Sameer Lilani looks like a modern mughal. It’s partly the way he’s reclining, surveying his surroundings, and partly his mass of black hair, but mostly it’s the jewellery he wears. Pinned on his chest is a carved emerald and diamond brooch. A grey-and-black-diamond elephant ring is curled around his little finger. On his arm is a collection of bracelets, one studded with stones, another in the form of a makara, a mythical Hindu creature that’s half dragon, half alligator. Not many men could get away with so much accessorising, but for Lilani, jewellery is his job.
He is the director of the British arm of Amrapali, an Indian jeweller founded in 1978. It now has 1,200 craftsmen and 35 boutiques in India, as well as offices in Hong Kong and America, and a list of customers from Bollywood to Hollywood. Lilani describes himself as "British, but with Indian DNA", and it is his job to develop the brand for European tastes. In 2011, Amrapali became the first Indian brand to secure a concession in Harrods’ Fine Jewellery Hall. It took all of his charm to clinch the deal, as well as a visit by two of Harrods’ senior managers to Amrapali’s headquarters in Jaipur. "It was a challenge," Lilani says. "But once they saw the size of the company and exactly what we are capable of, it gave them a different perception."
Lilani’s love of fine jewellery developed in his early 20s, after a short-lived attempt at engineering and a spell in advertising. It was when his father invested in some emerald mines in Zambia that his interest was piqued, and he started to read up on jewellery. "It was the first time in my life I was actually inspired," he says. "I knew from that moment I’d always work with jewellery and gemstones."
A degree from the Gemological Institute of America followed, as well as a stint at Cartier and a master’s in luxury product development at an industry academy in Milan. Now he is using his experience to expand Amrapali in the West, with the hope of one day opening a boutique in the Place Vendôme in Paris, home to the heaviest of the heavyweight jewellery brands.
He argues that Amrapali is not like the competition. "Our strength is our point of difference. lf you look at our collections, they are always bold and always colourful." Well, plenty of high jewellery is bold and colourful, but it is true that Amrapali’s tendency to cut traditional gems roughly adds interest to its pieces. And there’s charm in its smallest details. A peacock here, a tiger there, a gold filigree cage hidden inside a ring, or a pendant backed with intricate enamel—its flamboyance is as much on the inside as the out. Rather like Lilani, in fact.
Most people think of jodhpurs as being for riding, but Lilani likes to wear them to the office. "They look great with a pair of Vivienne Westwood pirate boots. Plus I enjoy expressing my individuality through my clothes." So what did he think of this suit, with its neutral tones? "It was bit more classic than I usually go for, but I actually really, really liked it." And it shows off his accessories handsomely. When he explains that emeralds are his favourite stone—"Look inside and there’s a whole world going on"—the brooch close to his heart seems all the more fitting.
Charcoal wool-silk mix suit, £2,020, by Bottega Veneta; white cotton shirt, £85, by Ralph Lauren; vintage scarf, from Paper Dress, £45; 18-carat rose gold Nautilus Chronograph watch, £61,530, by Patek Philippe