a Dreamy Global Business That Combines Art,
Fine Jewelry & Travel
Earlier this year during my stay at the Golden Door, I was delighted to meet an inspirational woman entrepreneur who’s designed a business around her greatest life passions—someone I could talk to for hours. Karen Stone Talwar is the creator of Adventures in Art, a unique brand of travel experiences that connects like-minded aficionados with private fine jewelry collections, behind-the-scenes studio tours, museum lectures with top curators and much more.
Whether it’s an art-filled dinner with a Parisian hôtelière, afternoon tea with the Maharani in Jaipur, or browsing Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry collection at Bulgari in Rome, Karen’s exclusive itineraries offer a dreamy romp into the world of fine art and jewelry, making the most of her expertise, connections and sense of style and taste. Curious to know more about this exquisite passion-based business? Divine Living interviewed Karen to find out the keys to her success.
Tell us a little bit about your background and how it led you to creating Adventures in Art.
I had the really fortunate experience growing up that every June, my parents picked a new destination to take us to for three to four weeks. So at a young age, we had the opportunity to go to Paris and London, as well as places like Iran, Jordan and Russia. That sparked my interest in worldwide travel. Then my career took me into the art world, and as life evolved, I would find myself in various foreign cities always looking at art. Then for a time, my career became quite Indian driven. My last name, Talwar, is an Indian name. For a time I was living in Switzerland and New York and traveling a lot to India. Because of that, I was offered a job to be the gallery director of a leading contemporary Indian art gallery in New York. That eventually led to becoming Director of Patrons for the Asia Society in the United States. One of my roles was to create trips for their top patrons. One trip I created was to North and South Korea, another to Mongolia. Needless to say, taking patrons to North Korea, you had to cross all your I’s and dot all your T’s. You were going into unknown territory that was extremely curious, but dangerous if you didn’t have the proper Visas and permission. So from that, I thought, “I really love what I’m doing here. I want to create a company about this and break off from the corporate world,” and so I moved to Paris for six months to change my life and really sit and create Adventures in Art. For my very first trip I chose to do India because I knew it well, and I felt that I could get behind-the-scenes of things that people could not do otherwise. We went to the Indian Art Fair, to Delhi and obviously the Taj Mahal. That was my very first trip back in 2012. That was the start of Adventures in Art.
What’s key to attracting the clients who sign up for your trips?
I would say the one thing I try to work on every day is building my Rolodex. As much as I love relaxing in the country and resting, I think being in an urban environment and meeting people is so important. I went to Japan on an art tour. I wasn’t leading it, andI got to meet people who were very interested in what I was doing in the jewelry world. If I meet someone and they say, “Oh, I’m no longer with the gallery or I’m no longer with that museum,” then it’s, “What’s your new email address? May I put you on our mailing list?” You need to have a mailing list that you continue to build with people that have shown interest, but maybe have not traveled with you yet. But also your best business is your repeat business, so I do have a great deal of repeat business—people bringing their friends or a sister or relative. That’s always a nice feather in my cap. People will also read about me in various publications. That’s always an attraction. I’m always trying to keep my website up to date with good press and constantly reaching out to various editors that I think the story might be of interest to. I had a wonderful Hong Kongman comewith me to Paris,and he will be coming with me to Milan. He’s building the first jewelry museum in Mainland China. I met him because he walked into one of the seminars Adventures in Art was doing at Masterpiece, a large art fair here in June. He said, “What is this?” I said, “Oh, it’s a seminar.” He said, “Could I join?” I said, “Yes.” I told him the price and he paid and sat right down. That was just walking by a doorway!
Speaking of networking, how important were your contacts from the past and the present in fueling the success of your business?
Extremely important. Extremely. When I go to India, I’m able to call various people that are collectors, designers, jewelers—people that can receive us beautifully at home. That comes from years of getting to know these people and building trust. And then when they come to New York, it’s like how can I be of help to them?
How do you design your programming for each trip?
When I’m doing a trip to Rome, for instance, I am looking at what palazzos could we visit? What jewelers can we go behind-the-scenes with and watch them cutting stones? How can we look at the way Bulgari designs a necklace with their top creative head? I’m not taking them to the store of Bulgari—I’m taking them behind-the-scenes, and then looking at their Heritage Collection. That collection for example features many of Elizabeth Taylor’s jewels that Bulgari has bought for their various museums. A lot of times I’m building things around an art fair, an event that’s happening or an opening. I’ve done things around the opening of the Frieze Art Fair. We went to Paris for the opening of the Biennale. We’re going to Milan for a museum jewelry exhibition. When I’m going to India, I’m going for the Indian Art Fair. A lot of times I’m looking for a hook that will take us there at an exciting time. 90% of the time, not always, but 90% of time I am doing that.
Beyond the fairs and museums, how do you round out the adventures with lifestyle elements?
First I look at the top hotels that would be of interest to my clients. I’ve been using the Four Seasons. I use La Reserve. I might use the Bristol Hotel in Paris. I’ve used The Pierre Hotel in New York City—all five-star properties. Then I put together the itinerary. I have to look at distances as to how far one destination is to another, because in India, distances are very far apart. Then you’re looking at restaurant experiences. If we’re in Italy, I want to go to an Italian restaurant. We went to the trendiest restaurant in Paris last week called Loulou’s. But before dinner, I did a cocktail party at someone’s home who’s one of the largest Napoleon collectors in France. He showed us the painting of Napoleon, and we were all able to handle Napoleon’s coronation ring. We enjoyed a simple bottle of champagne and some breadsticks, and then we all went to the really trendy restaurant. The night prior, we were hosted by one of my clients who came to India, who kindly offered to give an amazing sit-down dinner in her Hotel Particulier in Paris—it has an extraordinary art collection.
We want to hear more! What are some of the most unique and exclusive experiences you’ve created for your clients?
When we were in Moscow, we were hosted by a couple, a fashion designer and an entrepreneur. We had dinner in their penthouse in Moscow with 360-degree views overlooking all of the city. In India, we had tea with the Maharani in Jaipur in a private palace room. We’ve also visited a farmhouse 45-minutes outside of Jaipur of another jewelry designer. It’s where he keeps his horses and it’s just a country farmhouse, but it’s extraordinary. Then we had dinner at the palace in Hyderabad. Of course, we had the Princess receive us and we talked about the Hyderabad jewelry. Once I closed down the Tower ofLondon. We went for a private jewelry exhibition at 6 o’clock at night, and then we had a catered dinner at the Tower. That was pretty extraordinary. We’ve had dinner at a collector’s home in Paris, who used to be with the French Senate and has an extraordinary masters collection. In New York, we had dinner at a top decorator’s home, Juan Pablo Molyneux. A lot of the extraordinary experiences are getting into people’s private collections. We also did a wonderful studio visit at Vik Muniz’s in New York City. And in India as well, we’ve been able to get to Subodh Gupta’s studio, who’s a top artist.
We know that a lot of your tours and events involve museum-quality or private collection fine jewelry. How do you teach people to appreciate and invest in this level of jewelry? Are people actually buying?
Yes, there is a lot of buying! What I do is I try to start my jewelry trips with an overall lecture. I think education is really important. And right up front, I always try to include a museum exhibition as well. For example when we were in Paris, we went to the Museum of Decorative Arts and we were able to get in at 10 am before it opened at 11. We were able to walk through with a top curator who was explaining why Van Cleef looked like this, or why the Egyptians were wearing certain jewelry. From very au courant pieces to back in the times of Egypt and Greece, you’re getting an overall view. Also in Paris we had the School of Van Cleef & Arpels give a lecture on the top heiress jewelry collections, that included Barbara Hutton, Elizabeth Taylor and the Duchess of Windsor. Then, I like to take them to the various workshops so they know what it takes to make this level of jewelry. Then there are some wonderful designers I’ve introduced people to such as Viren Bhagat. He lived in India and has worldwide recognition—in fact they say the top three jewelers right now are JAR, Hemmerie and Viren Bhagat. So we’ll spend a day with Viren and his sons. People do buy. Some people do. Some people don’t—they may be looking more for inspiration. For instance, one of the men that always travels with me has been the jewelry designer for Downton Abbey. So people are coming for different reasons.
What makes India such an exciting location for lovers of fine art and jewelry?
India, first of all, is growing in leaps and bounds. It’s very exciting and very cosmopolitan in Mumbai. Being able to visit with some of the top jewelers in the world, like Viren Bhagat and Gem Arts, is definitely a draw. And one of the most important diamonds in the world is the Golconda Diamond. The mines have dried up now, but you can still see some in India much more so than in the western world, where one might show up now and then at an auction. Also, a lot of the jewelry in India is designed around 22 carat and not 14 or 18 carat. You’re looking at a different technique. You’re looking at enameling. That is the reason for India being such an exciting place to go visit. I know many people go to India for crafts or shawls. Obviously, you go for historical monuments, but I might beone of the few people doing a trip on Indian jewelry.
Is there another ultimate destination on your radar for jewelry and art?
Paris, New York, and London—the fashion capitals—are places you always keep your eyes on to see new trends and new jewelers. But for historical jewelry, I think going to Tehran and seeing Queen Farah Diba’s jewels, which are now on display, is a very exciting and important place to go.
What’s next for Adventures in Art? Are there any fabulous events coming up we should keep our eyes out for?
We’re going to Milan on November 29th for the Jewels of Milan. Then India in January. Then I’m doing a trip to Madrid because there will be a Bulgari exhibition as well as ARCO, which is an art fair. I’m going to combine the two for a three-day weekend. I am looking at going next fall to South Africa because there’s a new contemporary art museum that will be opening. I would ideally like to go back to Istanbul when things are settled. In time, I’d love to go to Iran for jewelry. Now and then I also do a couple of private trips. All the trips I’m talking about can be signed up for by various individuals, but with my business model there will also be a couple of museums that will ask me to craft a private trip for their patron base.
Fantastic. What about you personally, what are you looking forward to?
Well, what I’m thinking is that before this big trip to India I’ll go to a very nice spa in the Himalayas to rest up for a week or two in the new year. Next weekend I’ll go to Bilbao in Spain, where I’m going to go see a Basquiat exhibition, as well as a Richard Serra exhibition. But then that following day I’ll go off to San Sebastián, which is the food capital and just spend a weekend looking at art. That’s not an Adventures in Art—it’s a Karen’s weekend.
For more from Karen Stone Talwar, visit: AdventuresinArt