Biren Vaidya: The Man Who Sells Dreams

Biren-Vaidya-1.jpgBorn into a family with five generations of physicians, practitioners of Ayurveda and herbal pharmacists, Biren Vaidya knew, at 18, that he wanted to do ‘something else’ with his life. “If not a doctor, what else will you be?” his mother asked him. “Even if I sell peanuts, I will be the best peanut salesman around,” he replied.

But he sold more than peanuts when his sister and brother-in-law, founders of Rose International, a brand that served as a ‘jeweller to jewellers’ supplying to twenty specialty jewellery firms around the world, went on holiday leaving him in charge. For forty-five whole days, the teenager fresh out of school – with no experience of jewellery sales or much else – managed to not only to keep sales levels up to about 80 per cent of their usual, but also commandeered a rare feat: Selling fistfuls of broken diamonds, otherwise considered ‘useless stock’ by jewellers. “I sold those tiny, chipped pieces of diamonds to my college buddies by designing 500-rupee diamond rings,” he chuckles in recall. “The store was always full of college students rushing to buy these rings or diamond-studded pens for their girlfriends or boyfriends. They didn’t care if the diamonds were chipped.” The clamour caught the attention of a gem broker, who – after much haggling – bought all the remaining diamonds in Vaidya’s store for a tidy INR 15,000. “All that for broken diamonds!” marvels Vaidya.

We are sitting at the Rose Salon – a jewellery ‘experience’, not a store – at DLF Emporio, Delhi. On the menu are a variety of coffees, including Starbucks, and specialty chocolates. Glittering emeralds and rubies observe you from lovingly lit displays with snooty composure. Forty-six year old Vaidya, who is involved in every stage of the designing process, describes each collection with the affection of a lover. “This collection, the Balas, was an ode to my wife. She said she wanted wrist-pieces that were traditional and yet could accessorise contemporary wear. I have never repeated a design,” he says, adding that this has been the fastest moving collection yet.

Vaidya would know about fast movers. Within a few years of joining Rose International – a jewellery wholesaler – as partner, he launched the Rose Collection, India’s first branded diamond jewellery that could be sold at department stores in the early nineties.  It was also India’s first company to sell jewellery by mail order, and the first Indian brand to be offered in Singapore Airlines’ in-flight shopping catalogue on international sectors. Soon, Vaidya set up a new division in collaboration with a Japanese firm to fine-tune his products with the latest jewellery-manufacturing technology. The next thing he knew, Rose was the sole distributor in India for high-tech jewellery machines from Taiwan as well.

By the late nineties, Vaidya was appointed convener of the Exhibition Committee of the Gem and Jewellery Export Promotion Council of India. Ironically, this was also the time he branched out of jewellery and got into the import and distribution of Esprit watches from Egana Goldpfeil, a global giant in the field of premium lifestyle goods. With the gumption and smooth-talking that characterises him, Vaidya went on to revolutionise the brand’s fortunes, and those of the Indian watch industry, with a focused marketing programme to give Esprit watches a vibrant, youthful presence. So much so that, now, India is the only country in the world where Esprit is known as a watch brand, as opposed to being known globally for its fashion garments.

Soon, several other international brands followed into his stables, including Pierre Cardin and Carrera watches and Blue Fire branded jewellery. “I love watches,” says Vaidya, displaying his Franck Muller. “I enjoy the complications more than the design,” he adds, speaking of the favourites in his collection: Jaeger-LeCoultre, Bulgari and Cartier. He also lists his favourite fashion brands: shirts from Hugo Boss, belts from YSL, shoes by Salvatore Ferragamo. “I have a fetish for Bruno Magli,” he grins. But, despite selecting a swanky luxury mall as the setting for his own store, Vaidya is not a retail snob. “I can shop anywhere – I love flea markets, take me to Chandni Chowk, the streets of Bangkok!”

Thailand is, indeed, at the top of his mind because Vaidya has just returned from an annual Diwali holiday at Koh Samui. “This is a family tradition,” he informs. For the past many years, the entire Vaidya family and his sister’s take a week off to bond together in some part of the world. “Family is important; the entire company gets a week off during Diwali to spend time with their loved ones,” he says, adding that he takes another three weeks off during summer to go on a longer trip to Europe with his wife – who was his childhood sweetheart – and two sons, who are eighteen and twenty years old, born on the same day two years apart. “My elder son is now studying at Brown University in the US,” he shares, insisting fondly that he would never push his sons to follow his path as a jeweller. “I believe that each of us has to choose our passion as our path. My father is an Ayurvedic doctor who saw up to 300 patients a day in his prime. He continues to see about eighty patients a day even at this age. You have to do what you love.”

Love is a significant term for him. “It means two things to me: Care and compromise. Don’t hold back on the caring, and don’t count the compromises,” he says, his eyes thoughtful and still. We move on to a philosophical discussion on spirituality, detachment and seeing every day as a prayer. He recalls an old conversation: “My sister asked me on my birthday, ‘What can I gift a man who has everything? What would make you happy?’ I said, ‘Buying something special for you and seeing you happy would make me happy’.” To a man who is surrounded by all things shining and beautiful, what does beauty mean? “Innocence,” comes the reply after a pause.

As we chat, a customer strolls in and glances through the exhibits at the store. His business acumen on full alert, Vaidya cannot help himself from interrupting our interview to add a few comments on a certain collection for the benefit of the middle-aged, well-dressed man. What does success mean to the upstart of the jewellery industry? “It’s never been about success,” Vaidya responds. “It’s about changing horizons. It looks like success to you, but to me, it is about achieving one goal and moving on to the next.”

His attention now fully diverted, Vaidya wishes us a hurried, apologetic farewell and turns to attend to his customer. He’s moved on, back to work.

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