Maharajas certainly have no equal in the love of luxury. Spendthrift Indian princes built palaces of amazing scale and splendor, appeared before their subjects on elephants decorated with precious stones, and had treasuries filled with diamonds, emeralds and rubies. We show the most impressive and expensive jewelry, which definitely do not go to any comparison with the jewels of European rulers.
For centuries, India has been the epicenter of the extraction of the world’s best diamonds and precious stones, and one of the very first mines was located here. For ancient rulers, possession of precious jewelry and weapons was a symbol of power and prosperity, as well as an indicator of high status for visiting merchants from distant countries. The earliest jewelry dates back to 1526, when the Mughals — a Muslim dynasty with roots in Central Asia – invaded northern India and established an empire there. By that time, Europeans had already opened trading posts in India, and the Mughal emperors were amazed by the technology of cutting precious stones, which they used to make jewelry.
Portrait of the Maharaja
Maharaja Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV
The masters of the Mughal Empire developed the “kundan” technique for framing precious stones in pure gold. In turn, Europeans have always been stunned by the wealth of the rulers. For example, more than five million carats of rough diamonds were stored in the treasury of Emperor Jahangir. The Flemish gem dealer of the XVI century, Jacques de Coutres, noted that Jahangir had more jewels than all the monarchs of Europe combined.
A belt buckle from Cartier, owned by Maharaja
Maharajas (which means “Great King” in Sanskrit) played an important role in history and were patrons of the arts both in India and in Europe. Like a patchwork quilt, the territory of India was covered by hundreds of principalities, and each was ruled by its own separate maharaja and his family. The passion for luxury (and showing it to the public) was a special feature of all Indian princes. They adored beautiful clothes, horses and jewels symbolizing royal status and power. They spent huge sums on entertainment, owned harems with hundreds of women, swam in champagne pools, and their carriages were made of pure gold. A vivid example of extravagance and love of luxury is the nizam of Hyderabad, who used the famous Jacob diamond as a paperweight.
Maharajas ordered impressive head ornaments, armbands and breast ornaments, pendants made of the highest quality diamonds, and turbans decorated with rubies and emeralds the size of a quail egg. As a rule, Indian princes turned for help not to local craftsmen, but to large jewelry houses – Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Mauboussin, Chaumet, Mellerio.
Bhupinder Singh, Maharaja of Patiala
Maharaja of Alvar, 1928
At the beginning of the XX century, the maharajas ordered the most extravagant items in the entire history of jewelry art. The most notable was the Cartier Patiala necklace, commissioned by Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala in 1928.
Bhupinder Singh, Maharaja of Patiala, in a Cartier necklace
Cartier artisans have been working on the necklace for three years. The cascading platinum necklace consists of 2,930 diamonds, including a pale yellow De Beers cut diamond weighing 234.69 carats in the center (the seventh largest in the world), as well as Burmese rubies. This is officially the largest and most expensive one-time order ever received by the House of Cartier.
A turban brooch from the collection of the Maharajas of Patiala
Iconic Cartier necklace from the collection of Maharaja Bhupinder Singh
The Maharaja from Patiala was fabulously rich, had a special love for jewelry and supplied orders not only to Cartier jewelers, but also to Boucheron masters. According to legend, one day at a reception in New York, the wife of Maharaja Patiala met the Duchess of Windsor, another lover of incredible jewelry. The beloved of Edward VIII shone in a luxurious necklace, which was made by the Cartier jewelry House from the bracelets of the wife of Maharaja Patiala.
Bhupinder Singh was a legendary customer of Cartier in the 20s and 30s. He supplied Jacques Cartier with precious stones that could be turned into many fantastic jewels — like, for example, Patiala’s ruby necklace. The product consists of several necklaces consisting of rubies, diamonds and natural pearls, which can be worn in layers together.
The Maharaja of Patiala presented the decoration to one of his wives, who appeared in it in a photograph in 1931. Later, the necklace was taken apart and sold. The necklace appeared at an auction in Geneva around the noughties in the form of a bracelet, and the jewelry house decided to purchase it and return the original design of the necklace to the product.
Patiala choker consists of oval-cut rubies, cabochon and round-cut rubies, natural pearls and diamonds in platinum. Like many Indian customers who bought jewelry in Paris, the Maharaja of Patiala decided to choose platinum rather than the traditional Indian gold, because it was considered the most luxurious metal for High Jewelry in the West.
The most expensive collection remains the collection of jewelry of the Nizam of Hyderabad (ruler of the Indian principality of Hyderabad). The Indian prince owned 173 items: about 25 thousand diamonds weighing more than 12 thousand carats, 2000 emeralds and 40 thousand pearls. In the collection you can find turban jewelry, necklaces, belts, earrings, bracelets, watches and chains to them, buttons, cufflinks, rings (for fingers and toes), nose jewelry.
Nizam’s Necklace from Hyderabad, Christie’s Archive
The largest exhibit in the collection of the sixth Nizam of Hyderabad is the Jacob diamond (also known as the “Big White”, “Victoria” and “Imperial”). The gemstone is distinguished by its special purity and weighs 184.75 carats, and its value is $ 100 million.
Another significant collection of jewelry was in the possession of the Maharaja of Baroda – a 129-carat Brazilian diamond “Star of the South” and a 78.53-carat drop-shaped diamond “English Dresden” belonged to him. But the most magnificent item in the collection was a grandiose seven-row necklace made of natural pearls.
Sayajirao Gaekwad III, Maharaja of Baroda in 1875-1939
Sayajirao Gaekwad III, Maharaja of Baroda in 1875-1939
Sita Devi, the second wife of Maharaja Pratapsinh Gaekwad of Baroda, was also known for her passion for jewelry and owned a collection of more than 300 items dating back to the Mughal era (for such a love of jewelry, she was even called “Indian Wallis Simpson”). During one of her regular visits to Paris in 1950, she ordered the famous Baroda set from Van Cleef & Arpels. It consisted of 13 pear-shaped Colombian emeralds with a total weight of 154.70 carats, and the main part was decorated with a diamond in the shape of lotus flowers and an emerald.
In 1947, Great Britain could not control the huge colony and divided it into two dominions – Pakistan and the Indian Union, which in 1950 became the Republic of India. This was a turning point for the Indian princes. Maharajas were deprived of everything: money, titles and power. Many families fled abroad, taking with them everything they could take out. Others had to sell off all the valuable things they inherited, and someone had to say goodbye to their impressive collection of jewelry forever.
The iconic necklace of Maharaja Patiala also suffered a difficult fate. The largest stones, including the De Beers diamond and rubies, were sold out, and their further history is still unknown. One day, a Cartier representative came to an auction where the latest platinum necklace chains were presented. He decided to purchase them and restore the iconic Jacques Cartier necklace. The work was difficult, since all that remained of the original product were black-and-white photographs taken in the first half of the twentieth century. According to them, jewelers restored the previous necklace — the work took four years. The lost precious stones were replaced with cubic zirconia and synthetic diamonds. And in 2002, the reconstructed necklace was presented at an exhibition in Paris.
Restored Cartier Necklace
Restored Cartier Necklace
It is almost impossible to distinguish the new necklace from the original creation of Jacques Cartier. However, jewelers still hope to replace the precious stones with genuine ones someday — who knows in which collection the treasures of the maharajas are stored now and when we will find out about their fate.
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