20-26 June 2014 #712

Hearts of gold

Nepali father-son duo stand out in the world of jewelry in the US

Manik Lal Risal’s father and grandfather used to make intricate jewelry for Nepal’s royal family.  But when he emigrated to the United States 34 years ago, it was hard for him to get a job because few believed he had the skills since he came from a poor country.

But Manik impressed everyone with his art and skill, and got his big break making jewelry for the luxury retailer Tiffany’s in 1994.

“Everything I learned, I learned from my father,” says Manik. “My ancestors were all jewelers and they passed the skills down to me.”

Fittingly, Manik (right) taught his son Dharma the art of jewelry crafting, and he is now also a designer for Tiffany’s. Dharma followed his father to the US when he was 17 and actually studied jewelry technology there. He now combines that knowledge with traditional handcrafting skills passed down from his ancestors. “Combining the two sides helps me a lot,” Dharma said during a recent visit to Nepal with his father.

Manik and Dharma don’t design traditional Nepali jewelry for Tiffany’s, but their ability to craft by hand what is designed by computer is what makes them stand out in the world of jewelry in the US. Father and son make rings and multi-million dollar necklaces, as well as the famous Victoria bracelet which is Tiffany’s most popular. “It is when I can do what computer designers are unable to that I am most proud,” says Manik.

Manik’s grandfather used to take him to the palace in Kathmandu during Dasain, and the royal family admired his family’s discipline and craft. That was a very different upbringing from what his grandchildren now have in the Bronx in New York, but it is still a closely-knit family with Manik’s six children and grandchildren all living in the same neighbourhood.

Manik’s second son is an aerospace engineer, and his other children are not likely to carry on in the family business. “If you have a family, you have to watch out for them and put the young generation on the right track,” Manik says, “that is the most important.” He says one of the biggest mistakes Nepali immigrants make is not make enough time for family.

Manik has no plans of retiring, but he says he may want to pass on his knowledge and give opportunities to Nepali apprentices outside his immediate family. For someone who has been in the jewelry business for decades in the US, you would expect Manik to look ostentatious. Just the opposite, his simplicity, charm and positive attitude describe a man with much higher standards than gold.

Matt Miller

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