The Inheritors

Updated: Nov 26, 2020

H H Tikka Shatrujit Singh and his son, M K Suryajit Singh of Kapurthala have inherited a great legacy from their ancestor, Maharaja Jagatjit Singh ( 1872 – 1949). Their passion to revive India’s glorious heritage and preserve the Kapurthala brand also makes them benefactors to the nation.

I had an opportunity to engage in a freewheeling conversation with the father son duo on separate occasions for several hours. While Singh is based in Delhi Suryajit lives in London.

One thing that struck me while talking to them is their humility and willingness to help others. These qualities are rather rare among wealthy individuals associated with the luxury industry.

Both of them underplay their success and give credit to the legacy, good luck and the role played by their mentors in the achievements.

Singh heads JMC, a leading global consulting company advising luxury brands. He is the former Chief Representative in Asia for Moet-Hennessy and Group Advisor to the French firm, Louis Vuitton. He has pioneered the entry of Moet Hennessy, LVMH perfumes, cosmetics and the LVMH fashion group into India. Singh is actively involved in various restoration projects in Punjab and has had other initiatives undertaken for the protection of India’s heritage monuments.

Singh says his great grandfather Maharaja Jagatjit Singh was his beacon who helped him make the right choices.

H H Maharaja Jagatjit in his early years

We began our conversation with Singh recounting the stories from Maharaja Jagatjit Singh’s life. Jagatjit started travelling at an early age. In 1893, the remote Kapurthala did not even have electricity. The frequent travels broadened his world view. Jagatjit was fascinated by European architecture. While he travelled to Spain and other countries in the US and Europe, Parisian culture had a lasting and enchanting effect on him. Paris was known as the aesthetic capital of the world. His interaction with nobility at an early age helped develop a sense of refinement and aesthetic taste in him.

His etiquette and hospitality were impeccable. He was a perfectionist and enjoyed hosting parties. The invitation to Jagatjit’s elaborate luncheons and lavish soirees was coveted and much sought after. Jagatjit, the perfectionist, personally looked into the minutest details during the planning and execution of these galas. From designing of the invitation cards, selection of wines and gourmet cuisine to the choice of music, no task seemed trivial. The chefs were trained at Le Cordon Bleu.

Jagatjit commissioned the reputed French architect, Alexander Marcel to build a palace inspired from the Palace of Fontainebleau and Versailles. Under Jagatjit Singh’s reign, Kapurthala soon came to be known as the Paris of Punjab.

The politically astute Jagatjit ensured that his love for all things French and regular visits to Paris did not offend the British in any way.

Jagatjit spent the hot summer months in the hill station of Mussorie with his family. He built a French-style chateau there that is now known as Kapurthala house. It became his summer abode. This mansion was inspired by French renaissance style but in reality, was designed by English architects. It remains private property and Singh says that it needs to be preserved in its full glory.

During our conversation, Singh made a fond mention of his father Brigadier H H Sukhjit Singh and Cynthia Meera Frederick’s book, Prince, Patron and Patriarch: Maharaja Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala. The book is a memoir, family album, a design diary and an important historical document recommended for those who wish to know more about the life of the illustrious Maharaja.
Brigadier H H Sukhjit Singh

Brigadier Sukhjit Singh the recipient of Mahavir Chakra for his gallantry during the 1971 Indo Pakistan conflict is now actively involved in Philanthropy, heritage preservation and in the rehabilitation of retired military personnel.

Serendipity has played an important role in Singh’s life. He started his career with a bank in New York and then went on to Hong Kong, Zurich and London. A chance meeting resulted in a challenging assignment with the LVMH group in India.

Singh recollects the incident from the year 1993 when he was invited to a party in Paris by a friend. At this party, he was introduced to the then-president of Moet &Chandon, Monsieur Pierre Letzelter.

Singh struck an instant rapport with the president and travelled to Champagne on his invitation. After a sumptuous lunch over Dom Perignon, they visited the president’s private museum. To his amazement, Singh saw his great grandfather’s portrait hung on the museum wall.

The Maharaja was Moet & Chandon’s largest consumer 100 years ago and had become their family friend.

One thing led to another and Singh became an advisor to Moet and Chandon guiding them for their entry in the Indian market.

Nawab Jassa Singh

Singh’s relationship with Moet Hennesey was growing strong. Another chance meeting

at a party, two years later in Paris, brought him in contact with Yves Carcelle, the chairman and CEO of Louis Vuitton.

Carcelle’s private museum too had the Maharaja’s portrait. Jagatjit was Louis Vuitton’s VIP customer and had commissioned 50 special trunks.

Yves appointed Singh as his global advisor, soon after this meeting. This professionally rewarding relationship continued for 16 years.

Singh cherishes his friendship with Yves Carcelle and credits Louis Vuitton’s success to his dynamic leadership.


Kapurthala Jewels

Peacock aigrette

H H Maharaja Jagatjit was known for his exquisite collection of fabulous jewels. The source of these was the Mughal treasury.

Singh recounts a story of the powerful Iranian ruler Nader Shah. In 1739, Nadir Shah looted the Mughal treasure in Delhi that among other jewels had the Kohinoor, the Dariya e Noor diamond and the peacock throne.

On his way back, Nadir was confronted by the Sikhs who relieved him of some of his booties. The Sikhs were led by Singh’s ancestor, the legendary Nawab Jassa Singh Ahluwalia (1718 to 17830 , founder of Kapurthala state.

Tikka Singh laments that we Indians have forgotten Jassa Singh’s stellar contribution in Indian history. He was the supreme leader of the Dal Khalsa. Under his leadership, the Sikhs freed all slaves from Nadir Shah’s clutches and sent them home.

Later in 1762, when Ahmed Shah blew up the golden temple in Amritsar, it was Jassa Singh who played an important role in rebuilding it.

Anita Delgado wearing the peacock aigrette

Jagatjit mentioned about the Mughal treasure in his diaries. He wore some of these fabulous jewels himself. There were belt buckles studded with rubies, diamonds and emeralds. One of them was the 100 carat carved emerald.

Horse harnesses, bejeweled tents and loose stones also formed a part of these treasures.

The loose gemstones were later given to Cartier and other European jewellers for remodelling.

Jagatjit commissioned Cartier to make a turban ornament for himself in 1926. It came to be known as the pagoda style tiara and was described by Newsweek as one of the most famous pieces ever made by Cartier.

The tiara featured 19 exquisite emeralds in various shapes and sizes from the Mughal treasure. The central hexagonal cabochon emerald weighed 117. 40 carats. The sketch for the ornament was drawn by the Maharaja himself.
H H Maharaja Jagatjit Singh wearing the Cartier Pagoda Style tiara

In 1926, the Maharaja appeared in a Cartier print ad that featured the pagoda style tiara.

Equally fascinating is the story of the 1950 peacock aigrette commissioned by Jagatjit for his ladylove Anita Delgado to Mellerio dits Meller, Paris.

The exquisite enameled aigrette made with gold and diamonds was a versatile piece. It could be worn both on a turban and also as a hair ornament. It was Anita’s favorite jewel and she wore it on many occasions as a corset brooch, as an adornment on the shoulder of her sari and in her hair.

Singh said that the aigrette fuses the master craftsmanship of Mellerio and reflects the Maharaja’s love for Anita Delgado and also for India.

The peacock motif holds a special place in the hearts and minds of Indians. The graceful peacock is the symbol of joy, beauty and pride.

It was passed on by descent to Anita’s son Ajit Singh who later sold it to a Spanish family. The ownership ultimately passed on to Qatar’s Al Thani family.

The aigrette fetched a price of $735000 at a Christie’s auction in June 2019 much more than the list price.

Singh says the hallmark of the global luxury industry is its entrepreneurial nature.

Hermes, Prada, Armani all started as single owner brands. These brands have been painstakingly built by passionate, creative and visionary entrepreneurs.

Among the contemporary single brands, Singh holds the Italian luxury brand, Brunello Cuccinelli in high esteem. The brand is built on the foundation of deeply rooted moral values, such as being a “humanistic enterprise” and using craftsmanship to lend moral dignity to both the artisan and the owner.

Maharaja’s elaborate lumcheon

He also has high regards for Indian jewellers such as Viren Bhagat and Santi Jewellers who have made their mark on the international scene.

Viren Bhagat is the iconic low profile Mumbai jeweller whose creations are collected by the global elite.

Krishna Choudhary of Santi jewels from Jaipur makes jewellery that is rooted in India’s rich heritage.

His jewellery is inspired by the legacy of India’s maharajas and is yet modern, contemporary and global in spirit. The fact that these entrepreneurs are self-made makes their brands extremely credible.

Chip off the old block may be a clichéd term but is most appropriate to describe M K Suryajit Singh.

In the literal sense, Suryajit was born in the lap of luxury. He grew up in the house that had a glorious heritage and power to customize luxury products by being the biggest buyers of iconic brands.

He grew up listening to the fabulous stories of the Kapurthala family heritage from his dad.

Suryajit recalls the fascinating conversations that he had with his dad and his clients, the executives of global luxury brands who wished to enter the Indian market.

His entry to the world of luxury thus began at an early age.. Joining Louis Vuitton as a retail sales associate at the Fifth Avenue store in New York was a humbling experience. His boss the head of Louis Vuitton in North America told young Suryajit, a retail outlet is the Mecca for luxury professional. It is the best place to start your career journey, as it allows you to interact with an end consumer. A retail store earns the profits and subsidizes the expenses of other departments.

Two years’ grind at this store helped Suryajit understand the nuances and intricacies of the retail business and the consumer mindset. The work experience at Louis Vuitton during his formative years has made Suryajit a consumer-centric professional.

Serendipity has played a role in Suryajit’s life too. A chance meeting with a former senior colleague culminated in a stint with Ralph Lauren. He relocated to London and was heading the sales function in Europe.

He decided to take up the assignment as it offered freedom to implement his learning in new geographical territory with a new company and a new product line.

At Ralph Lauren, Suryajit was exposed to a new way of working. Louis Vuitton is an extremely structured organization. It has well defined Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and the companies in the LVMH the group almost function like well-oiled machines.

Ralph Lauren headed by a passionate, iconic designer is an entrepreneur driven company.

Louis Vuitton has had a glorious legacy of 150 years. It remains contemporary, modern and extremely consumer-focused. The management team is proactive and makes plans with the next 10 to 20 years in mind.

The management control rests with Bernard Arnault and his family. His son Antoine is the CEO of Berluti known for making the best shoes in the world. His second son Alexander is the CEO of high-end luggage company Rimowa. His daughter Delphine is the Director and Executive Vice President of Louis Vuitton.

LVMH group has created strong, charismatic leaders such as the legendary Yves Carcelle, Pietro Beccari the chairman of Dior Couture and many others.

The winds of change are blowing at Ralph Lauren. The legendary designer has built his company brick by brick. He made a modest beginning by selling ties from Bloomingdales. As he turns 82 he and his team are involved in putting together a robust structure that will carry forward, Lauren’s legacy in future.

Suryajit says he was fortunate for having worked with a French company in America and an American company in Europe.

For a dynamic sales and marketing professional, working in the field is stimulating and invigorating.

Having worked for two luxury fashion houses, Suryajit was getting labelled as the fashion guy. He wanted to try something new in the luxury services space.

He met the visionary entrepreneur Thomas Flohr by chance at the airport. Suryajit was on the lookout for a strong mentor as his earlier ones had moved on. Flohr fitted the bill perfectly. A 15-minute conversation later, Suryajit decided to Join Vista Jets as their Vice President, Sales and Business Development.

Flohr has had a phenomenal journey. Starting with one plane fifteen years ago, Vista has a fleet of 72 aircraft, revenue over $15 billion and a double-digit sales growth.

Just like his father, entrepreneurship is a subject of curiosity and research for Suryajit. He is all praises for Falguni Nayar’s Nykaa, India’s largest omnichannel beauty destination and compares the brand as an Indian equivalent of Sephora.

He believes that Indian fashion designers such as Tarun Tahiliani have built successful homegrown luxury brands. Compared to global brands, they, however, lack scale. The challenge they face is to remain relevant and contemporary for the next 100 years.

Suryajit downplays his royal heritage. While I am proud of our heritage, I don’t consider myself privileged and have never demanded special treatment or favours. I have led a simple life as everyone else during my days as a student at Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania and later as a team member working for luxury goods companies such as Louis Vuitton and Ralph Lauren.

Humility is in Suryajit’s DNA and is hereditary. The luxury industry in India surely needs committed professionals like the Singhs to grow and prosper.

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