritage, closed.
He eventually fled to the UK, seeking asylum and made an extradition request. In 2019, he was arrested in London following a warrant issued against him, and all his applications for bail have since been rejected. He is scheduled to appear in court next month for his extradition trial.
When asked in 2016 during a Tatler interview how he felt being called "Diamond King" and "India's youngest billionaire" Modi said, "Really, I just want to make beautiful jewellery; everything else is secondary."
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